Story A Day May: With Friends Like This…

It’s hard to believe April’s behind us already, along with the A to Z Challenge! It was my second year participating, and I’m happy that I actually managed to stay on schedule this year (except for one minor delay).

And, because I’m a glutton for puni…err..thoroughly passionate writer, I’ve also signed up for Story A Day May. So without further ado, let’s launch in to the first tale:

The Prompt

You attend the funeral of an old friend.
Afterwards, in the mail you receive a postcard. It’s from the friend, and it reads “I’m not dead. Meet me Tuesday night at 8 at ____________.” And signed by him/her.
First make a list of possibilities for how this could be the case.
Begin your story with, or after, the arrival of the postcard.

The Tale

David Fairweather and I had been friends since high school. We sat together at lunch. We laughed at jokes nobody understood. We went on a double date on prom night. And somehow, despite the distance that separated us during our crazy college years, we managed to stay in touch. I was there at his wedding to congratulate him. And just two days ago, I was there at his funeral to console his widow.

So when a postcard arrived this morning with David’s signature on it, I was surprised to say the least. Though not as surprised as when I read it.

“I’m not dead. Meet me Tuesday night at 8 at Lonnie’s.”

I spun the postcard in my hands over and over, my fingers tracing its sharp corners as my mind tried to make sense of it all.

David Fairweather was dead. I read a goddamn eulogy at his funeral.

Was it some sort of prank? A sick joke perpetrated by…I couldn’t even imagine who would be that twisted. I looked down at the postcard again. It was definitely David’s handwriting. I’d recognize that looping script anywhere. I’d seen it on so many postcards he’d sent from his trips. David loved to travel and, even more than that, he loved to document his travels.

The last postcard he sent me was from somewhere in Nepal. He was trekking in the mountains and visited a monastery. Went on about some mystic mumbo jumbo. He always did love his tall tales. David just got back from Nepal a week ago, and then…the accident. The one that sent him to his next grim destination.

Seemed only fitting he’d send a postcard from beyond the grave. Except the grave was empty, apparently.

Who the hell did we bury then?

It was a closed casket funeral because of the horrific injuries David had suffered in the accident. It hurt so much to say goodbye to my old friend without getting to see him for one last time. Was that all a ruse? A carefully orchestrated fake funeral? Why?

There was only one way I was going to get any answers.

On Tuesday, I went straight home after work. I put on a heavy overcoat, thankful that the weather was still brisk, and paired that with a scarf and the biggest pair of sunglasses I could find. I hoped it would be enough for David, or whoever wrote the postcard, not to recognize me right away.

At 7:45, I was sitting at the bar counter with a beer in hand. I took a couple of small sips as I looked around. No familiar faces. No one that looked suspicious. Though in this case, I had no idea what ‘suspicious’ would even look like.

At 8:05, I was already getting antsy, my beer half-drained. Most of the people in the bar were with friends. There were a few loners, but it didn’t look like they were waiting for anyone. No sign of David at all.

By 8:20, I was convinced it had just been a very bad joke. Some bored jackass mocking a grieving man. I pulled out the postcard from my pocket. The handwriting. Would someone really go to the trouble of replicating it so precisely just for a laugh?

“I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

The voice sent a jolt up my spine, almost causing the card to slip out of my fingers.

David was sitting on the stool next to me. Not somebody that looked like him. Not a guy with a bad makeup job or a mask. David. Looking very much not dead. I had no idea how to react to that, no idea what to say. There were so many questions running through my mind, begging to be asked.

“What the hell, Dave?”

That was a start.

He motioned to the bartender, then turned back to me with a grin.

“You’re probably gonna need a few more drinks. What I’m about to tell you can…get a little weird.”

“Weirder than me talking to my friend days after his funeral?”

He laughed. “Fair enough.”

“I – I don’t understand, Dave. What’s going on? How are you alive? Are you alive? Am I going crazy? Talk to me, man.”

The questions came pouring out of me as the relief over seeing Dave alive evaporated and was replaced by a cocktail of worry, fear and curiosity.

“Whoa!” he held his hands out.” Easy there, bud. All of your questions will be answered in time.”

He picked up the beer that the bartender plonked down in front of him and took a long sip.

“You remember the monks I told you about in Nepal? Did you know they’ve been over there since the 5th century?”

I scratched my nose, more confused than ever. “Okay…so you went to some really old monastery. What does that have to do with – ”

“No, no. Not the monastery. The monks. Those monks, the ones I met. They’re the really old ones.”

I must have misheard him. “What?”

“The monks that I met in Nepal,” he repeated, as if explaining it to a child, “have been around since the 5th century.”

It started clicking into place. It still didn’t make any sense, and I could feel more questions trying to push their way past my lips. I gestured to the bartender.

“You’re right. I’m gonna need several more drinks.”

#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.

 

The Way It Was, Pt. 1

Three empty glasses sit on the table in front of me. They were filled with beer earlier. The dark wooden table hides the stains of spilled booze well, but the stickiness gives it away. Sticky tables, sticky floors. I really hope it’s just dried booze. Then again, I don’t care much right now. It’s Saturday night at Donaghan’s and I have at least three more beers to get through before closing time.

The place is pretty full. Lots of people standing around near the bar, waiting for someone to leave or just pass out. It’s a good thing I got here early. Not like I have many other place to go. I haven’t been working for the past two months and it’s been about a year since my last semi-serious relationship. My apartment is a cage, tiny and rectangular. There’s just enough space for me to breathe, but my thoughts get stifled there. Donaghan’s is a much better place to think. And nobody judges you for drinking by yourself in a bar. That’s kinda why it exists in the first place.

I suppose I could approach some of the people here, attempt to make new friends. Who knows, we might even hit it off and have a fun night. But then they would leave, going back to their lives and their jobs. And it would just be me again. As it always is. There are a few regulars around here, but I’m the goddamn customer of the month. And I probably will be for a while.

Another beer lands up on my table. It won’t last long.

As I take a swig, savoring the smooth bitterness of it running down my throat, I see two women head to the bar. Tall brunette and her redhead friend, both dressed to kill. And I’m a dead man. Under better circumstances, ones that didn’t involve being unshaven and walking around in a greasy hoodie, I would put on my most charming face, strut over to those two beauties and chat them up. Oh who am I kidding? I’d probably still be nursing an empty beer glass.

Still, they’re a welcome sight in this dingy rathole. And of course, they’re not by themselves. A man joins them soon enough. Dark tailored suit, looking so sharp it almost slices through the smoky air. Hair cut short and gelled. Clean-shaven, the scent of his aftershave filling the room. I’ll bet his teeth sparkle too. Typical Mr. Perfect, probably an investment banker or financial advisor or something that keeps your pockets full.

I can’t stop looking at him, though. There’s something familiar about him. In fact, as I push back the bleariness clouding my vision and really pay attention to his face for the first time, I realize he looks a bit too familiar. Is he an old high school friend? Or a former co-worker? No, that’s not it.

I sit up, eyes wide.

I know why his face looks so familiar. If he had a scraggly beard and bloodshot eyes, I would have recognized it right away.

It’s my face.

WEP February Challenge: Heart’s Desire

A new year of challenges hosted by the wonderful Yolanda and Renee of Write, Edit, Publish! The first theme of the year: Back of the Drawer.

As the name suggests, the prompt is all about what a character finds at the back of a drawer. Love? Riches? Horror? Who can say?

Presented for your reading pleasure, here’s the tale of a thief called Len, who once stole the biggest prize of all: the love of his life.


 

“Whatever you do, don’t open the top drawer.”

Mal had been very insistent about that. The top drawer was to remain untouched. She wouldn’t say why, and Len knew better than to badger her for answers. She kissed him before he left, holding her lips to his a second longer than usual. If she said to leave that drawer alone, he’d damn well leave it alone.

It was a simple job: break into Mal’s old apartment and retrieve a few items from her bureau. Dob, her drunken pig of an ex-husband and former partner, would probably be out with his floozy of the week, so there was little chance of running into him. Of course, he’d probably have a few people posted around the roofs and balconies, just in case. Still, it was no big deal for Len; getting past security was his specialty. Some reconnaissance, a little sneaking around rooftops and a couple of chokeholds took care of Dob’s crew. No sweat. All he had to do was hop onto an adjacent balcony to get to Mal’s building, then find the right window. But before he could jump, there were footsteps. He’d missed one. The guard emerged from the stairwell to find his partner knocked out and Len standing at the edge of the roof.

The guard pulled out a gun. Len broke off part of an antenna. A bullet shot through the air, missing Len’s neck by inches as he twisted and dove to the ground, flinging the antenna piece. It hit the guard square between the eyes, knocking him off balance. A running jump, a flying kick, some punches, some blocks and one karate chop (not necessary, but fun). It was over. All clear. Len hopped over to the next building and found his window.

Breaking into the actual apartment would be a lot easier. Dob was paranoid but sloppy: his locks and latches didn’t put up much resistance against Len’s deft fingers. He opened the window as quietly as he could and slipped inside. Len was standing in Mal’s study, which Dob had converted into some sort of gaudy trophy room. Many of Mal’s things were untouched, though, including her bureau, pressed up against one corner of the room. Len went over to it and unlocked the drawers. All except the top one, just as instructed. He took out some papers, all stapled together. There were also some folders, Old photographs. One very particular photograph that Mal definitely wouldn’t want Dob to keep. A journal. And her favorite knife, thin curved blade and an intricately carved bone hilt. Her name had been engraved on it, in a language that many had forgotten. That was all. Job done.

As he was getting up, a voice in the back of his mind asked why Mal had told him to leave the top drawer. What was the big secret, and why did she want it to stay with Dob? It didn’t matter. None of Len’s business. He would take Mal’s things back to her and then they could start their new life together. Simple as that.

The voice wouldn’t let up, though. What was the deal with that drawer? Len grunted impatiently and looked at it, really looked for the first time. It was different from the other drawers. Same faded green wood, but an elaborate golden border. Even the knob was different, molded to look like the head of some weird animal. Len could feel the hairs standing on the back of his neck, like they were trying to pull him away. Whatever was in that drawer was bad news, that much he could tell.

But what if he just got a peek? He wouldn’t take what was in there. Just look and lock it up again. Dob wouldn’t know. Neither would Mal. The job was still done and Len would still get paid. What was the big deal? He was standing over the desk, thumb tapping a frantic rhythm on its weathered surface. Just one peek. For curiosity’s sake. Len smiled. Curiosity. It killed cats. But Len was no cat.

He put his tools to work, picking at the lock of the top drawer, but nothing happened. He couldn’t get the damn thing to open. He couldn’t find a latch or a bolt or a way to make that lock go click under his fingers. A voice in his head again, but a different one. A woman’s voice. Soft. Sultry. Soothing. And click. The drawer was unlocked. Len was surprised, but relieved. One little peek. That’s all he wanted. He grabbed the drawer handle. It felt so warm in that cold, cold room. Like it was alive. Len hesitated. And then he pulled. The drawer slid open with a groan. Len peered into it, holding his breath, then letting it all out in one little whoosh. Empty. The drawer was empty.

Len laughed. Mal had made an ass out of him. All that spooky junk about locked drawers and it was empty. He was about to close it when he saw a shadow near the back. There was something there. The drawer wouldn’t open any further. Len craned his neck to get a better look but he couldn’t see anything except shadows. He reached inside and felt around. Felt something small, squishy. It was a heart. Mal’s heart. It glowed bright red, pulsating slowly under his palm. Somewhere across town, Len knew Mal felt her chest tighten. Why was she leaving her heart with Dob? She hated the bastard. Unless she didn’t.

Len closed the drawer and locked it again. He could still feel its pulsing rhythm along his hand. So that was it. Mal belonged to him now, mind, body and soul. But he knew where her heart truly lay. Len climbed back out the window and made his way to his car. He wished he’d never opened that damn drawer.

Word Count: 986

Case Closed

Not every mystery has a satisfying solution.

Sometimes the answer is stupidly simple, or so bizarre that even Sherlock Holmes would be thrown for a loop.

Detective Mason knew that quite well.

Still, getting ingested by a homicidal space butterfly didn’t seem like a particularly good ending to this case.

Slipping Away

The room was silent, except for the sound of ticking. Martin wished it would stop. It only served to remind him how much time he had lost, and how precious little he had left.

He picked up the ornate silver pen on his desk and let it rest on his finger tips. It had been a gift from an old friend whose face he could no longer remember. Martin’s name was etched onto the lid. Someone truly special must have given it to him, but whoever it was had been swallowed up by time.

Memories no longer existed in Martin’s mind. All he had were objects. Gifts and souvenirs that served as empty reminders of a forgotten past. And then there was the damned ticking.

It had been years since Martin owned a clock or a timepiece of any kind. His walls and his wrist were bare, yet the ticking persisted. It would drive him to madness soon, if it hadn’t already. He couldn’t recall a day without the ticking, or even any time that he had spent outside the room. Was it his sanctuary, or his prison? There was hardly a difference between the two anymore.

Growing ever restless, Martin opened up the notebook sitting in front of him and began to write, letting the weight of the pen guide his fingers across the page. The sound of metal scratching against paper was a welcome respite from the ticking. He savored the sound, reveled in it.

After what could have been hours or mere minutes, Martin put the pen down and leaned back in his chair. It was done. His mind would not survive the room, he knew that much. But whatever thoughts he had, whatever fleeting memories blinked dimly in the darkening expanses of his mind, would live on. He could ensure that much at least.

Sighing with relief, Martin closed his eyes.

The ticking stopped.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 13: Misdirection


“You’re an assistant! Your job is just to assist and look pretty!”

Carmen cringed. She hated it when Ernesto went off on her like that.

“You smile, wave at the crowd and flash your legs, but at the end of the day, they’re coming to see me! Ernesto the Magnificent! Don’t ever forget that!”

Ernesto jabbed a finger at her. His lean face was contorted into a scowl unlike the dapper smile that beamed from the poster behind him.

“Y-yes, Ernesto,” she whispered.

“I’m the star of the show! It’s my face on all the billboards, not yours! Try to steal my limelight again, and you’ll end up doing a permanent vanishing act!”

With that last word, he picked up one of the swords that he used in his act and threw it at Carmen, missing her face by mere inches as it embedded itself into the wall behind her. It wasn’t a prop. She screamed and shrank farther back.

Having satisfied his rage, Ernesto relaxed, adopting the sly charming smile that Carmen had first fallen in love with. He picked up his top hat and placed it on his head at a slight angle.

“Now wipe those tears and fix your makeup. We need to prep everything for the show and I can’t have you looking like a mess.”

With a flourish, he turned and walked out of the green room, leaving Carmen quivering.


As she always did, Carmen set up all the props for the evening’s performance, including the ones used in Ernesto’s greatest trick, The Resurrection.

Ernesto would step inside a large trunk. Carmen would lock it and demonstrate the strength of the lock by attempting and failing to pry the trunk open. She would then bring out a table lined with a row of swords. An audience member would be called on stage to verify that the swords were real. Carmen would repeatedly stab the trunk, running the swords all the way through, causing jets of blood to spurt from the holes, and drawing gasps and screams from the crowd. In reality, there was only one real sword, which the audience volunteer examined. The rest were all props. Carmen would remove the swords and open the trunk, revealing traces of blood but no body inside. More gasps would follow, and the audience would break out into an uneasy murmur.

That was when a completely unharmed Ernesto made his grand appearance from the back of the auditorium, to thunderous applause and cheers of delight. It was a true showstopper.

Carmen finished inspecting the trunk and was satisfied. Everything was ready for the show.


“Ladies and gentlemen! We have a most spectacular performance for you tonight! An astounding sorcerer who has honed his craft among the mystical monks of the Himalayas and the shamans of the African jungles – I give you, Ernesto the Magnificent!”

The crowd erupted into applause as Ernesto stepped onto the stage, dressed in a dark silk tuxedo with a flowing cape. He was never short on showmanship. More applause followed as he ran through his usual tricks: producing a flock of doves from his hat, making Carmen levitate and seemingly changing outfits in the blink of an eye.

At last, it was time for the main event, the trick that everyone had anxiously been waiting for since the curtains parted.

Carmen wheeled in the trunk, which was stood upright, while Ernesto started on his usual patter. He warned the audience about the heart-stopping nature of what they were about to see, and trotted out the old line about the Himalayan monks and what they had taught him. Then he proceeded to show off the trunk, its mundane and non-mystical nature. He gestured to the prop swords lying on the table next to it and demonstrated, using the real sword they mixed in with the group, the sharpness of the blades. Carmen stood off to the side and smiled, hands on her hips and bosom thrust out.

As the crowd watched, their breath collectively catching in their throats, Ernesto stepped into the trunk and gave Carmen the signal to close it. She shut the lid, locked it, and turned to face the crowd again. She walked over to the table with a big smile on her face and picked up one of the swords. With an exaggerated show of force, she plunged it through the upper part of the trunk, where Ernesto’s head would be. The blade came out the other side, slick with blood. The audience was already squirming.

She bowed, smile frozen in place, and went to fetch another sword. In total, sixteen swords were stuck into the trunk. After taking a moment to show off her handiwork, Carmen set about removing the swords, one by one. They slid out with a soft squelch, drawing at least one scream from the audience.

Now came the moment of revelation. With a big theatrical gesture, Carmen flung the trunk open. It was covered in blood, but otherwise empty. Everyone gasped in amazement. There was a small smattering of applause and Carmen took a bow.

Some of the audience members who had seen the show before immediately turned to face the back door. Others followed suit, and soon the entire auditorium was facing the back, waiting. Nothing happened.

The crowd grew uneasy. Where was he? This was the big finish, where he would show up again, unharmed. But he never came. Nobody saw him again after he stepped into the trunk that night.

Carmen was interrogated about his disappearance by the police, but they had to let her go. There was no evidence of any wrongdoing and since disappearing was a part of Ernesto’s trick, they couldn’t charge her with anything. Carmen walked away, sobbing into a large silk handkerchief.

Later that night, when the auditorium was empty, Carmen snuck in and opened the carefully concealed trapdoor on the stage. It led to a small chamber that she and Ernesto had installed months before the show; they were the only ones that knew about it. She pressed her handkerchief against her nose tightly as the smell hit her. Lying on the floor of the chamber was the body of Ernesto the Magnificent, covered in stab wounds and rusty, caked blood. Carmen would use the stage riggings to lift his body out and deposit it in the trunk, which she would dispose of some place far off. After that she would rigorously clean the entire stage area until no trace of blood was left. She would also get rid of the real swords that she had used in place of the props (and that she had carefully switched before the police investigation).

Fastidious as ever, Carmen had taken care of every detail. No one would ever know that shedding genuine tears over the disappearance of Ernesto the Magnificent was the greatest trick she’d ever pulled.

Story A Day Challenge – Day 29: Dust to Dust

For the first prompt of the challenge, I’d written the beginning of a story. For the penultimate prompt, we were tasked with writing an ending, so I did just that. Filling in the middle will be a task for another time.

Murphy’s Bar was mostly empty. Only a small handful of regulars were sitting around, drinking away their sorrows. Sam poured herself another glass of whisky, wincing slightly as a fresh jolt of pain shot through her shoulder. That wasn’t going away any time soon.

The small TV at the corner of the bar was showing a news report on the Cahill case. Lieutenant Jeffries was being commended for his part in bringing the killer to justice, while Sam wasn’t even mentioned as a footnote. It was just the way she wanted it, really. The less people came knocking at her door asking for help the better off she’d be.

Her thoughts turned to Jessica. The poor girl had never had a chance to grow up. The one adult decision she’d made in her life ended up costing her more than even a rich girl could afford. Gordon and Lilian Cahill would have a lot to answer for in the coming weeks and months. Whether they’d face any true justice or not was another matter.

Sam stared at her bruised knuckles. After all that had happened, what she really needed was a good night’s sleep. But she knew that wouldn’t be possible. There were too many ghosts in her past, and they always haunted her dreams. The best she could hope for was a drunken blackout.

As the afternoon faded into dusk, Sam made her way out of the bar and walked to the cemetery. She was still more sober than she would have liked, but it gave her a chance to appreciate the beauty of the town. And it was beautiful, despite the ugliness that lurked underneath its skin.

Sam walked through the arched black gates and up the hill until she was standing in front of Jessica’s gravestone. Tomorrow, the town would be torn apart once the Cahill family’s darkest secrets were dug up. But for now, Sam watched the light of the fading sun glint off the rooftops in the distance and hoped that Jessica had found some measure of peace.

Story A Day Challenge – Day 26: The Keeper

“You’re eager to know what’s in the box, aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“But you know you can’t look inside.”

“I do.”

“Inside this box is something so powerful, the world would be devastated if it were unleashed. That is why we’ve entrusted you with its protection. It must remain sealed at all costs. Will you be able to control your curiosity?”

“You have my word. I will guard the box’s secrets with my life. You can depend on me.”

“Let us hope so, Pandora.”

Story A Day Challenge – Day 24: Pocketful of Tales

Stories Interrupted: Life seems to have gotten in the way for a bit. But ultimately, the stories must go on.

This prompt presented us with a series of photographs. We had to pick three that appealed to us and write a trio of corresponding micro stories. Here are my selections.

Mother’s Smile (Picture Here)

Grandma always wondered when my father would come back home. She would spend hours sitting on the veranda, waiting for him. She couldn’t accept that he was gone for good.

Nobody knew where he had gone, or if he was even alive.

Except Mom. She just smiled and said nothing.

Labor of Love (Picture Here)

“I wanna make a baby with you.”

“Oh, George.”

“I’m serious, doll. You and me, bringing life into this world.”

Lila gazed into George’s dark eyes as he caressed her arm.

They would eventually learn to be careful what they wished for. But it would be too late. For everyone.

Happily Ever After? (Picture Here)

Melinda wasn’t a happy bride.

Everyone remembered her wedding. The food was sumptuous and the music was lively. The groom could not stop smiling, but Melinda looked grim.

She was not a happy bride. She was not a happy wife.

But she was the happiest widow anyone had ever seen.

Story A Day Challenge – Day 18: The Lord of Richardson Manor

Marjorie lifted the ring that dangled from the brass wolf’s head knocker and tapped it firmly against the door twice. The wolf regarded her with suspicion, then retreated as the door yawned open.

A tall ghost of a man stood before her in a crisply pressed ash-colored suit and a matching complexion. She seemed almost like a child by comparison, in a long powder-blue dress and a white hat, the top of which was just level with the tall man’s chest. He looked down at her with a morose expression that might have been the only one he had.

“Yes?” he said curtly, in a voice that rumbled within the depths of the manor.

“Good afternoon. My name is Marjorie Haversham. I’m the – ”

Before she could finish, the tall man intoned “Come in,” and stepped aside, motioning for her to enter.

Marjorie stepped into Richardson Manor, looking around in awe. She was greeted by a large atrium, from which cavernous hallways stretched to the left and right. It was a tapestry of scratched dark wood and faded red velvet. At one time, the interior of Richardson Manor would have looked very majestic. After the many misfortunes the family had suffered, it was little more than a ruin.

“I will inform Master Richardson of your arrival,” the tall man said in the same even tone he had employed since opening the door, and promptly ascended the stairs.

Marjorie gazed upon the portraits and other assorted paintings that adorned the walls. Rich, lush colors struggled to be seen under layers of dust. The same could be said of the disused furniture; Marjorie was certain that any attempt to sit down would only result in acquainting her with the floor rather quickly. Almost as quickly as the Richardson family had fallen from grace.

Family patriarch William Richardson had built himself a vast fortune off his father’s meager savings, also garnering plenty of respect along the way. His wife Fiona was of wealthy blood herself, and bore him three children. Alexander, the oldest, went on to join his father’s business after finishing his studies. Beatrice married one of Alexander’s friends and did little else of note. And young Malcolm was not yet of an age where he could do much. They lived a life of prosperity and power until Alexander got too ambitious and ended up losing more than he could afford.

Struggling with mounting debts, Alexander became a drunk. Beatrice suffered a miscarriage and her husband’s subsequent infidelity, and Fiona took ill, seemingly never to recover. The downward trajectory of the Richardson family ultimately ended in flames. Fires blazed in the upper rooms of the manor one night, like a beacon signaling the end of their dynasty. Nobody knew who had set it. Was it an irate creditor whose anger outweighed his financial desires, or had one of the Richardsons reached the end of their tether? All that remained were questions.

“Good evening, Miss Haversham.”

Marjorie turned to see William Richardson descending the broad staircase that led down to the atrium, looking as dapper as he did at the height of his good fortunes. She realized that the other members of the Richardson family had also populated the hall while she was lost in thought, and were all looking at her with a mixture of anxiety and annoyance.

“I hear you’ve come to evict me from my home,” William Richardson boomed, in a voice that was pleasant but didn’t quite hide the aggression bubbling behind it. “I am afraid we have no intention of moving.”

Marjorie let out a small sigh and started to open her bag. This would not be an easy exorcism.

Story A Day Challenge – Day 10: Out the Other Side

“Lindsey?”

Will’s voice echoed off the walls of the tunnel as he entered it. It was completely dark in there, and he had to feel ahead of him before taking each step. There was a light somewhere, far ahead, but the tunnel seemed to go on forever. Will wondered when he would reach the end. It also seemed impossible that Lindsey could have gotten to the other side so quickly. She had just left his side moments ago. Was that right?

He couldn’t remember. Will paused. Why had Lindsey run into the tunnel anyway? Was she chasing something? No, she was too old for that. She was almost a teenager, for goodness’ sake! She wasn’t going to chase rabbits or other animals into a tunnel! But then why had she run in? And where had she gone?

“Lindseeyy!”

The echoes of his voice died out, and there was silence. Where was she? Will was scared. She was all he had after her mother had died. He couldn’t lose her too. He realized he was being melodramatic. She wasn’t gone. He just had to find her. The light didn’t seem any closer than it was before.

It seemed to be getting colder. Will could see his breath misting in the gloom. Just where was he? He couldn’t remember that either. What were he and Lindsey doing before she ran off? They were home. No, that couldn’t be right. There were no tunnels near where they lived. And it didn’t make sense that Lindsey would just run out of the house. How did they both end up here? He could feel his head pounding as he tried to piece things together. It didn’t matter, he decided. All that mattered now was finding his daughter.

As he walked through the cold, he could feel his chest tightening up. He had been diagnosed with a form of cardiac arrhythmia three years ago. It hadn’t bothered him much until after Helen’s passing. He ignored the pain and kept going. He couldn’t give up.

More memories started coming back to him. He was watching TV. Lindsey had just come home from soccer practice. No…she had come with him. He’d picked her up from practice, and then they were watching TV together. That wasn’t quite right either. And how did any of it connect to this? Where did Lindsey go? Will was getting frustrated. Stabbing pains were shooting through his chest. He stopped, doubling over. It was hopeless. He couldn’t remember.

“Dad?”

Will straightened up. “Lindsey? Oh my god, Lindsey! Where are you, honey?”

No response. “Lindsey? Can you hear me?”

“Dad?”

Will quickened his pace. “I’m coming, Lindsey! Hang on!”

“Don’t go, Dad!”

“I’m not going anywhere, sweetheart! Just stay wherever you are!”

The light seemed a bit closer now. Will could see more of the tunnel ahead, see the broken lights that lined its walls, the moss that crept along its arches. He started sprinting. Lindsey was close by. He was going to find her.

“Please, Dad…”

“I’m coming, honey!”

The end of the tunnel loomed ever closer. Will kept running until he made it all the way to the other side. There she was.

Will’s eyes shot open. He was in bed. There were beeping noises all around. Lindsey was standing next to him, her freckled cheeks soaked with tears.

“Dad…”

“It’s alright, Lindsey,” a reassuring voice said. “Your father’s going to pull through.”

Story A Day Challenge – Day 8: Collaboration

There were two writing prompts today. The first was to write a story involving conflict. The other was to write a story that contained the following: a black-and-white cat, a pot of gold, hair curlers, a terrible storm, a chess game, and a cow. I decided to combine them.

“Twas a dark and stormy night.”

“Really? That’s what you came up with. The old ‘stormy night’ opening. That’s how you plan to start your story.”

“Ugh. Fine then. ‘There was a terrible storm brewing -‘”

“Did you major in clichés? Is that what’s going on here? We’re sitting down to write the World’s Most Trite Tale?!”

“Well I don’t see you making any suggestions.”

“We need to think outside the box.”

“Bravo. What an innovative plan. Did you write your thesis on Meaningless Phraseology?”

“Shut up. At least I have a plan.”

“Which really gets us no closer to a story.”

“What story are we writing anyway?

“Haven’t we been over this? It’s a murder mystery with splashes of horror!”

“That’s ridiculous. What we want is a fantasy comedy.”

“What?! Nonsense! We’re doing a horror mystery, just like I had in mind!”

“No, we’re doing a mystery comedy.”

“That’s just….fine. Tell you what. You tell your story and I’ll tell mine, and we’ll see which one’s better.”

“Fine. It’s a waste of time, though, as it’ll definitely be mine.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“Go on then. What’s the deal with your story?”

“Well, we know it takes place on a stormy night. Because I just said it did. I don’t care how cliché it is. It’s going to have a storm. A big one!”

“Alright, fine. We have a storm. And then what happens?”

“There’s a murder.”

“Oh – come on – really?! A murder on a stormy night? That’s Murder Mystery 101, man! That’s pretty much the only thing that happens on stormy nights!”

“Will you just let me get on with the story?”

“I don’t even – fine. Continue with your Tale of Unbelievable Triteness.”

“There’s a terrible storm raging. Rain is falling from the skies like bullets from God’s machine gun.”

“What the – ”

“Lightning streaks across the night, accompanied by booming thunder. The heavens themselves are at war! And amidst this epic battle of the gods, one small mortal has a dark purpose to fulfill. A purpose that ends in….MURDER!”

“Well that’s certainly the loopiest description of a stormy night I’ve ever heard, I’ll give you that. So this guy, or girl, wants to kill someone. Is it a rich old widow? Or an eccentric professor? Oh, let me guess…before dying, the professor spells out the identity of his killer using a series of cryptic clues that must be deciphered over the course of 500 pages!”

“Would you like to make a contribution that doesn’t involve just taking up space?”

“Very well then. Let me show you how it’s done.”

“Oh, please do.”

“Hmmph. Now, there is a murder that takes place in this tale – ”

“You just stole that from me! And after all of your complaining!”

“Look, I’m not writing about a murder on a ‘dark and stormy night’ with divine machine guns, alright?” Fantasy comedies can have murder too.”

“Oh, of course they can. Alright, so your murder story is completely different from mine. Let’s hear it.”

“For starters, the victim’s name is Belvedere Thimblegardner, billionaire and collector of unique artifacts. On a trip to Ireland the previous year, he had been on the lookout for supernatural trinkets and came across a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Belvedere added it to his collection without a second thought. Leprechaun gold? Now that was something to hang onto. And who knows, it might even aid him in capturing an actual leprechaun to put in his menagerie!”

“Leprechauns. Yeesh. Ok.”

“Anyway, the owner of the pot is a leprechaun by the name of Finnwick Paddywick, who is understandably distraught at losing his gold. Leprechauns rely on their gold, you see, because it brings them luck.”

“I thought that was four leaf clovers.”

“Yes…four leaf clovers…AND gold. The gold enhances the power of the clover, so without the gold, the clover is mostly useless.”

“That seems like a needlessly complicated system. Why can’t he just want the gold because it’s gold?”

“Because that’s not how it works!”

“Why don’t you figure that out while I continue with my story. In a derelict apartment block nestled in a part of the city that never really seen better days, murder most foul has been committed. The victim is one Hans Fezmueller, the building landlord. He’s been stabbed to death while watching TV, his crimson blood staining his dirty white T-shirt and his green couch. There are no other traces of blood, no bloody footprints or fingerprints, and no murder weapon to be found. No disturbance at all. Well, not quite. The window of his apartment is open, and underneath the window sill is one single clue: a broken pink hair curler.”

“A hair curler? So he was killed by a disgruntled housewife?”

“Well, we don’t know that. That’s the mystery.”

“It’s a housewife, isn’t it?”

“Well, yes, but it’s the investigation that’s the real story.”

“Hmm, fascinating, yes. Belvedere Thimblegardner lies dead in his gargantuan mansion.”

“Oh, so we’re going back to your story now?”

“He appears to have been beaten by some sort of blunt object. A golden scepter lies nearby, a relic from a Hungarian vacation. It’s covered in blood. Belvedere is lying on the floor by two lavish couches facing each other. Between them, an unfinished game of chess. However, the white king has been knocked over. Detective Mooweather is most puzzled by this unusual scene.”

“Detective Mooweather?”

“He’s a cow.”

“Your detective’s a cow?!”

“Yes. Clarence Mooweather, Cow Sleuth. And his trusty sidekick, Professor Rufflebaum.”

“And what’s he, a sheep?”

“A cat, actually. A black and white cat with mismatched eyes.”

“Huh. That’s actually not bad. Animal detectives.”

“Yes, animal detectives! I told you my story would be great!”

“It’s got potential, I suppose. So who’s the killer? The leprechaun?”

“No! That’d be too obvious. It’s..uh..well, I haven’t really gotten that far, to be honest.”

“Can the killer be a ghost?”

“What?”

“Yeah, the ghost of a disgruntled housewife. Perhaps a former Mrs. Thimblegardner…who was a literal gold digger!”

“And what would a ghost want with gold?”

“Luck, of course. Maybe it’s a misguided attempt to change her luck and resurrect herself.”

“Gold isn’t really a time travel device, you know.”

“Couldn’t it be?”

“Hmmm. Well, I guess. Maybe we’re onto something here.”

“I know, right? We’ve got a horror-mystery-fantasy-comedy!”

“Why not throw in some romance while we’re at it?”

“Don’t you dare!”

“Relax, it was just a joke.”

Malcolm smiled. After months of agonizing over what story to write, his ideas had come together at last. He quickly started typing before his mind erupted into chaos again.

Story A Day Challenge – Day 7: Mysterious Assassin

“Who’s a good boy? Is it you? Is it you? Aww, it’s you!”

The gentleman smiled, petting his loyal companion Radcliffe’s tummy and delighting in the furious tail wagging that ensued. It was probably his favorite way to unwind after a successful job. Playing with Radcliffe and enjoying a late evening milkshake at Shifty’s Diner.

Shifty’s was a little hole in the wall with silverware that was permanently stained and some of the worst coffee known to man. But their milkshakes were delightful, and their waitresses smiled no matter how miserable their mood, especially Lizzie. The gentleman quite liked Lizzie. Plus, they allowed Radcliffe to sit at the booth with him. That was an important consideration. He took another sip of his milkshake and watched the world pass by outside. It was rush hour, and people were running to and fro, heading home or running errands. The diner was quiet, though. That was part of its charm.

“Anything else for you, hun?” Lizzie asked in her singsong drawl.

“Some bacon would be nice,” the gentleman said with a twinkle in his eye.

Lizzie flashed him her sweetest smile. “Well, sure.”

She disappeared into the kitchen as the gentleman rubbed Radcliffe’s tummy again.

***

The house was swarming with blue uniforms and crisply pressed suits. It was one of the oldest houses in the area and its occupant, Mrs. Bolger, was a notable name on the local high society scene. She and her husband had helped to found The Boutonniere Society, where the rich and the snobby mingled, berating the not-so-rich over imported champagne. Her fame was about to become more widespread, though she wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.

Mrs. Bolger was sitting in a luxurious leather armchair in her reading parlor, hair tied up in a neat bun, a small heap of society magazines lying by her feet. She was dressed in a simple cream colored night gown, which was wrapped in a maroon robe. At first glance, it might seem that she had fallen asleep while reading. The bullet hole in her forehead told a grimmer story.

“Christ. What’s the situation, Tommy?”

Detective Martin Atherton was irate. He had been looking forward to a quiet night of cheap beer and ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns when he got the call. Officer Tom Bates gave him a quick summary.

“No sign of forced entry, or any kind of struggle. Looks like she was shot point blank with a small caliber bullet. We’ve recovered the casing.” He held up a small plastic bag. “Forensics should have some answers for us by tomorrow. No fingerprints or shoe prints. We’re doing a full inventory of the place. Seems like some jewelry might have been taken.”

“Hmm. Pretty elaborate for a simple robbery.”

“Ah, well, that’s not all sir.” The young uniformed officer rubbed the back of his neck, looking nervous.

“Oh?”

Officer Bates pointed to an end table by one large picture window. On the ornate wooden table sat a simple beige card with the initials ‘M.A’ neatly written on it in black ink, almost as if they had been printed.

“Crap.” Detective Atherton was not happy.

“Mysterious Assassin again, sir.”

An unknown killer, dubbed ‘Mysterious Assassin’ by the police because of his calling card, had wreaked havoc in the city a few years ago. Detective Atherton had been the lead investigator on the very first ‘M.A.’ murder, and had become obsessed with the killer. He had requested the lead on every case since. It had been one of the biggest unsolved crimes of his career. After a 5-year murder spree, Mysterious Assassin disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived. No new murder victims turned up bearing his trademark signature.

Rumors about the Assassin’s identity circulated throughout the city. For a brief period, people even believed Martin Atherton was the killer, covering his own tracks. It was a poorly thought out theory that was easily disproved; the man couldn’t be in two places at once, after all. For his part, Detective Atherton seemed glad to be done with the case, solved or not. But his colleagues knew that he was always on the lookout for any mention of Mysterious Assassin.

Detective Atherton examined the scene thoroughly to see if he could find any other clues. The stolen jewelry was a new angle. Mysterious Assassin was a killer, plain and simple. Had his motivations changed, or was this a copy cat? The detective told Officer Bates that he needed to look through his old case files and see what similarities there were to the previous cases.

But he had not intention of looking through case files. There was something far more urgent to be done.

***

Shifty’s Diner always smelled of waffles. It didn’t matter what else was being made. The smell of waffles persisted. Detective Martin Atherton walked in and greeted Lizzie with a tip of his hat. Seeing her made the gloomiest nights brighter.

“The usual for you, Detective?” she called.

“You know it,” he said with a smile and walked over to a booth where a neatly dressed gentleman was sitting next to a very happy looking foxhound. He slid into the seat across from the gentleman, frowning.

“Hello, Morty,” he said in a tired voice.

“Hello, Marty,” the gentleman responded, beaming.

“You’re at it again.”

“Ah.” Morty was digging out the last of his milkshake with a sundae spoon. “They found her, did they? Sorry about that. A new contract came my way last week and it was too good to pass up.” He shrugged nonchalantly, focused on the milkshake.

“Who would hire you to kill a batty old lady?”

Morty looked up, seeming a bit hurt. “Marty, you know I can’t tell you that. Assassin-client privilege.”

“Right.” Detective Atherton sighed.

“You know what this means,” he said. “I’m gonna have to go through the whole act of chasing you again. Covering up evidence, squashing paper trails. Dammit, Morty, you know how much work that is.”

“I’m sorry, Marty. It’s just been so long since I’ve pulled a job. I couldn’t resist. I stole some jewelry, though. To spice things up.”

“Well, you could have at least killed her in a sloppy or brutal way to make it more convincing.”

Morty scoffed. “I am an artist. I cannot lower the value of my craft just to be conspicuous.”

Detective Atherton sighed again as a cup of coffee was placed in front of him along with a small stack of pancakes. He smiled up at the winsome young waitress.

“Thanks, Lizzie.”

“No problem, Detective. You doing ok, Morty? Radcliffe need anything?”

“Just fine, Lizzie.”

She smiled and went back to the counter. Detective Atherton took a large sip of coffee. It was awful. But in his own strange way, he was addicted to it.

“By the way,” Morty said. “I did make one small mistake. I forgot to retrieve the spent casing from the bullet.”

“I know.” Detective Atherton tossed a small plastic bag on the table. “I had to be very careful about swiping this. They’ll probably blame poor Tommy. He won’t get fired over it, I’ll make sure of that. But he’s in for an earful.”

Mortimer Atherton smiled. “You’re a good brother, Marty. Always have been.”

Marty grunted and shoved a forkful of pancakes into his mouth.

“How’s Patricia doing?” he asked.

“Oh, much better. The doctors have told her to take it easy, but you know Patty. Never stops moving, that one. That reminds me. She asked me to check if you’re still coming over for dinner on Friday?”

Martin nodded. “Yes, I’ll be there. Seven, sharp.”

“Good. She’ll be happy to hear that.”

Mortimer smiled and motioned to Lizzie for the check. He left a handsome tip, as he always did, said goodbye to his brother, and left, Radcliffe in tow.

Martin asked for a refill on his coffee and ate his pancakes slowly. He was in no rush to go anywhere. He had a case to leave unsolved.

Story A Day Challenge – Day 4: Displaced

Paul opened his eyes, tried sitting up and promptly fell back on the bed. His head was in a carousel, and while it seemed to be enjoying the ride, he wanted off. Once the room had stopped spinning, Paul tried sitting up again. It was a little easier this time, but the ceiling was already tilting at an angle again.

After a third attempt, Paul finally got to his feet, taking shaky steps. He was wearing only a pair of tight white briefs, which was odd, as he didn’t own any. He was in his bedroom, thankfully, but he was surprised to see how tidy it was. The carpet had been vacuumed just recently. He didn’t own a vacuum cleaner.

Paul sat down again. Something was wrong. Was this his room? He looked around carefully. It was. Or one very like it. What happened? How’d he get here anyway? Last thing he remembered, he was on the way to Adam’s 21st birthday celebration. It was going to be a night of drunkenness and debauchery. Paul glanced down at his briefs. Maybe it was.

He also remembered breaking up with Holly at the party. Or rather, she had broken up with him. She was tired of his drunken escapades and the late nights he so enjoyed. For God’s sake, she had told him, he was pushing thirty and he still hung out with college kids! When would he put all that behind him? She couldn’t contemplate spending her life with a drunk, so maybe it was best to end things before they got really ugly. Of course, she was breaking up with him at a friend’s party and he was trying, unsuccessfully, to hold back tears, so it was a little too late to avoid ugly. Once Holly had walked away, Paul tried to put her out of his mind the only way he knew how: with a lot of alcohol.

As Paul attempted to sort out the details of the previous night, he could feel someone tapping away at the top of his skull, quite insistently. He rubbed his temples, hunched over on the bed, trying to focus. He needed coffee. That would help. Paul shuffled to his feet and slowly made his way to the little bathroom attached to the corner of his room. Coffee could wait. First, he had to pee. And maybe throw up.

On the way to the bathroom, Paul looked out the window. The sunlight had felt odd to him when he got up, but now was the first time he really noticed it. It was much too white. He stopped mid-shuffle. Something was definitely wrong. There were people outside his window. He lived on the third floor of a run-down apartment, so that was impossible. Yet there they were. Staring at him. They were also the strangest people Paul had ever seen, and he was sure that the one on the right wasn’t really human. Maybe it was the purple skin, or the dozens of yellow eyes perched on its head. He wasn’t sure which.

Paul edged closer toward the window, and saw that there were a lot of people outside, walking all over the place. Some looked human, some looked partially human, and others didn’t appear to be human at all, much like the purple-skinned creature that was gawking at him. They appeared to be in some sort of large white auditorium, and he could see all sorts of houses and apartment blocks placed around the room and cordoned off. People would stand around and observe the goings-on in one house, then move on to the next.

Paul rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Just what the hell happened last night, and where the hell did he end up? Was he still drunk? Or wait, was he stoned? Was he on acid? This was a bad trip, wasn’t it? He had dropped a few tabs of acid, and now he was tripping out of his mind. He laughed out loud at the thought, scaring the spectators outside his window away. What appeared to be a shiny chrome street light reassured them in a soothing voice that Paul was completely harmless. He opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it. He didn’t like being called ‘harmless’, but who was he to argue with a street light?

A bright sign caught Paul’s attention. He was surprised he hadn’t seen it before, given that it was hovering just outside his window. It was a revolving hologram that mimicked the sort of placard they used to have in museums. As it rotated to face him, Paul managed to read what it said:

Living Exhibit from the 21st Century: The Typical Drunk

Paul blinked in disbelief and read the sign again, then slumped against the window sill.

Maybe, just maybe, Holly had a point.