Thursday Thriller – Rumors

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“Come on!  Let’s go in!”  Andrew tugged on her arm painfully, but her feet were planted on the ground.  She looked at the brown weeds sprouting up through the cracks in the sidewalk, the vast parking lot, sprawling and expanding around them like a gray, concrete ocean.  The empty mall had been sitting there, an abandoned eyesore, for years, since Mona was a little girl.  The town had no idea what to do with the space and no investor would touch it.  So it sat, and the stories began to swirl.  The murders that had supposedly taken place there, the girls who’d slowly started going missing in the years since the mall had been abandoned, the body found buried in a shallow grave, the madman that supposedly lived there in one of the desolate anchor stores.  It made for great scary stories at sleepovers when she and her friends were little, but Mona had never taken the rumors seriously.  It was just a hiding place for homeless people and a spot for losers to  get high.

Andrew tugged on her arm again, flashing that lopsided smile, and she remembered why her mother had warned her about him.  He took her hand and she squeezed it as tightly as she could as she followed him inside, crawling through a gaping hole in a wall that faced a deserted side alley.

The lights were still on.  She could hear the hum of the electricity all around her, despite the fact that the floor was littered with shattered glass, dirty sleeping bags, and trash.  Every fixture had been ripped from the walls and ceiling, signs hung crookedly around them.  “Welcome Back!” A banner screamed, brushing her arm as she walked past trepidatiously.

“This place is super creepy, Drew.  Let’s just go,” Mona pleaded, trying to pull him back.  He didn’t stop, just kept dragging her forward.

“I have something I want to show you.  It’s just around the corner.”

They ducked into one of the abandoned stores.  It was dark and Mona found herself longing for the well-lit corridor, spooky as it was.  There was a shadowy figure curled up in the corner, laying against the wall.  He stood as they approached.  As they grew closer, she could see the strange look in his eyes, the knife gleaming slightly in the sparse light that escaped from the hallway.  Andrew’s grip on her arm tightened; it was no longer safe, reassuring.  He was restraining her.

The stories were true.

 

I have a strange obsession with creepy abandoned malls, which sadly there are many of in certain parts of the U.S.   Enjoy the video if you’re interested!

Thursday Thriller – Dark Horse

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He rode up on a dark horse this morning, just as the sun rose through the line of trees that faced the house. I was on the front porch, wiping sweat from my brow as I sat in a rocking chair. I needed a rest. I’d been working all night.

He told me I didn’t have to worry any longer, that I was safe. He would take me far away from this squalid house, my unfulfilling marriage. He was going to rescue me.

Then his eyes widened as he saw the deep, brownish-red stains on my white apron, the perspiration on my face, the hole dug at the edge of the property. The sun shone in the window of my house, illuminating what was lying on the floor of the front parlor. He blanched as he looked back at me with eyes full of fear, not pity, for once, and my chest swelled.

I don’t need rescuing.

Thursday Thriller – Rescued

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Read Part 1 – Calla

Read Part 2 – Tower

Read Part 3 – Beast

Read Part 4 – Rose

Read Part 5 – Quest

Read Part 6 – Banished

Read Part 7 – Transformation 

Calla hated hospitals.  She’d spent a good part of her childhood in them during the years her father was ill.  He died when she was thirteen.  A week after the funeral, when the phone had stopped ringing, when the neighbors had stopped coming by, when the house was closed-in and empty, stinking of days-0ld casseroles and wilting flowers, she poured herself a drink.  A whiskey.  Her mother was distracted by her grief, inconsolable, locked in her bedroom.  The alcohol was like fire going down Calla’s throat, but she drank every drop.  When the glass was empty, she poured another.  And another.  After she finished the bottle, she felt this delicious oblivion, like nothing could ever hurt her again.  She fell in love with the feeling, chasing it desperately for the next decade.  Her mother had tried, for years, to drag her back from it, to save her, but the pull was too strong.

Now Calla sat in another hospital, waiting for news of Edgar.  Catherine was beside her, her legs jittering nervously, her steely eyes facing the doorway of the waiting room.  She’d advised Edgar against having the surgery.  She’d spent the past few months trying to talk him out of it, but he was determined.  Even with the growth removed his face still wouldn’t look normal.  There was much work to do.  But this was the biggest hurdle.

Ash snoozed away in the baby seat at her feet.  All of their things, the ones she wanted to take with her anyway, were packed away in the trunk of her car in the parking lot.  Edgar had gifted her with a shiny new BMW a month before, thinking she was so far under his control that she’d never dare drive beyond the town’s limits.  How wrong he’d been.  She said her goodbyes him earlier as he laid in his hospital bed, right before they’d taken him into surgery.  Catherine had just left the room, leaving Edgar and Calla to sit in silence, the only sound being Ash happily gurgling in Calla’s arms.

“I would have helped you, you know,” Calla blurted out.  Edgar’s head whipped around.  He looked at her, startled.

“What do you mean?”

“I would have been a friend to you.  I would have agreed to help you.”  She wiped away a tear.  “I was so lonely then.  That’s what I was thinking about that day, at the exact moment you grabbed me, how lonely I was.  How sick I was of being alone.  I would have killed for anyone, a stranger, to just…notice me.”  She sniffed, shifting Ash on her lap.  “You didn’t have to do what you did.  You didn’t have to hurt me…”

“You would have taken one look at me and laughed…”

“I wouldn’t have.  I know what it’s like to be trapped.  I was trapped long before we ever crossed paths.”

She looked at his face, one of the few times she’d been able to see him without his mask.  Whether he’d ever admit it out loud, she knew he believed her.

“What about Rose?”  Calla continued.  “Why did you have to kill her?  You got what you wanted.  Me.  A marriage.  An heir…”

“She humiliated me.  Stole from me.  No one does that.” He snarled, turning to face the wall.

“She meant you no harm.  She just wanted to start over.  You hurt her over and over again but she refused to turn you in, even when I begged her to come to the authorities with me.  That’s the kind of person she was…”

“She was nobody.  Just like you.”

No one is looking for you.  His first words to her came back in a flash.

“When you come home, I won’t be there.”  She rose from the chair as Edgar turned toward her again, his bulging eyes filling with tears.  Calla was unmoved.  She was afraid, more afraid than she was the day she’d been taken even, but she had to try.  Ash couldn’t be raised in that house.

*

Dr. Knight, Edgar’s surgeon, entered the waiting room, a grave expression on her face that told Calla and Catherine all they needed to know.  Catherine began to wail, a horrible, keening sound that filled the room.  Calla felt nothing.  Just the anchor that had burrowed in the pit of her stomach long ago finally lifting.

Dr. Knight pulled Catherine to her feet and embraced her.  “I’m sorry,” she whispered.  “We knew the risks…”    Catherine nodded and sobbed into the doctor’s shoulder, muttering words Calla couldn’t understand.  Calla couldn’t bring herself to comfort her.

Once Catherine had calmed a bit, Dr. Knight moved to Calla, hugging her as well.  Calla found it all a bit strange.  The doctors that had all treated her father seemed detached when they delivered this news, like they couldn’t wait to get away from that room, the sounds of grief.   When Dr. Knight released her, she noticed a faint scar, pale pink, jagged, hardly noticeable unless one really looked closely, along the side of her neck, and held in a gasp.

What has she survived?  Was she outside, when I spoke to Edgar?  Did she hear? Did she…?

Dr. Knight’s eyes met Calla’s briefly, then she squeezed her hand and briskly left the room, disappearing into the busy corridor.

*

Calla turned down a road that was so familiar to her she could close her eyes and still remember every curve and bump in the asphalt.  She stopped in front of a modest house, red brick with dark green shutters, one-story, a driveway stained with oil and full of potholes.  She saw the blinds move, a pair of eyes peeking out.  Calla scooped up Ash and made her way up the drive.  The front door flew open before she even reached the porch.  Her mother put her hands to her mouth, her eyes watering as she laid eyes on her grandson.  She looked at her daughter.  Taking in her clear eyes, her healthy appearance.  Calla put her hand on her mother’s face.  Her skin was so soft, like Calla remembered, and warm.

“Mom,” she said with a bright smile.  “This is Ash.”

THE END

 

 

 

Thursday Thriller – Transformation

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Read Part 1 – Calla

Read Part 2 – Tower

Read Part 3 – Beast

Read Part 4 – Rose

Read Part 5 – Quest

Read Part 6 – Banished

ONE YEAR LATER

Ash was up early. Early morning light slipped through the cracks in the drapes, giving the room a purplish hue. Calla yawned, then slipped out of bed reluctantly. The air was cold on her skin.  She lifted her son from his crib and relished his sweet early morning baby scent. Edgar told her he could hire a fleet of nannies and baby nurses to come running every time Ash as much as whimpered, but she refused. She trusted no one.

Catherine visited often, always wanting another look at her beautiful grandson. He was perfect. He had his father’s pale complexion and dark hair, but his mother’s soulful brown eyes and full pink lips. She ran her finger over her son’s smooth skin as she fed him, smiling when his eyes locked on hers. It was her favorite time of day.

She and Edgar had married in secret days after she’d agreed to return to the mansion with him. A judge, an old family friend, had been summoned to the property.  They’d stood, Calla in a hideous, puffed-sleeved ivory gown, selected by Edgar of course, Edgar in his dinner tux, under the archway in the parlor, rushing through their vows.  Calla looked at the floor the entire time.

After they wed, Edgar didn’t come to her room many nights, only a few. She always thought of something else, another place, a time long ago when she was happy, until it was over.  The rest of the time was for her and Ash. She read to him, sang him lullabies, took him on long walks in the sun on the beautiful grounds, which were now tended by a team of gardeners. Edgar was happier now that Catherine had finally released all of his inheritance, and rarely lost his temper.  He was obsessed with restoring the mansion to its original glory, as well as traveling the country looking for a doctor who would perform the risky, life-threatening surgery to repair his face. Since the growth was engorged with blood, there was a chance for irreparable blood loss during the operation. He thought it was worth the risk. Maybe he held onto some futile hope that one day she would actually love him.

There was a knock at the bedroom door. Breakfast. She ate all of her meals in her room now with her most favorite, and adorable, dining companion.  Esme, the new housekeeper, entered the room, carrying a tray that she set on the bedside table. She hadn’t warmed to Esme yet; the sight of her just made her miss Rose, plus she envied that the staff went home at night to homes filled with warm light and happiness, the laughter and footfalls of loving spouses and extended family.

“Mr. Henry wanted me to leave this too, ma’am,” Esme said, placing a folded newspaper next to the tray.

“Thank you,” Calla said with a tight smile, putting Ash on her shoulder and patting his back, hoping to elicit a burp.

“I can take him for a bit if you’d like,” Esme offered, extending her arms. “I have experience with infants.” Calla had overheard Edgar ask Esme to help more with the baby when he thought she was out of earshot.

“I appreciate that, but it’s okay. I prefer to keep him with me.”

Her face fell before she left the room, and Calla felt terrible. Esme probably thought she hated her. She just couldn’t risk letting Ash out of her sight. Ultimately, Esme’s loyalty lied with Edgar, not her.

Bouncing Ash on one arm, she reached for the paper. It wasn’t local, dated a week ago, in a city on the other side of the country. She opened it to see a short article, no more than a paragraph really, circled in dark red ink. Her knees gave when she saw the picture of the woman next to the article, and she sank onto the bed, keeping a tight grip on Ash. The name was different, but it was Rose. Her Rose. She’d been found murdered.

Ash began to whimper. She clutched him close to her chest and they wept together.

 

Read the final installment – Rescued

 

My favorite prompt during Story A Day in May was Rewrite a Fairy Tale, so I decided to tackle it again, this time with Beauty and the Beast in a serial form. 

Dark Green

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Angie was tired. Tired of taking the bus everyday.  Tired of leaky roofs and faucets and broken floorboards that would never be fixed and secondhand, musty-smelling  clothes that never felt clean, no matter how many times you washed them. But mostly, she was tired of waiting.

Her employer of almost 20 years, Mrs. Greenleaf, was waiting for her in the living room.  She’d been gracious enough to add Angie to her will years ago.

“Angie, is the tea ready yet?” Mrs. Greenleaf called out.

“Almost,” Angie said with a sigh, watching, transfixed, as the green substance disappeared into the dark liquid.

 

My very late response to the Moral Mondays prompt this week, which is MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL.

Thursday Thriller – Peace

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“I’m fine!  I don’t want any of your help!” Julie knocked over a glass of wine on the coffee table as she sprung to her feet, nostrils flared.

“Julie, we care about you.  We’re just concerned,” her sister, Heather, implored, extending an arm that Julie quickly shrugged away.

“Let us help.”  Her brother, Tate, stood next to the front door, trying to block her path.  His eyes searched hers for the sister he once knew.  She looked away, pushing past him.

“Please don’t contact me again.  Just. Leave. Me. ALONE!”

When she got home, he was waiting.  The guy everyone warned her about.

“Where were you?” He approached her in a slow, deliberate way that made her shiver.

“My family…they…they…called me…”  She backed away, farther and farther until she was pressed against the wall.

“You really expect me to believe that you were with your family this entire time?”  He never raised his voice, but each word filled Julie with an urgent, desperate terror.

She couldn’t respond with words.  She nodded frantically, swiping at the tears racing down her cheeks.  He was standing right in front of her now, so close that she could see the drops of perspiration forming at his temples.  She focused on his eyes, searching them for the man she loved, as his hands closed around her throat.  His shoulders released as she slid to the floor.

He left her there, in the peace of her dark, quiet apartment.  The phone never rang. She had no visitors.  She’d been left alone.

Thursday Thriller – Descent

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Read Part 1 – Watched

Read Part 2 – Watcher

Read Part 3 – Harmless

Read Part 4 – Caught

She didn’t dance any longer.  She couldn’t.  Not after what Liz had done.   That last, violent confrontation.  A hotel maid had found her hours later, unconscious, in a pool of her own blood.  Liz was long gone.  Marley told the authorities the whole story once she recovered, but it was too late.  Liz seemed to have disappeared.

At first, it was easy to forget.  There was a flurry of activity around her.  The ballet dedicated a performance to her, honoring her onstage at the end with an award and a gorgeous bouquet of white lilies, which used to be her favorite.  She never told anyone that Liz used to send those to her too, always with a hidden, hateful message enclosed.  Friends invited her out, threw parties in her honor, her phone rang day and night.  But seasons change and people are fickle.  Marley had nothing to offer the world any longer, now that the one thing that set her apart was gone.  The attention faded, and she became something she’d never been in her entire life.  Ordinary.

She spent hours alone in her stuffy apartment, the sickly sweet smell of those dead flowers she couldn’t bring herself to throw out for some reason suffocating her.  Liz Randall.  That name swam in the darkness before her when she closed her eyes.  It had taken her a year.  A year of her slowly descending, retreating, hiding.  But she’d found her.

The door was open.  Liz was confident she would never be found.  Or just stupid.  Marley stepped into the tiny, squalid house, the oppressive heat and the stench of rotting garbage and animal waste bearing down on her.  Liz was sitting in a beat up metal chair, facing the window, her back to the front door.  She turned when she heard Marley’s footsteps.  Her mud brown hair was matted and filthy, a dribble of red sauce, from the pizza she’d just consumed Marley deduced from the greasy box on the kitchen floor, ran down her chubby chin. There was no surprise on her face as Marley approached.   She just closed her tiny, dark eyes as Marley raised the gun, knowing it would all be over soon.

*

Speeding home on a meticulously plotted route, Marley felt lighter than the breeze blowing through her hair.  She was finally free.  Somehow, she knew she would find a way to dance again.

 

 

Black-Blue

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I’m startled awake.  There are coarse, raised voices out on the deck.  Curious, I climb the stairs and see them, a man and woman, grappling, fighting over an unseen object.  The woman loses the struggle and slips over the railing with a chilling wail, a flash of white dropping into an infinite black-blue.

I close my eyes, but prolonged sleep is impossible.  She tiptoes through my dreams, leaving crimson footprints wherever she goes.

Someone’s fiddling with the lock.  I hear the cabin door creak open, heavy footfalls across the tiny room.  The bed is jostled, and I close my eyes more tightly, pretending, praying.

“I know you’re awake.”

For Story a Day

Fog

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The click of his keys in the front door.  What’s for dinner?

“What’s for dinner?”

“Pasta,” she says, slicing vegetables.

Yummy.

“Yummy!”

She looks out of the window at the car they painted together during the heady early days of their marriage.  Their road trip car.

“Let’s drive to San Francisco!”

He laughs.

“I’m serious.”

“Now isn’t a good time.”

“Why not?  We have savings.  We’re still young.  No…kids…tying us down….”

“We have work tomorrow…responsibilities….”

She begins to fade, thinking about the ugly house she hates that will probably be her coffin, the same restaurant they visit every week for date night, all of the trips not taken and the babies that never came and the stink of garbage and dirty dishes and musty, closed-in guest rooms and there’s an explosion.  Screams and flashes of red. She emerges from the fog to see him at her feet, bleeding and unmoving.  She drops the knife, shivering with fear and disgust and grief, yet grateful that finally, something was different.

 

For Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers