Thursday Thriller – Calla

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If Calla had known this would be her last moment of freedom for two years, she would have taken a second to look at the sunset. It was an especially gorgeous one that day. Purples and oranges and reds swirling the sky, the sun an amber orb disappearing behind a lush line of trees. But she was thinking of other things – the daily uphill battle of her sobriety, the dirtbag ex she still loved who’d just left town without saying goodbye, how she would get through another sleepless night alone in her dingy apartment without a drink.

It happened so fast. She only caught a glimpse of his face before the hood covered her head. Enough to see that it was abnormal, disturbingly so. She clawed and screamed as she was tossed into the back of a van like cargo, the doors locked swiftly. How could no one see? Hear her screams? Was she that invisible?

She bounced around painfully against the hard surface as the van rumbled over jagged, bumpy roads. The ride lasted so long, her screaming until her voice gave out, she wondered if they were even in the same state when the van came to a final stop.

The doors opened again. She still couldn’t see, but knew it had to be night. The air felt cool; the song of crickets filled the silence as he dragged her outside and tossed her over his shoulder as though she weighed nothing. The fight was out of her. She tried other tactics. Pleading. Compassion. And when those failed – manipulation.

“There will be people looking for me,” she whispered, the loudest she could manage. “They’ve probably already called the police.”

There was a cruel twist to his laughter. “Calla,” he said as she heard the sound of a creaky door opening. “We both know that no one is looking for you. It’s why you were chosen.”

She felt a pinch, then all went black.

Read Part 2 – Tower

 

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. 

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Thursday Thriller – Intruder

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She was born into a world of silence.  She’d never known any different, so she never viewed it as a disadvantage.  She cherished the friends she’d made, the community that had embraced her, the life she built herself.

She spent her days walking the grounds of her secluded estate, dreaming and jotting ideas for future novels in her journal.  When the weather didn’t cooperate, she sat indoors near the window, clicking away at her laptop.  That’s what she was doing when the man entered through the carelessly unlocked back door.  He made as much noise as he pleased entering her home; he knew it didn’t matter.

When he reached her living room, where she sat with her back to him, he stood close enough to see the hairs on the back of her neck, the dots of lint on her well-worn sweatshirt.  He would wait for her  to turn around, to see him, her eyes widening with fear and surprise.  Then, his game would begin.

Read Part 2 – Warrior

Thursday Thriller – Awakening

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Zadie awoke with the sensation of tiny, prickly legs crawling all over her skin.  Her throat was dry and her mouth tasted sour.  Had she really gotten that drunk?  The room felt suddenly cold.  She sat straight up in bed, eyes wide, searching the darkness.  Someone was in her room.  She could smell them, hear their soft inhalations.

“What do you want!” She yelled in her meanest growl.

The person stepped forward, into the flimsy light shining through the windows from the street lamps.  She could see their form, partially.  It was a woman, with a face that was somewhat familiar.

“Get out of my house!”

“Don’t you remember me, Zadie?”

She stepped closer, and Zadie gasped.  It was Grace.   Her face was still scarred.  Zadie stepped out of bed on the other side, putting it between them.  She reached into her nightstand for her revolver, finding the drawer empty.

“What do you want?”

“I want what you owe me.”

Read Part 2 – Perfect

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 – Conclusion

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Read Odd Girl Out part 1

Read Odd Girl Out part 2

Read Odd Girl Out part 3

Read Odd Girl Out part 4

Read Odd Girl Out part 5

Megan freshened her lipstick and stared at herself in the mirror, delaying the inevitable.  She didn’t want to face the day.  Again, her daughter was being buried, but this time in the family plot, in the cemetery where their family had been laid to rest for generations. Something no mother should have to face.  She’d insisted on just a small, graveside service.  A few close relatives and friends.  She couldn’t handle a big crowd today.  But, she would get through it somehow.  Finding peace in finally knowing the truth.  And making the people responsible pay.

Of course, she’d had to do it alone.  Will, how she loved him, but he’d been so destroyed after Stella disappeared.  He wouldn’t have been any help.  He knew about her plan of course, and thought it was crazy, but she didn’t see any other way.

She’d married and had Stella young.  People always told her she looked much more youthful than her actual age.  A bottle of hair dye, a few shopping trips, colored contacts, some forged documents and a pair of over-sized glasses later, and nerdy Maggie was born.  That Gwen had never given her a second look. Maggie was an odd. All those people cared about was money and status.

She laid low that first summer.  She wanted to experience everything Stella experienced.  Her Stella.  A girl who lived in her imagination.  Who loved books and writing.  Who sang with her in the kitchen as they baked every weekend.  Such a sweet soul.  Megan wiped her eyes.  For Stella, she endured the cruelty, the bullying, the hazing, with quiet strength, then used the next year to turn Scarlett’s soldiers against her.  As she’d suspected, they all secretly detested her.  It didn’t take long to earn their trust.  And finally, one summer night, the windows open to a bright silvery moon, a cool wind rushing through the trees, Scarlett locked in the closet, kicking the door, trying to scream, Laina had told her the truth.

She tried to scare Gwen and Scarlett into confessing, leaving those notes, stalking them, but it hadn’t worked.  Neither of them seemed to have a conscience.  Laina, Regan, Ashlee, and Charity had all been arrested after she’d uploaded the pictures from Gwen’s phone to a zip drive, along with Laina’s secretly recorded confession, and sent them to the cops anonymously.  They all had fancy lawyers, would probably get minimal time.  They were just soldiers following orders.

As for Gwen and Scarlett – they hadn’t been seen in weeks.  A hastily composed resignation letter had been found on Gwen’s computer.  Rumor had it that Scarlett’s family was hiding her, which they vehemently denied.  Some said Gwen was on the run, living in a new state under an assumed identity.  Megan knew better.

She stood from her vanity and smoothed her dress, noticing something dark under one of her fingernails.

A tiny speck of dirt.

She washed her hands, checked her appearance once again, and went to join her husband.  They would get through this day together.

Thursday Thriller – Odd Girl Out – Part 5

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Read Odd Girl Out part 1

Read Odd Girl Out part 2

Read Odd Girl Out part 3

Read Odd Girl Out part 4

 

Two summers ago

“It’s unfortunate, but we all know how teenage girls can be…”  Gwen let her voice trail off.  In her office were two police detectives, and Megan and Will, the parents of Stella.  Gwen rubbed her eyes.  It had been a long night. When Scarlett told her what happened, that a girl’s lifeless body was stuffed into the back of a closet like forgotten hand-me-downs, she’d been furious, but not shocked.  These girls had been raised to care about nothing and no one but themselves.  It would serve them right if she called the police and had all of their little pampered butts thrown in jail.  But then the truth about the hazing would come out.  And the fact that she’d turned a blind eye.  And she wasn’t jeopardizing her future for these brats.

So, at midnight, when the rest of the camp was asleep, they’d piled into Gwen’s SUV, Stella wrapped in sheets in the trunk.  She drove miles and miles away, deep into the country, where the sky sparkled with stars, where it was so quiet they could hear the beating of their own hearts.  They carried Stella deep into the woods, and they dug.  It took hours.  When Stella was buried, they all vowed never to speak of this night to anyone.  They’d arrived at the camp just before sunrise, and Gwen had reported Stella as a runaway.

“Not our daughter.”  Will was resolute.  Megan was staring at her, and Gwen was struggling not to shrink under her gaze.  Megan was a striking woman.  Even with traces of worry in her eyes, her brow furrowed, she was gorgeous.  No one would peg her as the mother of a teenager. She realized Megan was staring at her hands.   Under one of her fingernails, there it was.  A tiny speck of dirt.  Despite how long she’d scrubbed in the shower, how meticulously she’d checked her appearance before this meeting, a tiny speck had remained.  She put her hands in her lap, under her desk.

“Well, being away from home for the first time can be traumatizing for some young girls.  And it didn’t seem that Stella was…errr…meshing well with the others.  She seemed to spend a lot of time alone.”

“She would have called.”  Megan turned to the officers.  “She wouldn’t let us worry this way.”  Her voice broke.

One of the officers turned and placed a comforting hand on Megan’s shoulder.  “We hope that she’ll call soon. It’s possible she’s just upset, or went to visit a friend.”

Megan nodded, clearly not convinced.

“I think we have all we need,” said the second officer, closing his notepad.  “We’ll file a missing persons report.  Call us anytime.  We’ll be in touch.”

The officers turned to leave, and Stella’s parents followed.  Before Megan turned the corner, she gave Gwen another penetrating stare, and Gwen had the distinct impression she could see right through her.

Read Odd Girl Out – Conclusion

Thursday Thriller – Odd Girl Out – Part 4

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Read Odd Girl Out part 1

Read Odd Girl Out part 2

Read Odd Girl Out part 3

Two summers ago

Scarlett, Laina, Regan, Ashlee, and Charity stood in a circle in the upper bedroom of the A&B Building, waiting.  It was Scarlett’s first summer, but she had already emerged as their leader.  A general.  Her mother had come here many summers ago, so she knew about the ritual.  Knew from day one that she had to exude confidence.  She had to be loved and feared.

The door opened downstairs.  Stella called out a timid hello, but was only answered by silence.  Stella.  So hopeless.  Her awkward posture, the fattening homemade baked goods she’d brought as gifts on the first day, which everyone had thrown in the trash behind her back, her eagerness, desperation, to fit in.  She stank of it. An obvious odd.

Stella crept up the stairs, pausing when she saw the girls.  Quickly, they engulfed her, dragging her to the floor.  She was going to be hard to pin down.  Charity dragged the metal cage, created to fit a large dog, out of the shadows.  It would be Stella’s home for the next eight hours.  Her arms would be cuffed to its roof. The cage would be pushed into the dark closet, where Stella would be forgotten.  The girls would go about their day.  They’d tell Gwen Stella was ill and she would nod, not responding.  It was what had been done to odds at this place for decades.  It’s what would be done to Maggie the following summer.

Scarlett the summer after that.

But Scarlett didn’t know that.  Couldn’t imagine it, as she sat on Stella’s chest to keep her still so Ashlee could snap handcuffs on Stella’s wrists, adjusting them so they would dig into her skin, leaving the tell-tale scar that all odds wore. Charity placed duct tape over the lower half of Stella’s face. Laina stood to the side, watching, looking  terrified.  Loser.  Laina should be thanking Stella.  If Stella hadn’t come along, Laina would have definitely been the odd.

Hours later, after the girls had enjoyed a day of sports, swimming, and tanning, they returned to the closet.  Scarlett unlocked the cage.  She noticed Stella wasn’t struggling anymore.  She undid the cuffs and tried to pull Stella to her feet, but she was too heavy.  Pig.  When she looked at her face it was obvious.  Stella was dead.  Maybe the tape over her mouth and nose had caused her to suffocate.  Maybe she’d had some sort of cardiac event.  Maybe Scarlett had crushed her when she sat on her chest.  They would never really know.

Scarlett composed herself as she faced her soldiers.  The other girls stared at her blank-faced, waiting for their next instructions.

Read Odd Girl Out part 5

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 – The Star

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Read pt. 1 Pink Dress

Read pt. 2 Stranger

Read pt. 3 Two Little Girls

Read pt. 4 Basil and Garlic

My sight is so blurry.  My body aches.  An older woman with my eyes is leaning over me.  She’s holding my hand.

“Mia,” she whispers.

“Who’s Mia?” My voice is scratchy.  She hands me a cup of water and I guzzle it down.

She wipes her eyes with a crumpled tissue.  “Mia…that’s…it’s…what…your mother called you.  She was my daughter…”

Gently, she tells me the story.  A neighbor heard the gunshot and called the police.  I was found, clinging to life, in the shed.  I was rushed into surgery, where doctors managed to save my life.  I’d been out of it for three days.  The police had only discovered my true identity a day ago.

“…honey, there are so many people who love you.  You have a father, and a grandfather, and so many cousins and aunts and uncles, they’re all out there waiting…”

“What about…her…the woman who…”

“Took you?”

I nod.

“They haven’t found her yet.”  She squeezes my hand.  “They will, honey.  They will.”

I’m not so sure.  But I let her love and determination wash over me for the moment.  I have a family.

*

She was never going back, despite what all the news stories said.  She knew that the second the plane landed in her new destination.  She thought she’d try somewhere coastal for a change.   But Lauren’s mom and her father would worry, would look over their shoulders and jump at every unexpected noise for the rest of their lives.  That brought her great pleasure.

America was fascinated with her now, which she found ironic.  People with whom she’d only spoken in passing in her old town now were giving interviews on morning news shows, giving fabricated details of her former life.  Everyone was overjoyed that the girl in the pink dress had been found, had recovered from her gunshot wound, but times had changed. People were more interested in the sordid details.  Cora was the star.

Her long hair, grown out for years, was shorn and bleached blond.  Her eyes a new color.  New IDs in her wallet.  It was always so easy for her, becoming someone else.

She’d rather enjoyed being a mother, while it lasted.  Before she’d been betrayed.  Maybe she’d do it again.

Her eyes searched the restaurant, landing on a man sitting near the windows, trying unsuccessfully to feed a squirming little girl in a high chair.  She took a seat next to him.  The child quieted, her eyes fixated on her.  She already loves me.  The man smiled at her with relief and introduced himself.  She returned his smile.

“What a beautiful baby.”

Thursday Thriller – Basil and Garlic

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Read pt. 1 Pink Dress

Read pt. 2 Stranger

Read pt. 3 Two Little Girls

I’m hiding in the dark.  A tiny shed in the backyard.  Behind the lawnmower and neatly stacked bags of fertilizer.  I’m kicking myself.  Why didn’t I just run to the road?  Flag down a car?  Bang on a neighbor’s door and beg to be let in?  Now I’m trapped.  All that’s left to do is wait.

The door creaks open.  She still smells of basil and garlic.

“It didn’t have to be this way, darling.  I’ve grown so fond of you over the years.”  She steps closer and closer to me.  “But I’m fonder of my freedom.”  The bags that conceal me are knocked over with ease, and she standing over me, pointing a gun.  “You always hid in here when you were a little girl.  Sad, but I think you inherited your mother’s brain.”

She points the gun at my chest with cold precision.  I realize that this is probably the last sight my mother had before she died.   For some reason, that thought comforts me.  I’m not afraid.  The last sound I hear is an explosion.  Then no pain, just darkness.

*

June 23, 2000

Well, this won’t do.  Lauren, of course, had gone national.  America was in love with her.  Wept with her.  She and her crocodile tears were the lead story on every news program in the  country.  Everyone’s heart broke for the little girl in the pink dress and the mother who blamed herself.  Cora couldn’t escape her.  It made her blood boil.

She looked at the baby girl in the playpen, happily gnawing on a wooden block, and smiled.  She’d grown fond of the little girl over the past few days.  She hadn’t cried for her mother once, so that was a point in her favor, and she seemed to adore Cora.  Her eyes lit up and she reached for her whenever she entered the room.

She could do this.  She could be a mother.  They were settling into their new life – new names, new town, new backstories.  Coming to a huge bustling city had been the right choice.  No one had given her or the baby a second look.  She dressed her in dark clothes, sports-themed gear.  People assumed she was a boy.  A few had even remarked how cute her son was.  She only smiled and nodded.  They could get lost here.

She drove through the night, arriving outside Lauren’s palatial McMansion at dawn. Tacky. She parked down the street and watched.  Her husband left an hour or so later wearing a dark suit and a grave expression.  Already back at work.

She crept around back and let herself in through a sliding glass door left unlocked.  Lauren was sitting at the breakfast table, sobbing, a cooling cup of coffee in front of her untouched.

“You…” was the only word she said before she crumpled to the floor, a hole in her chest.

Cora returned to the car, unseen, and slowly drove away.  She stole a look at the baby in the back seat and blew her a kiss.  “Now, darling, I really am your mother.”  The baby cooed back.

Read pt. 4 The Star