20 Tales of Terror – Day 17: Beyond The Veil


Dearest Candice,

I hope this letter finds you in good health.

It has been scarcely two days since my departure, and already I find myself missing you deeply.

This morning, I was formally introduced to Dr. Cavendish, who gave me a personal tour of the institute and explained my duties in greater detail. I cannot describe to you the thrill I felt on meeting such a great man, and knowing that I will be working alongside him to broaden the horizons of human understanding and knowledge.

Dr. Cavendish is a man of great vision. Through his work, we may definitively be able to prove the scientific roots of the supernatural. If we are successful, all those old myths and superstitions will take on a completely new light! I know how dangerous that must sound, but do not worry. Dr. Cavendish is very thorough in his methods.

His behavior can, at times, be quite unorthodox, but that is to be expected of any ingenious mind. They operate on a level of thought we cannot begin to comprehend. He is very fastidious about cleanliness. Why, he even wore gloves while shaking hands with me! During our tour, we came across a stain on the floor. At first, I thought it to be blood, but later reflected it must have been a chemical spill. Dr. Cavendish was absolutely livid, however. He stamped his feet and roared at the top of his voice at everyone in the laboratory, stressing the important of keeping every surface clean.

I must confess, in that moment I felt a pang of fear, and thought I detected madness dancing behind his eyes. Perhaps that is the price of being truly passionate about something. Only moments later, Dr. Cavendish was in a good humor again, and resumed our tour as if the interruption had never occurred.

It was a most uneventful day otherwise. We had many discussions on the afterlife and its scientific implications that were quite fascinating to me, but I shall spare you the details.

Tomorrow, my work begins in earnest, and I greatly look forward to it. The coming weeks will be demanding, but I shall write to you as often as I possibly can.

Do give my love to Annabelle, and let her know that the both of you will always be in my heart.

With love,

Nathan

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 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.

Unseen

The theme word for this week’s writing prompt is ‘eye’.

Argus walked through the hallway again, making sure it was empty. Many of the exhibits at the museum had been vandalized recently. Nobody could figure out who had done it, or how. As the head of security, Argus was responsible for keeping the museum safe, and he had been failing of late. He was determined to catch the vandals. It was his duty.

He took a swig from his hip flask. The museum management had always turned a blind eye to Argus’ drinking because of his diligence. If he screwed this one up, however, his diligence and overall competence would be called into question. Argus could not afford to fail.

The Egyptian room was secured, as was the small prehistoric fossil room. Outside the Greek room, Argus stopped cold. He heard something. A low, scraping sound. Jaw clenched, he crept toward the doorway. He had his flashlight in one hand and baton in the other. Whoever was in there wouldn’t get past him, though he wondered how they got in at all.

The old man squinted his dark gray eyes, trying to catch sight of a silhouette that looked out of place. It was too dark to tell. Tightening his grip on the baton, Argus walked into the room and swept his flashlight over the entire area. It wasn’t really designed for hiding in, but he couldn’t see anyone or anything there.

He was startled by a loud crash. An amphora lay in pieces on the floor, surrounded by pale blue dust. As he crept closer toward it, Argus felt uneasy. It almost felt like something was crawling around under his skin. He shuddered, and the feeling went away. That’s when Argus saw it. The vandal that had defaced precious artwork and destroyed priceless artifacts. A raccoon. That’s what had been behind everything. Argus laughed with relief. It must have gotten in when the museum was undergoing renovation a few weeks ago. How did the little critter evade notice for so long?

The raccoon ran off and Argus managed to chase it into a supply closet. He’d let Animal Control deal with it in the morning. For now, the museum was safe. Argus yawned. It had been a long night. He walked back to his office, rubbing his pale blue eyes. Tomorrow would be a new day full of new possibilities. He couldn’t wait.