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 – 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 – Rose

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Read Part 1 – Calla

Read Part 2 – Tower

Read Part 3 – Beast

Calla pressed her lips together as her eyes ran over every inch of his face. Thick, jet black hair fell over his forehead, which was unnaturally white. He had an unusual nose, the bridge starting in the middle of his forehead and coming to a peak several inches above his lips, leaving a wide gap between his nose and mouth. Wet, blue eyes bulged out of their sockets and were lopsided, the left eye being much lower than the other. A grotesque-looking patch of skin under his right eye was engorged with blood and pulsating, as though it were filled with hundreds of tiny, slithering worms. Edgar stared at her, awaiting her reaction. She managed a tiny smile, and whispered, “It doesn’t change a thing.”

It was true.

The answer seemed to satisfy both of them, who moved on to their favorite subject – money. Calla stopped listening, her mind back on the woman who’d just disappeared into the kitchen.

The days dragged onward without much variation. Each day Calla spent much of her time alone while Edgar was wandering through the other, restricted, wings of the crumbling mansion, doing who knew what. The only thing that had changed – her bedroom door was no longer locked. She could move freely about one wing of the house, which meant that in addition to the bedroom, she had access to the dining room, kitchen, and library. It mattered little. All the doors that led to the other wings of the house, and the outside, were locked.

Every evening at dinner, Edgar chose another old-fashioned, unflattering, ill-fitting dress for her to wear. They spoke little, Calla living in constant fear of displeasing him. She wore the evidence of his displeasure on her skin. When she didn’t dress and come down to dinner quickly enough, when he didn’t like her answer to one of his questions, when her appearance didn’t meet his expectations, he vented his anger, violently, painfully.

The only bright spot in her days, besides her long afternoons in the library, was her time spent with Rose, the only servant caring for the sprawling property. She was a few years older than Calla, with the beginnings of soft lines etching her olive-skinned face. She had huge dark brown eyes even sadder than Calla’s, and chestnut hair scattered with gray that she always wore in a no-nonsense bun. Calla helped Rose with her work, and in return, Rose gave her information.  The first thing she learned – Rose was as trapped as she. She’d shown up to the mansion one winter day, inquiring about a job, and been attacked by Edgar and locked away. She was only allowed off the property once per month to go into town for supplies. Just like Calla, she’d been disowned by her family. No one was looking for her. It had been 10 years.

It was obvious to Rose that Catherine, Edgar’s mother, had no intention of ever giving her son his share of the family fortune in her lifetime. She never expected Edgar find a wife. And now that Calla was in the picture, she had no choice but to up the ante. She wanted an heir. Edgar hadn’t mentioned his mother’s words since that first horrible night, but Calla knew he would. She could feel him. Thinking about it. It was a matter of time. Whenever she thought of it, she felt the bile rising in her throat.

“Why don’t you run? The next time you get to leave?” Calla asked Rose morning they scrubbed windows in the kitchen side by side, looking out at the sunrise.

“Where?”

Calla said nothing. But that night at dinner, she grabbed a steak knife and stabbed Edgar through the arm. As he screamed and bled she swiped the keys from his pocket and ran for the door, holding her breath.

Part 5 – Quest

Thursday Thriller – Fury

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Read Part 1 – Wallflower

Read Part 2 – Smoke

There was much debate and discussion about who actually started the fire, as I would read in the days and weeks that followed.  Delia and Tiff had been partying in the garage with the two burnout guys they’d brought with them.  As they went into the house, Delia told investigators she flicked a cigarette butt into the garage.  They concluded that the cigarette butt had been lit, making contact with something on the garage floor – gasoline more than likely, causing the explosion.  But there were others, wannabes looking for a few moments of celebrity, who believed that the fire was started deliberately.  There were so many theories.  Tommy did it because his family was broke and needed the insurance money.  It was a stranger that wandered out of the woods, some weirdo who just liked watching things burn.  It some weird initiation ceremony gone wrong.  Only I knew the truth.

My lungs filling with smoke, I crawled from the bed to the far window, which was slightly open.  I could hear them outside.

“What did you do?” Tommy was asking someone in a rough whisper.  Someone, a girl, was crying, whimpering like a child.   “What is wrong with you?!”  Tommy persisted.

“I just wanted to burn her stuff,” Laura sniffled.  I felt around on the floor, in the smoke-filled darkness, searching for the bag I brought with me, finding nothing.

“You are such a psycho.”

“I saw you go into her room!”

“It was nothing!  She was passed out the whole time.”

“I love you!  You’re supposed to be with ME.  Not her.”

“So you took her bag, set it on fire, and threw it into the garage?!  That makes total sense..”

“I didn’t want her to find it!”

“So, you threw it in there where there’s gasoline and tons of other crap and decided to blow us all up because you were mad at me…”

“Shut up!”  Laura whispered loudly.

I heard more voices now, the others must have found them.  Charles and Meredith were arguing, Delia and Tiff and the burnouts were slurring in the background, the jocks were yelling, their brash voices rising above the fray, Cat was crying.

“Where is Casey!” Cat was screaming over and over, her voice gaining urgency.

“Who cares?!”  That was Meredith.  “She should have gotten out like the rest of us…”

“You know she couldn’t have!   She could still be up there!  Passed out!”

“Do you see this house?!  NO ONE is getting back in there!  Do you want to die?!”

“Are you crazy!  We can’t just leave her in there…to…to…”

Burn alive.

“Do you want her to come out, Cat?  Really?  And figure out that you set her up?”

I heard Cat’s tiny whimpers, but no more protests.  She’d given up.  I had no time to wallow and mourn our friendship, a shared world destroyed in a moment of cowardice.  I had to get out of that room.  I kept low, coughing, my chest exploding, feeling the rough carpet against the bare skin of my calves as I dragged myself across the floor.  I reached up to open the bathroom door and quickly kicked it shut behind me.  I stood with some effort and peeked out of the one window, which faced the opposite side of the house from where Tommy, Laura and the others were.  The lights of the fire flashed red and golden from the opposite wing of the house.  It wouldn’t be long before the very spot where I stood would be ashes.  I pushed the window open and leaned outside, knowing what needed to be done.  I stood on the ledge, then jumped into darkness.

 

 

Caged

“I know it’s only been three weeks since the roll-out but the response has been phenomenal...”  

Tonight was supposed to be date night.   As usual, Nate’s “quick work call” had lasted more than an hour.  Mary re-filled her wine glass and carried her plate into the living room, flipping on the television.  She’d gotten used to not being Nate’s first priority any longer.  He’d made a comfortable life for their family.  A gilded cage.  He didn’t know that long before his success, she’d trapped herself.  She still loved him.  She’d always love him.

The coffee-table book caught her eye.  A collection of pictures from the early 20th century.  A young girl was on the cover, forced to work long hours in a factory before she’d even entered puberty.  Mary imagined what her life would have been like had she been born during that time.  Maybe she would have gotten married when she wasn’t much older than this girl to a man she barely knew, no one caring what she actually wanted, her future already planned and assumed.  No escape.

Nate appeared in the doorway, signaling that he’d only be a minute longer.  A lie, but she nodded anyway.  Mary ran her hand over the girl’s solemn face and sighed.

For Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner