Untitled Flash Fiction (143 words)

She saw him and her heart skipped a beat. He was everything she never knew she needed. They married a year later and lived happily together, arguing only over the thermostat and who gets to read the Sunday comics first. Five years after first meeting, his car is run off the road. He is in the hospital for ten days before he finally succumbs to his injuries.

The next few weeks, she doesn’t leave her home, shutting out all visitors. She convinced herself that he hadn’t left her. Little things like the thermostat changing on it’s own or his favorite slippers moving around the house with no explanation. One night she woke up with a start. At the foot of her bed was a shadow, a badly degraded form of the man she loved. She saw him and her heart skipped a beat.

 

 

Prompt is from Instagram account @writing.prompt.s

Book Review – #MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil

4/5 stars

(Spoiler free review below)

Oh did I enjoy this book. From concept to execution, from setting to characters, from the first word to the last. I gobbled this book up in a day and a half of nonstop reading.

Gretchen McNeil paints a bleak, voyeuristic vision in #MurderTrending where everyone convicted of a capital murder are sentenced to Alcatraz 2.0, an island where they live, work, and are hunted by government sanctioned serial killers. Every inch of the island is covered in cameras which stream non-stop to an app where people across the country watch, chat, vote, and enjoy everything that happens on the island.

Each of the Painiacs (the term coined for the group of killers) has a unique method of murder and Gretchen manages to write them so well that just by describing a location, you know which murderer is about to enter.

The main character, Dee, is wrongly accused of murdering her sister and sentenced to Alcatraz. After surviving her first encounter with the Painiacs, she is given a house and a job to fill her days while waiting her brutal execution. She meets other inhabitants of the island, a ragtag group of characters that are written wonderfully by Gretchen McNeil.

The reason it’s not 5 stars is it felt too “young” at times. I understand it’s a young adult novel, but I’ve read plenty of YA stuff that never made me roll my eyes. (The whole Disney wardrobe angle, I’m talking about you)

This book isn’t a literary masterpiece, but it is a very fun entertaining read and sometimes that’s all you need.

Buy #murdertrending

They Say… (Short Story – 100 Prompts)

“They say this is the boy’s bike…”

It certainly looked old enough to fit the legend. Every inch of the frame was rusted metal and bulky, nothing like the streamlined road bikes which they all straddled. The relic rested haphazardly against a long forgotten wooden fence post that at one time marked the edge of a farm that used to be here. Every ten feet or so, another gnarled wooden post stood, creating an eerie border, cutting through the woods. The six boys dropped their bikes to the forest floor and crowded around the rusted figure.

“Wait, what boy? I thought you said the ghost was an old man?” Sean tugged his backpack off his shoulders and tossed it down next to his bike. 

“It is, newbie,” Lincoln sighed. He stepped in front of the bike, centering himself in front of the group of them. It was obvious from the moment Sean first walked into Timberland Middle School that Lincoln was the leader of the seventh grade. Sean knew if he wanted to fit in, he needed to be friends with Lincoln. “His name was Willard Grady. They say he kidnapped kids and brought them to the river and drowned them.”

“Why?” Ezra had spoken up. Sean was sure this wasn’t the first time the other boys had heard the story, but Lincoln was in showmanship mode and all of them stood enthralled.

“He was crazy.” Lincoln squatted and touched the rusted bike frame reverently. “They say this bike belongs to his last victim. He disappeared the same day as Old Man Grady, nobody knows what happened to either of them; they say their bodies were never found.”

Lincoln stood back up and swung his bag around so it rested on his stomach. He dug in and pulled out a handful of things. “They say Old Man Grady still haunts these woods, ringing an old bicycle bell as he prowls for more kids to drown in the river. Sean, your dare, should you be so brave as to accept, is to walk to the edge of the river, light this candle, and shout out to Old Man Grady that you’re here and not afraid of him.”

Lincoln shoved the items into Sean’s hands: a white pillar candle, a pack of matches, and a flashlight. Sean didn’t relish the thought of walking into unfamiliar woods alone less than a week after moving to a new town, but he wanted to be part of the group, he wanted to show them he wasn’t scared. “Each of you has done this before?”

The five other boys emphatically nodded and added words like “loads of times” but somehow Sean didn’t believe them. “Ok, well how far until the river?”

“Walk for about 10 minutes in that direction and you’ll see it, you can’t miss it.” 

Sean loaded the candle and matches into his bag which he slung back on his shoulders. He stood at the rusted bicycle, hesitant to cross the invisible barrier where the fence used to be. With one last glance over his shoulder at the guys, he took his first step deeper into the forest. 

He told himself not to look back, that looking back was a sign of fear and weakness, but he couldn’t help himself and, after enough time had passed, glanced back to see if they were still there. Although he was far enough away that he couldn’t really tell them apart, he figured the one leaning against a tree was Lincoln with Thomas, Ezra, Nicholas, and Jace all sitting on the forest floor in front of him, the beams of their flashlights waving around madly as they fought with them. Even though it was only dusk, the dense canopy of the forest made it necessary for them to need flashlights. 

He turned away from them, thankful that they hadn’t left him as a cruel prank, and continued deeper into the dark woods. Sean told himself that he was almost thirteen, almost a man, and wasn’t going to be scared of a story. Everything was still and quiet this far in, the only sound is the constant babbling of water from somewhere ahead of him. The flashlight Lincoln had given him wasn’t anywhere near as strong as the one he had at home, it’s beam weakly lighting up a small patch in front of him as he walked. 

A small sigh of relief escaped from his dry lips as his flashlight finally reflected off the moving water ahead of him. He was almost done. At the water’s edge, there were several boulders. He walked up to the largest of the three, it stood about chest high and he placed the candle from his bag on top. Sean twirled the matchbook between his fingers, contemplating his options. He had made it to the river, he could walk back and say he did it. He was far enough away from them that even if he yelled out to the ghost like he was supposed to, they wouldn’t hear him. 

But did he really want to solidify his new friendships with a lie? Before he could think on it too much more, he struck the match and lit the candle. It wasn’t much, but the small flame helped make the forest seem not as dark. This was it. All he had to do was say some words and he could head back to his new friends. He cleared his throat and decided to scream as loud as he could, hoping that Lincoln and the others could hear him. 

“Old Man Grady! Here I am! And I’m not afraid of you!!” It would have felt empowering, if his voice hadn’t cracked in the middle of the word afraid. Was it from fear or puberty? If he thought the forest was quiet before, it was as if all sound had been blocked now. Even the river seemed to quiet down. 

A twig snaps somewhere to his left. He sweeps the beam of the flashlight in the direction, anxiously shining it’s light around searching for the source of the noise. It was a deer, or a rabbit or something, he told himself. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. He had done what he needed to. He blew out the candle and left it where it sat. 

As he turned to head back, his flashlight flickers, briefly engulfing him in the darkness of the forest, before coming back on. Sean never thought he would be so happy to have that weak stream of light. Not wanting to be there any longer than he needed to be, he heads off back out of the forest, faster than he had walked in. 

Brrring! The wind carried the distant noise to his ears, the sound which in any other situation would have been completely normal. But here, in the middle of the woods, the ring of the bicycle bell causes every inch of his skin to form goose bumps. Icy water had replaced his blood and he was colder than he ever thought possible. His chin quivers and he rationalizes that it’s probably just Jace, they said he was a prankster, so he probably added the bit about the bell so he could scare him. Yeah, that was it. 

And yet his feet stomp just a little faster. Something fast breaks through the cylinder of light cast by his flashlight. It took a fraction of a second. Did he imagine that? Maybe. But instinct takes over; his fingers and toes tingle as his body is flooded with the “flight” hormone. Sean takes off running at full speed, barely avoiding trees. 

He can hear his heart pounding, louder than he’s ever heard before. And yet over that deafening noise, there is something else. The sound is unmistakeable. Something is behind him and catching up. 

It’s too risky to turn and look but he has to know. Has to. Would he turn and see Jace red faced and laughing? Or would he see the ghost of a madman? 

He glances over his shoulder and his blood turns to ice again. It’s not Jace. 

But it’s not Old Man Grady either.

The figure chasing after him has the appearance of a boy, younger than him, but not by much. He wears overalls and his skin is sallow and gray. Even though he is keeping pace, his feet never touch the ground. He merely hovers along behind him. His arms are outstretched, reaching for Sean.

A part of him always thought if he did see a ghost, it would be see-through, like a fog. This apparition behind him was scarier. It seemed to have weight to it, as if it could really hurt him. Even though his legs ached with exhaustion, he pushed harder, trying to put distance between himself and the boy. 

Up ahead, the trees thinned and he could see the beams from five flashlights lazily floating around. An unintelligible scream escapes his throat. Part warning, part cry for help. Instantly all five flashlights find him. He can hear them screaming “hurry up!”

He can’t explain it, but Sean knows that if he can get past the old fence post, he’ll be safe. 

A raspy voice right behind him shouts “Run!”

He’s close enough to make out who is who in the dark, he can even see the shape of the fence post. He’s so close, he’s going to make it, he’ll be safe in just a few more seconds.

Before he can reach the invisible boundary, he is pushed to the ground from behind. The wind is knocked out of him and he lays there, gasping, listening to the frantic screams of Lincoln and the others just feet away. 

Cold fingers wrap around his ankles and with a sharp tug, begin to drag him back into the woods. His fingers claw for purchase in the forest floor, but find nothing but loose dirt and twigs. Sean lifts his head to see the five boys gathered next to the post, screaming to him. A sixth boy in overalls stands nearby, watching Sean with sad eyes. Without thinking, he kicks at whatever is holding him, glancing backwards just long enough to see the surprised look on the old man’s face. 

Scrambling on hands and knees, he heads for the fence post. The ghost of the little boy no longer scares him. Instead it waves it’s arms as if to say “yes, this way, come on!” 

Kicking off with his back feet, he reaches an arm out towards Lincoln to pull him to safety but it’s at that moment when Willard Grady’s ghost grasps his ankle again. Sean’s arms wildly reach out for anything to grab ahold of and they grasp the rough metal of the old bike frame. Before he can get dragged in again, Lincoln, Jace, Nicholas, Thomas, and Ezra each grab the other end of the bike. 

With two hard yanks, they manage to free Sean from the ghost’s grip and pull him to their side of the fence. They lay in a pile, breathing raggedly, and watch as Old Man Grady stalks back and forth along the inside of the invisible fence before giving up and heading back into the woods. 

The young boy still stands off to the side, smiling at them. He glances to the rusted bicycle tangled up in their arms. With a wink at them, a bicycle identical to the one they cling to, except without the rust, appears. The young boy hops on and turns to ride off into the woods, with a last brrrrring of his bicycle bell as a goodbye.


All short stories in the “100 prompts” tag will be written using the flash fiction prompts list on Eva Deverell’s Creative Writing Blog.  They will all be stand-alone short stories unless otherwise noted. Check out the Story Index for more. (Image is from: Here)

This story was written using Prompt # 15: Write a story that begins and ends with a bicycle.

They’re Just Like Us (The Finale)

Catch up on the story here


Warmth. Something soft beneath me. A crackling fire. Tripp’s voice nearby, groggy, saying “what… what happened?” A scuffling sound. Cool hands pressing against my arm, my face. “Maggie? Maggie wake up.”

My eyelids are so heavy and I feel so comfy. I don’t want to wake up.

“What did you do to us? Come on, wake up, Maggie!”

The panic in his voice scares me, so I slowly open my eyes. After adjusting to the light, I see Tripp is sitting on the floor next to the worn couch I’m lying on.

After a quick look around, I realize we’re in an old stone house, but not like the one where I first met him. This house has been well tended to and is in perfect condition. The interior walls are still standing here and are adorned with paintings, the floor is polished wood and covered with crocheted rugs, and the stairs leading to the second floor look as solid as the day they were built.

A smokeless fire is burning in the hearth nearby and next to it, rocking in a wooden chair, is the old hag. For the first time that I’ve seen, she is smiling.

“Ah, see there?” she says in a frail, thin voice. “I knew she would wake soon, there was no cause for alarm.”

I sit up as Tripp fusses over me, making sure I’m feeling ok as I do so. 

“You both must have been very determined,” she continues to rock, watching up with a curious expression. “My wards have sent even the strongest hunters running off in the opposite direction, yet you two forced through them and even managed to cross my wall.” 

“What’s a ward?” Tripp asks as he moves to sit next to me on the couch. 

“A repellant spell, to keep people from getting too close to my home. Of course I also have other spells in place: a camouflage spell so the house isn’t visible to anyone who gets near enough, and the defense spell that you both are waking up from.” 

“Who are you?” I ask.

“My family name has been lost to me, but you can call me Patience. I am the Witch of the Woods.”

My head was swimming with questions; trying to sort and prioritize them was almost impossible. Instead of a well thought out question, I blurted out, “How old are you?”

Instead of getting angry, her smile grew even wider. “Old,” was the only answer I got. She turned her attention to Tripp. “I owe you an apology.”

“Me?” Tripp leaned forward, eager to soak in every word Patience said. 

She stopped rocking and slowly got off her chair, taking slow shuffling steps to the mantle above the fire. She pulls down a thin navy blue box. She runs her fingers lovingly across the lid before opening it like a book and sighing heavily. 

She begins to take shuffling steps towards us when Tripp hops off the couch and crosses the distance of the small room. I follow his lead to look at the object in her hand. 

What I thought was a box was actually a portfolio style case for an old tintype photograph. The man in the photo looks to be around his mid-20s and although he is posed stoically, you can see the warmth in his eyes. I look up to see Patience is choked up. I guided her back into her rocking chair, Tripp and I sit on the floor in front of her. 

“My Amos.” It seemed as if even saying his name was painful. “I have lived more lifetimes than I can count and he is the only man I have ever loved. I used my magic to extend his life, but all magic comes with a price. I couldn’t make him immortal as I am, but the spell I did extended his life immensely, but doing so instantly took my youth and vitality and made me into what you see in front of you.”

She closed her eyes, for a few seconds before continuing. “My Amos didn’t care. He loved me no matter how I was. We lived here blissfully, completely disconnected from the world around us for over one hundred years.” 

“He aged over the years, at a much slower pace than he would have without the spell. After enough time, we looked like a proper couple.” A dry chuckle escapes her throat. “Even though we knew it was coming, his passing was too difficult for me.” 

I glance over at Tripp and his gray eyes watch her raptly. 

“Those first days were the hardest of my life. I made the fateful decision one night after crying nonstop for hours.” 

Patience took a slow, steadying breath, but I knew what she was going to say. “You decided to bring him back.”

Her chestnut brown eyes opened and fixed on me, they appeared decades younger than the rest of her. “I did,” she nodded lightly. “A powerful full moon was approaching. At the height of it, I performed the ritual and within minutes he was back with me, just as he was before – except his eyes.” She shifts her glance to Tripp. “We spent the night holding each other and smiling.” 

She points to a shelf on the far wall, “my dear, bring me the doll over there.” I jump up and cross the room. On the shelf is a small, hand sewn doll made of a coarse brown woven material and a blue cotton shirt material. Small gray pearl buttons have been stitched on for the eyes. I never believed in magic before all of this, but holding this doll, it radiated with magic. 

I brought it back to Patience and she cradled it in her lap. “Amos and I spent the next two weeks back in our euphoric state.”

I held my breath, I knew what was coming. 

“But as I said, all magic has a price.” She looked back to the doll in her lap, unable to look at us as she continued to tell her tale. “The new moon came around. A full lunar cycle from the night he passed. As soon as the sun went down…” 

“He changed,” Tripp filled in when she couldn’t bring herself to say it. 

“He wasn’t himself. I had no choice but to-“ 

“You did what you had to,” I chimed in. 

She brought her gaze back up to meet my eyes. “I did. I didn’t know he would change back, I couldn’t leave him like that. So once again I was alone. It wasn’t long after… that when I noticed all the helicopters overhead. I ventured out past my  wall and into the town and saw that my spell had brought more than just Amos back.”

“I wandered the towns gathering information. I learned that everyone who came back ‘changed’ during the new moon but were themselves again the next morning. I should have broken the spell right then but despite the new moon challenge, I saw families reunited. I couldn’t break them up again.”

Patience whispered, barely audible. “I’m so sorry.”

“It wasn’t your decision anymore,” Tripp said. I could only watch, confused, as he reached forward and took the doll from Patience’s lap and stood up. He spun the doll around in his hand, slowly, inspecting every inch of it. 

I stood up as well, thinking he was looking for something on the doll. I stood mesmerized as he twirled it in his strong hands. 

“Maggie…” he began but stopped himself. 

Beside us, Patience worked her way out of the chair and made her way across the room to the small kitchen area, her back to us. I almost thought I heard a sniffle as she walked away. 

I looked up into Tripp’s gray eyes and felt something warm on my face. With one hand, he wiped away the tears that had slipped from my eyes. My body knew what was happening before my mind had caught up but in that instant, I knew what was happening. 

“No. Whatever you’re thinking, just… no.” More tears fell onto my cheeks. 

“I- all of us, we were never supposed to be back. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved having this extra time, but every new moon that comes around…” He wiped away more tears and left his cool hand resting on my shoulder. “It’s not right. We need to go back to wherever we were before.”

“There’s protocols, to keep everyone safe,” my voice is so shaky it doesn’t even sound like me.

“For how long? What if they fail?” But he doesn’t wait for an answer, he leans down and kisses me, his cool lips connecting with mine. 

A sob escapes my throat as he pulls back, he turns towards the fire. “No, wait, please!” I grab at his upper arm, desperate to hold him longer. “Not yet, please. Please.” 

A small cough comes from the kitchen, we both turn and see the old hag pointing out the window, the forest beyond the glass is orange in the setting sun. The new moon is minutes away. 

My breathing is ragged and I pull Tripp into a hug, not wanting to let go. He holds me tighter than he ever has and plants one last cold kiss on my forehead. Still in my arms, he tosses the doll onto the flames next to us. For a heartbeat nothing happens, but then with a flash of green flames, Tripp’s body crumples to the floor. 

I drop down beside him, draped across him, and weep. After several minutes, Patience sits down on the floor beside me. She gently puts a mug of steaming tea into my hands, I sit up and look at her pleadingly. 

“Bring him back.”

“Drink up, Maggie. Everything will be ok.”

The scent coming from the warm mug is floral and herbal and unlike anything I ever smelled before. As I lift the mug, my tears fall from my cheeks and mingle into the tea. With the first sip, my sadness lessens just a little bit. 

Outside in the distance, the futile air raid siren sounds. 

 

Epilogue

In a booth at the Lakeside Grill, I sit with my laptop open in front of me and my notebook open beside it. I scroll through the Undead Reporter website and all the articles that I’ve posted in the six months since The End. I told myself I would honor Tripp’s memory by reporting the whole truth. Thankfully, he had given me the username and password for his site so I used his platform to continue spreading the news. 

I scrolled through the titles of past articles I’ve written: The Witch of the Woods; the CDC Interrogation; the Body Collection; and The Wall Comes Down posted only two days ago.  

I go to the drafts page. The title stares at me in big bold letters: MY GOODBYE. 

The empty field for the body of the post stares back at me. I’ve started and deleted this post so many times. Saying goodbye to his readers feels like a final goodbye to him. Tripp’s dedication to the truth gave me the drive I needed in my own life. In a few days, I start a new job at the area’s number one news station. 

The Undead Reporter helped with that. My posts reporting on everything that happened got world wide attention. I had offers from LA to New York to London. I chose to stay local. My dad being gone again has been really hard on my mom so I wanted to be able to be with her and commute to work. 

I begin to type: Thank you, dear readers, for allowing me to bring you with me on this whirlwind the last few months.

A camera flash to my left breaks my train of thought. I look up to see a plump woman with unnaturally red hair. The stunned look on my face prompts her to take a step closer to my booth.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, it’s just – you’re her, aren’t you? Maggie Kirkland?” Her sweatshirt is a pale pink embroidered with the name of a coastal town I had never heard of, the seashell details obscured by the camera hanging around her neck. 

“Yes, I am. Hi, nice to meet you.” I shake her hand and as quickly as her name comes out of her mouth, I’ve forgotten it. She takes a selfie with me and goes back to her table, chattering excitedly and showing her pictures to the man at the table. 

This kind of interaction is nothing new, since the wall came down, our town has been flooded with tourists. They all have traveled here to see the empty CDC containment centers, the paper mill, the lake, and the woods. But no matter how far they search into the woods, they will never find the stone house that Patience occupied. 

The last time I saw her was that fateful day six months ago. I sipped my tea with Tripp’s lifeless body next to me. She told me the tea wouldn’t take away my pain, but it would make it bearable. She also said she was moving on from these woods, they would never be the same without Amos. She was going to find other woods to call her home. I drifted off to sleep and when I woke up, I was in the middle of the forest with Tripp’s body and both of our backpacks. I used his GPS to send my coordinates to my mom. I waited for hours until the retrieval team showed up. They took Tripp’s body and escorted us both out of the woods. 

When the CDC team took the map and went back to the restricted area, they found nothing but more woods. No stone house, no wall, and no Patience.

I had no evidence for the CDC to back up my story other than a map to nowhere. But with no other explanation, they “unofficially” accepted my story. “Officially” all their reports claim it’s a freak combination of water and soil and bacteria that caused The Rising. 

After the “official” reports were released, hits on The Undead Reporter site skyrocketed. According to all the tourists that have been interviewed, no matter what the CDC says, my truth has become the “official” story of the people. 

Back to my laptop I delete what I had written and begin again. 

Thank you, Tripp, for showing me that the truth-

I hit the backspace key, deleting what I just wrote until all that was left was, “Thank you, Tripp.”

A satisfying feeling passed through me as I pressed the big green “PUBLISH” button on the right hand side of the screen. As I tuck my laptop into my bag, I see a pair of worn converse step up to my table. 

A familiar voice says, “Hi.”

I look up to see Tim standing over me. I only ever saw him sitting down and in a CDC hazmat suit, so seeing him out in the open like this was shocking. He’s muscular, and taller than I would have thought. 

“It’s nice to finally meet you,” he extends his hand and blushes slightly.

I shake his hand, comforted by it’s warmth. “Nice to finally meet you too.” 

He slides into the booth across from me and, without the aid of Patience’s tea, I feel like things might just be ok.