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.

Night Shift

“Hi, did you find everything you needed?” Christine asked, as she’d been trained, as two shadowy figures pushed their shopping cart into her lane.  Neither responded, just began loading their items onto the conveyor belt with cold, robotic precision.

Christine shrugged; she preferred the customers who pretended she didn’t exist to the ones that were outright nasty.  Working the late-night shift at SuperStore, she’d met some interesting characters to say the least.

Did you get the shovel?” The taller man said to his companion, who meekly shook his head no.   He scurried away, returning shortly with the item.  It was then that Christine took a hard look at what they were buying.  Extra-large garbage bags, limestone, lantern flashlights, industrial-strength bleach, and now a shovel.  And of course, they were paying cash.

“Doing some gardening?”  Christine asked, hoping her shaking hands would go unnoticed.

“No,” the tall one, apparently the only one who spoke, said plainly, not meeting her eyes.

She watched as they carried their purchases outside, passing through the parking lot and crossing the street into the dense woods.  She put her hand on the phone next to her register, wondering if there was anything she could do.

For Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner and the Daily Post.

Thursday Thriller – For Anna

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“Jess!”  He exclaims as I come in the room.  He always exclaims when I come in the room, like I’m a long-lost friend, not an office minion who works in the cubicle just outside his palatial corner office.  He’s almost right though.  We have a history.

“Hi, Gregg.  I pulled your car around front.”

He claps his hands together and smiles as though it’s the greatest news he’s ever heard.  “Great.  Ride down with me?”

“Sure.”

We’re silent in the elevator on the way to the lobby, which is unusual for Gregg.  He always seems eager to fill the silences whenever I’m in the room.  He’s uncomfortable alone with me, yet he always seems to want to be alone with me.  I push the red button.

“What is it?”  He looks at me with a mixture of titillation and confusion.  I step closer, snaking my arm around his waist.  His body feels chiseled and muscular beneath his suit.  He smells like rich leather.  I stand on my tiptoes so I can whisper in his ear.

“She told me about you, you know.  She told me what you did.”

I step backwards, so I can see his eyes widening with realization.  The framed picture on my desk of my childhood best friend, Anna. Our mutual acquaintance.  The funeral I attended just last week, the life she decided she didn’t want to live any longer.

“I was just a kid…” he sputters.

“You were old enough to know better.”  I turn away from him and press the release button.  We’re moving again.

When the doors open again, he pushes past me in his haste to get out of my presence, racing across the marble floors to the revolving front door.  I stand at the curb and watch him zoom out the parking lot much faster than normal.  I don’t flinch as he loses control of the car and smashes into the dividing wall, turning his car into a pile of bent metal and smoke.

UPDATE

Written for the Story a Day prompt – Write what you know.  Write a list of things you know about. Pick one. Give that knowledge to a character.

My inspiration – as a child, a friend told me about something awful another kid had done to her and swore me to secrecy.

Thursday Thriller – Truth

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Everyone lies, right?  That’s what I tell myself at least so I can sleep at night.  Ten years have passed but I can still remember that night so well.  It plays over and over during those torturous moments before the sleeping pills finally kick in and I fall gratefully into a black, dreamless abyss.

We were all drinking.  All honor students.  All supposedly good kids.  All college-bound.  And we were completely wasted.  I was driving.  All of my mother’s warnings, all of her promises, Call me anytime and I’ll come get you, no questions asked, were forgotten.  I was young and immortal, a newly-acquired driver’s license burning a hole in my pocket, in love with the feeling of speeding down a dark straightaway in my very own car with the windows down, screaming the lyrics to a song I can no longer hear without vomiting, warm, moist wind blasting my hair and face.

We hit someone.  I hit someone.  A woman whose car had broken down, who was walking to a neighbor’s to get help.   I never saw her.

Back then, it made sense to leave Olivia in the car.  She was the newest to our tight-knit group of friends, and she was the most messed up out of all of us.  Completely passed out.  She wouldn’t remember.  No one really liked her all that much.  We let her go around with us because her family was loaded.   Her dad was a rich lawyer, he’d get her off with a smack on the wrist.  So, we moved her over to the driver’s seat, wiped my prints from the wheel and put her hands all over it – a trick I’d learned from my mom’s favorite cop shows, and ran home in separate directions.  We were shocked when the judge threw the book at Olivia, wanting to send a message about underage drinking and drunk driving.  She’d gotten ten years.

She’ll be out soon.  She really believes she’s guilty.  I called my old friends, the ones who were there that night, and told them the news, saying we should get together and welcome her home, do something to make her transition easier.  None of them were interested, wanting to leave the past in the past.  One even said that Olivia had gotten what she deserved.

So I will be there, alone, when the gates open and Olivia takes her first steps as a free woman.  It’s the least I can do.  It’s one thing to tell a lie, another when you start to believe it’s the truth.

 

Written for the Story A Day prompt – The Lie

 

 

 

 

Thursday Thriller -Plot Twist

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The woman who opened the door wasn’t Donna.  I mean it was but it wasn’t.  The Donna I knew and loved only wore makeup on extremely special occasions, wore her naturally curly hair loose and wild, and favored ripped jeans with loose, flowy tops.  This Donna had hair that was blown straight and hung sleekly to her waist,  was stylishly dressed in a form-fitting white shift dress, makeup perfectly applied.  She looked like the girls who used to make fun of us back in school.

“Are you going to a funeral?”  I joked as she stepped aside to let me in.  The air in her warm apartment smelled sweet, like fresh baked goods.  My stomach rumbled.  She must have stopped at our favorite bakery this morning.

She cocked her head at me strangely, like a puppy that had just been chastised.  “Why would you ask me that, Stef?”  Her expression was deathly serious, until a loud ping sounded from the kitchen.  A noise so foreign in this place, it made me jump.

“My cookies are ready!”  Donna exclaimed.  I watched in a mixture of horror and amazement as she donned an apron, slid an oven mitt over her hand and pulled a tray of golden chocolate chip cookies from the oven.  “You have to try one after they cool!”

“Come on, Donna, knock it off.  We’ve got work to do.” I held up my laptop.  We were co-writing a  YA mystery novel about a series of disappearances at a fictional all-girls’ college in upstate New York.

I sat on the floor in front the coffee table, leaning back against the worn, dark brown couch, my usual spot, and opened my laptop to get started.  “About that,” Donna began, sitting primly on the sofa instead of on the carpet next to me.  “I think we should change the direction of the book.”

“Change the direction?”  I was ready to pull my hair out in frustration.  First some silly practical joke and now this?  “Donna, we’ve been working on this for a year!  We’ve already missed a deadline.  They need our first draft Monday.”

“I know.  And I don’t want to change too much, we can still use the college as a backdrop, but why not make it a romance?!  All the girls on a quest to find their future husbands!”

“Husbands?  These are 18-year-old girls?!”

“Becoming a wife is the greatest achievement any woman can hope for!”

“Donna!  Enough already.  This from the woman who called me a sell-out on my wedding day?”

“I’m so sorry about that, Stef.  I understand now.  I understand everything.  Chet has helped me.”

“Chet?”  Chet was Donna’s college ex-boyfriend.  He’d been crazy about her, but it was clear from the time they met that their pairing would end in disaster.  Donna broke things off with him senior year.  He didn’t take it well.  She ended up having to file a restraining order.  As far as I knew, she hadn’t spoken to him in years.

“Yes, Chet.  He can help you too.  Like he helped me.”

I heard a noise coming from the back of the apartment.  A feeling of cold dread spread through my middle.  I wanted to run, but I felt stuck, unwilling to leave my friend in such a vulnerable state.  My eyes slowly widened as Chet stumbled from the dark hallway, his hair mussed, his expression wild and menacing.  He held a vial of a red, suspicious-looking liquid.

I stood quickly.  “What have you done to her?!”  I screamed my throat raw, hot tears spilling down my cheeks.  He said nothing, just stood there, grimacing.  I raced for the front door but Donna grabbed my arm and twisted it.  I cried out in pain as something heavy smashed into the back of my head.

*

I woke up after I don’t know how long.  My head hurt a little, but it wasn’t so bad.  I turned to Donna, who was still sitting on the couch, and grinned.  “I think a romance novel sounds like a great idea!”

She clapped her hands in delight.  “This is going to be so much fun!”

Read Part 2 – Weapon

 

 

Thursday Thriller – Stalked

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He let himself into her new apartment, shutting the door softly behind him.  He’d found her once again.  He imagined her expression as she awoke in terror, suddenly aware of his presence, not knowing how long he’d been there, how he got in, if he’d been there before.

He loved knowing that every footstep closing in behind her in a dark parking lot was his.  He loved that he was every bump in the night.  He loved that he was what she dreamed about.  He loved that no matter how far she ran, she couldn’t escape him.

He loved making her jump.

As he stepped into the hallway, he felt a tiny prick in the back of his neck, just a pinch really, and all was dark.

He roused to find himself restrained, her standing over him with a twisted smile.

“What now?” He asked, the tremor in his voice betraying him.

“Now,”she stepped closer, something shiny gleaming from her hand.  “The fun begins.”

Thursday Thriller – Odd Girl Out – Part 3

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Read Odd Girl Out part 1

Read Odd Girl Out part 2

Gwen took her job as camp director seriously.  These girls, some of them spoiled shamelessly by their indifferent parents, looked to her for structure, guidance.  Someone had to teach them how the real world was going to work.  When mommy and daddy wouldn’t be around to pay someone off, when everyone doesn’t worship you, when you’re not the most popular.  So, when she learned from her predecessor about the secret ritualistic hazing that takes place in A&B every summer, she didn’t mind turning the other way.  She viewed it as a character-building experience.  She’d been bullied mercilessly by the rich girls at boarding school growing up.  Her clueless parents had made her a target – she was already a scholarship kid, did they have to send her away with a suitcase full of her sister’s worn hand-me-downs?  But, guess what, all that mistreatment made her the woman she was today.  Director of an exclusive camp for girls for a month every summer, which was really almost like getting paid to go on vacation, Dean of Students at the boarding school where she was an alumnus.  She was marrying the older brother of one of her worst adolescent tormentors in the fall.  And how she loved to watch her squirm at every family gathering.  Yes, life was good.

She heard a tap on the window, a rustling in the bushes.  She rose and looked outside.  There was no one.  Probably a squirrel.  But as soon as she sat down she heard a loud banging along the side of the building, like someone was throwing something heavy against the wall.  I’m going to give these girls a piece of my mind.  She stepped outside and looked around.   There was no one there.  The banging had stopped.  She only heard the wind.

She returned to her desk, noticing that there was something covering her computer keyboard.  A picture.  A girl’s face.  She gasped.  Her eyes welled.  Stella.  There were words scrawled across her face.  A question.

What did you do with her?

Just then, Scarlett stormed back into her office, holding a sheet of paper above her head.  She could read the words on it from where she stood.  Where is Stella?  Her knees buckled.  She had to sit.

“Is this your idea of a joke?!”  Scarlett shouted.  “Is that why you were talking about all that queen bee crap?  Did you put one of the girls up to it?”

Gwen didn’t respond, just held up the photo so Scarlett could see.   The color drained from Scarlett’s face.  She slumped to the chair opposite Gwen’s desk.   Gwen could see her chest rising and falling in rapid succession.

“Someone else knows,”  she whispered.

Gwen nodded gravely.  “What are we going to do?”

Read Odd Girl Out part 4

Thursday Thriller – Odd Girl Out Pt. 2

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Read Odd Girl Out part 1

Scarlett’s wrists stung. She rubbed them against each other to find relief.  Her legs throbbed as she limped along the trail, stopping at the banks of the rushing river to drink like an animal.  Her throat was raw.  Her lips dry and cracked.  She arrived at the front office just as Gwen was getting there, sitting down primly behind her desk with an iced coffee, scrolling through emails on her phone.

She took in Scarlett’s condition with no reaction.  “What happened to you?”

“You know what happened.”  Scarlett’s voice cracked, but her anger was unmistakable.  Those girls would pay.  Did they know who her father was?  How much money her family had donated to this disgusting camp over the years?  It wouldn’t even be operating anymore if it weren’t for them.  She twisted the frayed edge of her dress over and over with her damaged hands.  “I want all of the girls in A&B expelled or I call my dad.”

Gwen’s mouth twisted.  “I think you and I both know that’s not going to happen.”

Scarlett stepped closer, coming around Gwen’s desk so she could face her.  “You have no proof.”

Gwen opened a folder on her phone marked Camp Contacts.  She entered a password, and there Scarlett was.  There they all were.  Scarlett, Laina, Regan, Charity, Ashlee.  Two summers ago.  Standing over an open grave.

“You took pictures of us!  How dare you!”  Scarlett’s face was beet red.

“Do you know what happens when worker bees tire of their queen?”  Gwen asked as Scarlett crossed her arms.  “They turn on her.  Surround her and sting her over and over until she dies.”  Scarlett rolled her eyes, but stepped back as Gwen moved closer.

Gwen closed the photos and put the phone in her desk drawer.  “I have many back up copies, in case you were thinking about trying to delete the evidence.”  Gwen smiled cheerily and started flipping through a magazine on her desk.   “I need you to get cleaned up and changed.  Breakfast is in an hour.”   Scarlett had been dismissed.

She would have stormed out the door, but her legs were too sore.  She settled for narrowing her eyes, giving Gwen an icy glare and limping quickly out of the room.

The girls were already gone when she got back to A&B.  Cowards.

There was a note on her bed.   Her hands shook as she read it.

Where is Stella?

Read Odd Girl Out Part 3