The first of THREE 4th PLACE WINNERs in the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest: Dark Skies by Adele Marie Park

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It is my pleasure to present to you the first of three 4th place winners from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, “Dark Skies” by Adele Marie Park

I liked this story a LOT. Adele’s writing here is superb.

This story is probably one of the best at really nailing the contest theme. We don’t adhere too strictly to that, but you can tell when somebody really made the effort to hit the bulls eye.

I think you’ll agree with me when you’re finished reading this very good story.


Word Weaver Writing Contest Winner

downloadDark Skies

Adele Marie Park


 

Streaks of pink, purple and orange lit the twilight sky.

“God’s paintbrush,” Ben Malcolm thought as the display tempted him to take a moment to admire the world he wanted to leave behind. How could he be lonely, faced with such miracles?

Tears filled his rheumy eyes and he floundered for a moment before reaching into the pocket of his wax jacket to retrieve a threadbare cotton hankie.

He rubbed his eyes and blew his nose.

She would have laughed at his antics if he hadn’t lost her last year. No laughter filled the small bungalow now.

The chair she had sat in glared at him accusingly every night.

The television she had loved so much was silent, sulking with him.

A sharp noise broke his stupor and he jerked his head up, wincing as a sharp pain reminded him he was old.

“Sparky!”

The black and white collie barked again. There was something urgent in the tone, a shout of “Come here. See what I’ve found.”

Ben shuffled forward, his cane sinking into the water-soaked track.

“I’m coming,” he said.

Sparky ran towards him, barking like a puppy then galloped back to his spot.

He hurried, ignoring the pain in his hip, the thunk of an old heart and the wheeze that passed for breathing these days.

As he reached the collie, the dog sunk to its belly. Puffs of panted air steamed into the gloaming air.

He glanced at the dog then down at the short moor grass where something had stolen the dog’s attention.

He fell to his knees and a whoosh of breath came deep from the bottom of his lungs.

A blue eye, which had once sparkled, stared up at him from out of the grass.

*  *  *  *  *

In the police station, Constable MacKay was finishing tea and a scone when the phone rang.

Frowning he listened to a frantic garble of words until he recognised who it was.

Rising from his chair and still chewing, he told them to slow down.

 

Within a second his body went rigid and the remainder of the scone fell from his fingers.

He replaced the handset with trembling fingers.

“Alice!”

*  *  *  *  *

For as long as Alice could remember, all she had wanted to be was a detective.

The long years training would be worth it, she had told her mother. This was the start of her glorious career.

Instead, her first posting had been to the village of  Speir Dhubh, (angry sky), in the highlands of Scotland, far from her city of lights, Glasgow.

Twenty houses, a post office, a pub and a bus service that ran, sometimes, to Inverness the Highland capital.

She counted her heart beats as the old car hit the bumps of what passed as a road.

“A body’s been found by old Ben Malcolm’s dog?” she asked holding onto the seat as they went over another pothole.

MacKay grunted an affirmation as he concentrated on the water-logged track they were driving on.

Ben Malcolm was visible in the glimmer of twilight skies.

The old man waved his stick at the approaching car while his dog strained against the constriction of a leash, barking loud enough to be heard over the engine.

The tires screamed in protest as MacKay applied the brakes and they spun splattering mud up the sides of the white paint.

MacKay exited the car first, placing his peaked cap firmly on his head.

Alice, tentative and mindful of the muck beneath her feet, took a second longer before she left the car. The moors were wild and inaccessible unless you stuck to the path worn down by years of feet.

The roar of the sea was audible letting residents know it was just over the rise of the brown topped hill.

The smell of peat filled a traveller’s nostrils first, then the wet bog smell, and lastly the tang of the sea.

Desolate and unwelcoming that’s how Alice first described it to her mother on the phone. Now she was filled with the primitive zest of the land. Humans were almost an afterthought on this free, rolling landscape.

 

 

As MacKay talked to the old man he held his arm tight against his chest.

She strode forward, squelching into muddy pools. She didn’t care. “Ben, do you feel unwell?”

The old man was grey, all the way from his hair to his big, calloused, shaking hands.

She turned away from them and headed for her radio. “I’m calling an ambulance.”

Surprise was always evident when this overriding concern for her fellow humans blasted through the mask of the stern policewoman.

She had seen the body out of the corner of her eye. A fleeting glimpse of hair the colour of straw spread across the heather. White skin with a purple-blue tinge to it as the hand was thrown down the fingers curled as if they grasped something.

Behind her, the two men continued conversing while the dog barked like a berserker.

She squatted, her nose wrinkling as the stench of the bog filled it.

A pencil was withdrawn from her pocket, and she parted the grass with it. She gazed at the face of a dead woman. Gauguin couldn’t have painted the victim with more colour than nature had. Young skin swollen by death’s hand was mottled purple and blue. The victim’s eye’s gazed towards the sky. Was that the last thing she’d seen? The tip of the pencil touched the gaping wound across her throat.

“Who did this to you?” she whispered.

The sound of knees not used to bending alerted her that MacKay was beside her.

“We’re going to have to get the big boys in on this one, lass.”

*  *  *  *  *

It didn’t take long for “the big boys” to get to the small village. By the time the body was removed to the police station, they were drawing up outside in their shiny car. Two men got out, and with a click of automated locking, they walked into the police station.

Originally, the police station had been the blacksmith’s cottage, and no matter how many times it was painted white, some of the soot still pushed through as it to remind them of its once glorious use.

MacKay met the men at the front desk, which was located in the one room used for the office, booking procedures and tea-making.

Alice looked up from her desk.

One man was tall and thin, dressed in a woollen coat over a sharp cut suit. His hair was immaculate, and the scent of expensive aftershave wafted from him.

The other was smaller, wore a shabby coat and a suit that had seen better days. Obviously, he was in charge.

MacKay led them through to the back room where the local doctor was examining the body.

Neither man had spared her a glance and a smile twisted the corners of her mouth upward. She was the one who had the evidence, what there was of it. It lay in front of her in a plastic bag. The dead woman had no identification on her. No purse, no documents of any kind.

Alice, however, had noticed something peeping out from a pocket on the jeans the woman wore. She’d rescued it with a pair of tweezers, and wearing gloves. With care, she had teased the crumpled piece of paper into something she could read. It was a letter from a solicitor, addressed to their murder victim. The contents of the missive were going to spread shock waves through the village. It declared that Antonia Fraser was the illegitimate daughter of General MacLeod, a descendant of the family had settled this area when there was nothing here but moors. They had a steady rise in fortunes over the years and the house they lived in was built by an ancestor in 1800. In the village hierarchy, the MacLeod family were considered royalty.

The present head of the family was the aforementioned General MacLeod. His wife Marianne had come from an old and established family further north in Caithness. They had four children, Maggie the eldest, Stuart who was currently at Edinburgh University, Duncan who managed the land and Dorothy the youngest. General MacLeod’s mother, Lady Constance also lived with them on the estate.

Alice chewed the tip of her pen as she waited for the computer screen to tell her it had received the information she had typed in. She also waited for the “big boys” to beat a path to her desk.

With that thought still fresh in her head, the door to the back room opened and a rush of men’s voices broke the peace of the front office.

“This is Alice Bruce,” MacKay said.

Alice rose from her seat and stood with her shoulders straight.

The shabby man nodded his head. “Detective Robinson.”

They shook hands.

His skin was warm and so was his smile. He was used to putting people at ease. Years of experience showed in the lines on his face, but his eyes twinkled. She liked him already.

The younger man pushed his hand out towards her and she was reminded of an awkward scarecrow. “Detective Alan Muir. Nice to meet you.”

She shook his hand.

His skin was cold, his face unlined and no experience lay in his blue eyes-yet.

“Alice has the evidence you need to look at.” MacKay placed his hat on his head, turning to the door. “I’ll be with the doctor if you need me,”

There was polite silence lasting until he left the room.

“He’s tired,” Alice said, although why she felt the need to defend MacKay she had no idea.

“Aye. You don’t have many murders here, do you?” Robinson said. Laughter trickled out, just enough to put her at ease.

She fumbled for the evidence bag and held it up.

“This was the only thing that we found,” she said and handed it to Robinson.

While he read the contents, Alice and Alan glanced at one another.

The younger man swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbed like an accusing secret.

“Can I  make you some coffee?”

The grateful yes she received from the younger man proved her instincts right.

*  *  *  *  *

The MacLeod estate consisted of 45 acres of managed land. The house stood like a proud mother in the middle of these lands.

The driveway leading up to the house was edged, either side by laurel trees, shaped into soft domes by a loving hand.

The wheels of the car crunched over the gravel with soft popping sounds.

Alice sat in the back seat and stared out at something which seemed far out of her reach. A fairytale place found by accident and never forgotten.

Alan drove, and she smiled at the way his head darted around like a chicken. His obvious awe of the fairytale which he had found himself in was the same as hers.

Robinson seemed unaffected. Perhaps his experience made him immune to such charms.

They were soon at the stronghold.

As she exited the car, Alice looked upward. The grand house appeared to gaze back down at her. The many windows beaming with cleanliness that welcomed the visitors.

The door opened and the woman who emerged looked about as welcoming as a vegetarian in a burger joint.

This would be Lady Marianne MacLeod, Alice thought and noted the expensive cashmere jumper and tweed skirt down to the Italian leather brogues. Steel grey hair was styled by an expensive, artistic hand.

As they walked towards her she folded her arms.

Alice took a deep breath and forced down feelings of intimidation. These people weren’t above the law, this was a murder investigation.

 

“Good morning, I’m Detective Robinson from Inverness. Is General MacLeod at home?”

The woman’s body language stiffened even more than before. If she had been a porcupine, Robinson would have quills in every orifice.

“What is this about?” Her voice held years of tradition and breeding. Cultured with an attitude of “do I have to deal with common people like you?”

“I need to ask your husband a few questions. Is he at home?”

Good for you, Alice thought. Her respect for Robinson was growing. He seemed unflappable, unlike MacKay. She didn’t blame MacKay, but he was in denial. Thirty years spent as the law in a village whose streets were crime free didn’t prepare you for what had happened. He was due to retire next year, and it seemed cruel to visit murder upon him now.

Mrs MacLeod’s expression crumbled and now her stance with folded arms looked more defensive than offensive.

“You better come in.” She turned her back on them and Robinson, given permission, followed her into the house itself.

They were shown to a reception room which belonged amongst the pages of gloss slicked country house magazines.

Robinson sat down on one of the couches which had been a living animal at one time but its skin had been pressed, and moulded into an expensive designers dream.

Alice stood beside the window, glancing out at the garden and admiring the blooms.

Alan stood beside her, awkwardness seeping from him into her.

By her estimation, they waited ten minutes before the door was opened as if by an enthusiastic child and General MacLeod almost bounced into the room.

Robinson rose and faced him.

“What is going on? I heard there had been a dead body found, is it about that?” General MacLeod said as he filled the room with his presence and his voice.

A tall man with white hair. The shadow of the colour it was once threaded through his speckled moustache. Black as night his hair would have been, but like many in the highlands, he would have lost the colour early on.

He sat in a wing-backed chair like a king on his throne and waved his hand in the air. “Sit down.”

His wave included her and Alan, but she had to touch the younger man’s arm before he moved. They sat beside Robinson on the couch.

“I am sorry, but this might be painful for you,” Robinson said.

He handed the evidence bag across to the general who frowned. From the top pocket of his hacking jacket, glasses were produced which he put on, his chin lifting up a notch as he peered at what was written. Time ticked courtesy of several antique clocks in the room.

Alice kept her gaze on the various items around her, embarrassed for the general. What a way to find out he had a daughter.

The general lowered the evidence bag and stared at Robinson. “Is this true?” he asked, his voice the thin whisper of an old man.

“Yes, sir. We enquired of the solicitors. Apparently, the girl’s mother told her before she died. Do you know who this is?”

The general shook his head as he buried himself backwards in the chair, a shrunken visage of the man who had marched through the door minutes ago. “She was murdered? Here?”

He wasn’t asking for these questions to be answered. The shock was now coursing through his body, his brain was trying to process what he had been told.

The door opened with the sound of a gentle click and Lady Marianne entered. Her hands shook as she wound them around one another, her gaze bored into her husband. “It’s her. Isn’t it?”

The tone of her voice sent shivers through Alice, let alone how the general felt, but he twitched a little in his chair.

“Pardon me, Lady…”

“Why? What have you done that you need pardoning? Not like him.” It was as if a hissing snake had taken over her speech.

Moving in a slow shuffle she stood beside her husband, her hand that gripped the back of his chair was white with pressure.

“My husband had an affair twenty years ago next month. The woman worked here as a designer. I employed her, I picked her out and she betrayed me by sleeping with my husband. He was so infatuated with her that he was going to leave us. The family, the estate, everything.” The last word projected from her mouth complete with spittle that landed on her chin.

Alice saw hatred in her eyes, she felt heat rise in her face and wished that she was anywhere but in this timeless room with its secrets laid bare.

“My father made him see sense and the woman was packed off with no forwarding address.”

Alice watched the general’s reaction to those words. He bristled, that was the only word that she could use to describe his body language. As if he were a wild boar caught in a trap.

“Did you know she had a child?” Robinson asked. His voice was calm, the softness of a blanket over troubled sleepers.

Lady Marianne shook her head.

The general cleared his throat.

“I have to ask certain questions. Where were you yesterday at noon?”

“With me,” Lady Marianne said.

Robinson glanced at her. “And where would that be?”

Alice kept the smile from appearing, but her respect for Robinson went up another notch.

The general stirred in his chair, some of the military warrior he used to be stirred within him. He sat up straight. “We were overseeing the estate accounts. Always a dreadful chore. We had lunch then we took our daughter, Dorothy to her appointment in Inverness. We returned around six, had dinner, watched some rot on the television then went to bed.”

Robinson rose to his feet. “Thank you, sir. That’s all for now. If you want a copy of the letter I can arrange it for you.”

“Hm. Oh, yes.” The general rose to his feet and held his hand out, Robinson shook it. “Thank you, detective, please arrange that for me today, if you can.”

Alice watched Lady Marianne and for a second her face twisted into someone who could kill.

*  *  *  *  *

In the back seat of the car, Alice shuffled her hat around in her fingers. She was surprised to find emotions pushing themselves onto her unwanted.

“What did you make of that?” Robinson said and his glance in the rear-view mirror included her in that question.

“Bloody awful, sir,” Alan said his voice quivering. “We need to dig deeper.”

Robinson nodded then glanced at Alice, again.

“Martha from the post office knows everything about everyone. She’s known as the local historian. We should go there next,” she said.

Robinson edged the car out of the drive and glided back onto the main road. “Then that’s where we’re going. This case will be a long one, I think. We’re booked into the pub. What’s the grub like there?”

“It’s very good, sir. They do a mean Chili.”

Robinson laughed which made Alice smile like a child as if she had just impressed her father.

*  *  *  *  *

Outside the post office remained what it had been, a whitewashed cottage. A gaudy red plastic sign declared its new function. Displayed in the one window was all manner of things that villagers might require. From dolls in bright boxes to string and scissors. The front door was painted pillar box red with a square glass window where a sign hung crooked, declaring that it was open.

Alice pushed the red door and an electric buzzer jarred her nerves as she entered.

The scent of paper, plastic goods and old coffee wafted around. It was a long room.

In the middle was a card display that blocked the view of the counter, and to either side was shelving filled with the treasures within.

“Hello?” she called out.

“Aye. Just a second.” A woman pushed open a door marked private and bustled into view.

Martha Cooper had taken over the running of the post office from her mother. She had lived all her life in the tiny flat upstairs which had been added to the cottage when it became the post office. Her hair had once been red but was now white as snow and done in a style which accentuated the colour. Her smile almost hid her blue eyes and Alice thought she was the kindest woman she had ever met.

“Hello, Alice. These will be the Inverness police with you then?”

The post office served the same purpose of the pub as a hub of local gossip, but unlike the pub, it opened its doors earlier.

“This is Detective Robinson and Detective Muir,” Alice introduced them then stood to one side.

Martha shook their hands in turn, her smile growing. Excitement shone in her eyes. “Come through to the back. I can put the kettle on.”

They followed her as she lifted the counter, and then through the door marked private. They emerged into a square room, littered with stock and post office supplies. There was an easy chair beside a fireplace with an electric fire in it. A television stood in front of the chair. A table covered by a garish coloured oil cloth had three chairs placed around it.

Robinson took her offer of tea, Alice and Alan declined.

“Would you prefer a diet drink, Alice, I know you like them.”

Alice smiled at her, it was those little touches which Martha remembered that put people at ease. “Yes, please.”

Alan said yes to the offer as well, and she busied herself getting her guests their refreshments.

Once that had been settled, Martha took a chair from a forgotten corner stacked high with papers and placed the paperwork on the floor. She dragged the chair over to the table and sat down. “What a dreadful thing to happen. In my living memory we’ve never had a murder in the village,” she said her easy smile dropping.

There were grunts of varying degrees from them all in answer.

Martha shook her head and tutted. “And, no idea who the poor girl was?”

“We know her name. Antonia Fraser. Do you recognise that name?” Robinson asked.

Martha cocked her head to one side for a moment. “No. I’m afraid I don’t. Sorry.”

“There’s no need to apologise. What I would like from you, Martha is a rundown of everyone who lives here. Your position as postmistress will be invaluable to us.”

Alice tipped an invisible salute to him, he knew exactly how to prod people with a gentle touch getting them to open up.

Martha smiled, her body language that of a teenage girl rather than the woman she was. The mountain of information she knew surpassed an encyclopedia. Tales from leftover days that her mother had gathered about the people and their offspring were lodged inside her memory.

Alice listened then, blushed as secrets were thrown across the table to them. She lived here. Knew these people, even if just to say “good morning” to. Now their deepest secrets were presented to her. This was an intrusion, part of her thought. The police investigator, the logical side, took the dirty knowledge and filed it away.

When Robinson asked about the MacLeod family, Alice noticed the first hesitation.

Martha`s expression clouded over, and she stared ahead as if reliving a personal memory.

The knowledge that General MacLeod never loved his wife didn’t come as a surprise to those sitting around the table, but what was a surprise was the reason the marriage took place. The MacLeod fortunes had been handled with care, Marianne’s family had very little left. Her father had begged MacLeod to marry his daughter, and as they’d served in the same regiment, he’d agreed. A loveless marriage, and an affair. These were all things that kept the best selling mystery novels in print.

However, her voice when recounting these sad confessions was as different as chalk and cheese. There was a sadness in her eyes, and a catch in her voice that was missing from the earlier secrets she spilt.

Alice filed this away for later when she could discuss it with Robinson. Surprised that she would even think he valued her opinion made her swallow and turn away from the vicious history being revealed.

At the end of her tale, Martha sniffed and rose. “I hope it’s been of some use to you. That poor girl, an innocent.”

That had been their cue to leave and voicing a thank you, they left the post office.

 

The sky had burst open and a deluge of rain battered them as they stepped outside.

Alice was glad of the rain, upon leaving the post office she had felt as if she’d rolled in others dirty secrets until they’d stuck to her skin.

Arriving back at the station they found it empty.

Alice checked the clock and explained to the two detectives that MacKay went home for his dinner around this time.

Robinson chuckled. “Let’s get dinner at the pub. We can go over what we’ve learned today.”

Alice was surprised and flattered that he’d included her in that invitation. Thoughts of being singled out for transfer to Inverness to work under Robinson flooded her mind as they walked to the pub.

As she stepped into the hum of conversation and the scent of meals being received by grateful customers, broke the thread.

Robinson picked a table, and Alan went to the bar to order the drinks.

A menu sat on the table which Robinson picked out of its plastic holder and handed to her. “Well, Alice, what’s your thoughts?”

She blinked feeling the hunger gnaw at her stomach reducing her brain to mush. “Oh. So much information, but something isn’t right.”

“I agree and no doubt after we’ve eaten that something might come to us.”

Alice chose the special, lasagne. She’d had it before, and knew it was delicious. Although the old saying “eyes bigger than belly”, fitted her perfectly. She ate half the meal and left the rest, watching as the two men tucked into steak pie and chips.

Despite her stomach being satisfied the butterflies continued inside her, thoughts whirled around her head with the speed of a washing machine.

People watching was part of her job and to stem the nerves she looked around the pub. Mostly villagers although there was a table of hikers who by the look of their gear had only stopped for dinner. Someone in this village had committed murder. Where the hell was MacKay? Did he suspect someone?

The clinking of knife and fork together turned her attention back to their table.

Robinson leaned back with a satisfied sigh while Alan looked wistful at the food left on her plate.

Sheree, the owner’s daughter sauntered over to clear their plates.

She glanced at Alice, looking her up and down as only a teenage female could. “Are you finished?”

Alice nodded. “Yes. Excellent as usual.”

The girl raised an eyebrow then collected their plates with practised ease, waltzing off to the nether regions of the kitchens.

“They’ve found traces of DNA,” Robinson said.

A loud thump inside her chest made her sit forward.

“We’re waiting for the results. It was under the fingernails of our victim.”

“That was a lucky break, sir,” Alan said.

“Aye. Now, suspects?”

“Lady Marianne is the obvious one although she has an alibi,” Alan said.

“It could be false, her husband could be covering for her, but I don’t think so. The shock on their faces was real,” Alice said.

Robinson leaned in so the three of them resembled a group of children discussing secrets. “This case hangs on the DNA results and then we face the task of testing the whole damn village.”

Alice heard the thread of despair in his voice and wanted desperately to solve the case so he didn’t have to worry. Not once, did she question the relationship she was building with him inside her own thoughts?

*  *  *  *  *

With dinner over, Alice head back to the station while the two detectives stayed at the pub to rest in their rooms.

As the door opened she saw MacKay. He manned the front desk as usual and was reading the Inverness Courier. “Have they solved it yet?” he said looking over the edge of the paper.

She walked in, letting the door swing shut behind her, and leant on the counter. “No, Sarge. But, they do have DNA. From under the fingernails. What do you think?”

MacKay put down the paper and stared into space for a few seconds before bringing his gaze to rest on her. “I think that the identity of the murderer will shock this village. Secrets, Alice, old, nagging secrets.” He sighed and went to pick up the paper, she stopped him.

“You know who it is don’t you?”

The paper rustled as he used it to cover his reaction to her question. “No, lass. I don’t know, but I have a suspicion which would do them and you no good.”

Her guts started to turn over. She’d always been able to tell if someone was telling a lie or the truth and MacKay was as truthful as they came.

“It’s time to shut up shop. The skies darkening early, it’ll rain again before we’re done,” he said.

 

 

As they closed the station she noticed subtle changes in him. His shoulders looked bowed and he walked with a heavy tread. Compassion flared inside her, this man had taken her in and trained her. All of a sudden she forgot about Inverness and Robinson. “Sarge? Is everything alright?” She wanted to say more, but they had barriers to respect.

“No, lass, but it will be.” He smiled at her as he held the door open for her, and as it shut he locked it.

Alice looked up at the sky and watched the black clouds gather like crows. A deep sense of foreboding settled in her stomach making it feel as heavy as a medicine ball.

*  *  *  *  *

The jingle of happy music from her phone woke her from dreams where she wandered the moor searching for something just out of reach. Checking the number ran a jolt of energy through her body and she sat up in bed to answer.

Robinson had news. The DNA results were through and could she meet them for breakfast at the pub?

Alice dressed as if she were having an out of body experience. Her mind wandered through a thick forest of possibilities, while her body took care of the daily functions.

She slammed the door behind her and shuddered as it echoed around the quiet street.

Shoving her hat on her head as she walked to the pub, her steps lengthened until she was almost running.

The pub was empty, the scents of beer and sour whiskey filled her nostrils, but the further on she walked into the building they were replaced by wafts of bacon.

Both men rose as she entered the dining room.

She sat down, her body like a sack of ferrets squirming to be set free.

When Robinson asked if she wanted breakfast she swallowed hard before deciding that if she was going to throw up it was better to do so with food in her stomach.

She ordered scrambled eggs and toast, the two men ordered the full highland breakfast.

Robinson balanced his elbows on the table his hands folded together as if in prayer. “The results are in. Our killer is a female.”

As she sipped on coffee the shock of his words made her cough. Her thoughts scrambled around while she felt water fill her eyes.

“Aye, it’s a shock to us too. Especially in this tiny village. However, it doesn’t give us the identity, but I’ve a plan that just might flush them out.”

As she listened to Robinson’s plan their breakfasts came and went.

The eggs sat on top of the nerves, and a touch of excitement as upon finishing his explanation he rose and looked at his watch. “Time to go.”

*  *  *  *  *

The electric buzz as she opened the door of the post office grated in her ears.

Martha looked up from the counter. She was surrounded by newspapers which would be delivered to the correct addresses before the school bell rang. “Alice? You’re early. Is everything alright?”

She approached the woman with slow measured steps, keeping her head downward, and as she reached the counter she gazed at her. “We found DNA. The results are back.”

“Oh God,” Martha said. Her hand held over her mouth.

“The killer is a woman.” Alice kept her voice low she didn’t need to pretend shock, she was still reeling from it.

“No.” Martha`s face paled and she almost collapsed backwards but managed to find a stool and sit on it. “I can’t believe it.”

Alice nodded. “Don’t tell anyone, you might alert the killer. I’ll just take McKay’s paper and a packet of those indigestion mints please.”

Martha acquired them and the paper as if she were a zombie and only muttered a goodbye as she heard the buzzer.

*  *  *  *  *

MacKay and Alice were manning the station, waiting for Robinson’s plan to work.

By telling Martha, he hoped that she would pass it on, and then it would be passed on again until it reached the ears of the killer. Then, they hoped, the killer would make a mistake. It was a risky plan, but they had nothing else to go on at the moment.

General MacLeod and his wife’s alibi was iron cast, and so far no other suspects had been found.

Alice had just got up to ask if he wanted coffee when the noisy conversation from outside drifted in with the arrival of Robinson and Alan.

“What’s going on outside?” MacKay asked.

Alice and MacKay went to the door to investigate the noise.

Outside it appeared as if the entire village had descended en mass. The crowd were milling around the post office, and one man had cupped his hands around his eyes as he peered in through the glass door.

Alice made her way with care through the people. She couldn’t stop nausea from sitting in her stomach like the echo of a nightmare.

The man looking through the glass stepped aside so she could take his place.

Darkness greeted her scrutiny, she frowned. At this time of day, the post office should’ve been open for at least two hours.

She wrapped her hand around the doorknob and turned it. It rattled and wouldn’t let her inside. She turned her head to tell someone to get MacKay, but he was beside her.

“We’ve got a spare key. Here, lass let me.” He took over from her and unlocked the door. Before opening it he turned to the throng of people. “Stand back. Don’t come in.”

His words produced conversations of surprise and fear. The word “killer” floated above the hub, and Alice’s stomach turned over on itself.

Once inside MacKay shut the door, and locked it again. He took a deep breath and stared at Alice. “Whatever we see. Stay sharp.”

She nodded, licking her dry lips and trying to swallow but-no saliva was forthcoming.

She followed MacLean through the door to the back room where they’d had tea with Martha just the other day.

The room was cold, no teapot stood on the table, and the cups were sitting on the draining board as if they were accusing witnesses.

MacKay stood at the foot of the stairs, the hand that held onto the wooden rail was bunched, the knuckles white.

With slow steady steps, they climbed up to Martha`s private quarters.

The hush inside the building was thick and words stuck in Alice’s throat.

The door of the bedroom loomed before them.

MacKay wiped his hand over his face, and as he folded his fingers around the silver knob they shook. The door swung inward and the scent of violets rushed out to greet them.

A small room with mementoes of a life lived in this village surrounded them as they entered.

At first, Alice thought Martha was asleep. She looked so peaceful, eyes closed, a faint smile turned her lips upward. Her name was on Alice’s lips when MacKay let out a sound of grief. “Oh, Martha.” He shuffled over to the bedside.

Alice gripped her hands together as she waited where she was.

“Call for an ambulance, Alice. She’s dead.”

*  *  *  *  *

Alice sat at her desk, hands wrapped around a cold cup of coffee. In front of her lay the shards of someone’s life. Martha.

Robinson sat beside her while Alan perched on the edge of her desk.

They were her shield, protecting her from the most horrific truths.

Martha was a murderer. She had slit the throat of the victim then driven her to the moor and dumped her body.

The reason?

Love for the man now in the interview room with MacKay.

General MacLeod had once been in love with Martha until the marriage to Marianne robbed them of a future.

Martha had continued to love him from afar, always there, forever faithful and helping.

The affair which might have taken him away forever was halted and she had shed grateful tears. He would stay, forever in her sights.

The girl had come to the post office as most strangers do. Martha`s kindness had softened the shield around the girl, and she had confided in her.

Rage, bitterness, and regrets had taken over Martha. Building into a blackness which was unusual for her. Without hesitation she had asked the girl in for a cup of tea and had slit her throat, ready with a tea towel to stem the flow of blood. The body had been heavy but, Martha was used to hauling mail sacks, and had managed to drag her to the car.

Martha`s patience with her situation had snapped that day. Years of waiting, taking care of her love, and wasting away had driven a demon into her.

It was all written in the letter which was addressed to General MacLean, including where to find the bloody tea towel.

Alice’s hand trembled as she picked up the letter again. Reading through it once more she was surprised as moisture dripped on the plastic evidence bag, then realised it was her own tears.


 

What did I like about this story?

What spoke to me?

img_2351-11DAN ALATORRE: I was engaged by the voice of the author, via the story of the main character, and the almost-under dog status she was working against. The need to assert ones’s self, to not be pushed down, is an important one, and not in regards to sexism, but for new employees, or young people just starting their career.

Lots of places that can happen.

The new kid at school. Getting picked last for the softball game. A PTA meeting. A volunteer board. You name it.

So we feel for her, and we want her to succeed, but meanwhile we are wondering the same things she is wondering. We want to find out what happened just like she does, and can we figure it out before the end of the story? That’s part of the game – part of the allure – of mysteries, after all.

I think she did a good job.

JOHN WINSTON: Show not tell: Excellent blend of show and tell = 10. Authentic Dialogue: Flowed well in a classical sense with nothing distracting going on = 10. Beginning, middle, and end: Excellent beginning with the murder committed and setting established = 9.  Character development: Great job of character development with all characters through their dialogue and actions, especially with the agents, Alice, Mackay, and Martha.  = 10.    Clear goal: The goal was clear early on; who was the murderer, and we discovered it at the very end= 10. Setting and description: Great job with the description of setting, scenes, and characters, wasn’t too much or too little.


This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.

  • Join us tomorrow for the second of our three 4th place winners, Normal Things by Barbara Anne Helberg

  • and come back the rest of this week for more winning stories and profiles of the authors.

  • Also maybe a special announcement about our next writing contest.

Right now, please join me in congratulating our first of three 4th place winners, Adele Marie Park.

See you tomorrow!

3 Ways To Show A Text Conversation In A Book – And One Right Way

I was presenting at a writing seminar Saturday and this came up, so I’m reposting it so they can find it easily.

This post has become THE standard for creating a text conversation in your story. It was viewed over 22,000 times in 2017 and has been viewed almost 10,000 times already in 2018. It is the #1 Google result when someone types “how to show a text conversation in a story.”

YOU helped make all that happen!

Dan Alatorre - AUTHOR

img_2351-11 your humble host

We know how to write a sentence: noun, verb… a period at the end.

We know how to show dialog when our characters speak.

Dan scratched his head. “We do?”

“Yep,” she said.

But it turns out, we DON’T know how to depict a text conversation in a story! I checked.

There’s NO uniform way.

Oh, The Chicago Manual Of Style (CMOS) has a suggestion in the Q&A – but it sucks.

And other authors are trying to nail it down, especially the YA writers. Or they write around it.

Look, anybody can do this:

“how r u,” he texted;

“ha ha Daddy I can’t believe you use ‘r u,’” she replied.”

AWFUL. You wouldn’t use so many tags in a conversation showing speech, or regular conversational dialog, but here it’s supposed to be okay?

No.

No, no, no, no, no, no.

I (accidentally) used…

View original post 1,526 more words

Profile of Word Weaver Writing Contest 3rd PLACE WINNER Victoria Clapton, “Excavation Murder”

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your humble host

What goes on inside the writerly mind?

Let’s sit down with the first of our two Word Weaver Writing Contest 3rd place winners, Victoria Clapton, and find out.

Southern-born Victoria Clapton is no stranger to writing. She completed her first book of poetry at age eight and her first novel at age thirteen. Multilingual, friend to all creatures, (and in particular, especially a friend to cats in need of rescue), Victoria is a forever curious world traveler with a mysterious knowledge of things and places that encompass many lives ago, an avid collector of saga books, a practicing vegetarian and yogini with her feet well balanced in earth’s splendor. She and her cat companions enjoy all things Viking, faery, vampire, new writing instruments, herbology and anime.


DAN: Did you write your story for the contest or was it part of a larger piece or something you had written before?

VICTORIA CLAPTON: I wrote Excavation Murder specifically for the contest. Usually, I write paranormal fiction, and I jumped at the chance to try something new and expand my horizons.

Tell us about your writing process. What is the journey from idea to published piece /completed story?

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author Victoria Clapton

When an idea comes to me, I scribble down a few notes, and then I stew on it for a little while. I am a huge nature lover, and often, my ideas form fully while I’m outside among the trees. From there, I write it out — yes, long hand. My process is slightly redundant. I write it out long hand, and then I type it chapter by chapter. This really helps me polish the story.

Where do you do your writing?

Everywhere. My favorite place to write is beneath a willow tree on my property, but over the years, I have mastered the art of being able to stop anywhere that I am, in order to get an idea written down.

Do you have a writing goal you want to achieve?

Becoming a full-time writer is my ultimate goal. In the meantime, I simply want to continue to grow my audience.

What helps you the most when it comes to writing?

Music. The right music can keep my focused and in the writing zone for long periods of time.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on two projects, a children’s book, which is only in the beginnings stages, and a paranormal fiction stand-alone novel. As more and more readers pick up the Binding trilogy, they have asked me to give them more of the side characters. So, currently, I am working on just that, beginning with Zylphia Lynum’s story. Once again, the story takes place in my beloved New Orleans.  However, Zylphia’s story is quite a bit darker than that of the Vampire King and Queen’s in The Binding.

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a few of Victoria’s many novels

There are a lot of writing contests out there. What drew you to this one?

I wanted to write something new.

How did you hear about our contest?

Anne Marie Andrus, author of Monsters and Angels, shared the info on this contest with me.

I’ll have to thank her. THANKS, ANNE MARIE!

Have you ever entered a writing contest before?

No, this is definitely a first for me.

Will we see you again in the next Word Weaver Writing Contest, if there is one?

Yes, this has been a lot of fun, and I have learned quite a lot.

Did you know the piece you submitted was special?

No. I tried to blend a little mystery, horror, and humor together and hoped it would be special.

What’s next for you?

I am going to finish up the two projects I’m working on, and then I will begin one of the others that I have waiting in the back of my mind.

What was Dan’s critique process like?

Critiques are never easy. However, Dan’s critique was an unexpected pleasure. His advice and suggestions were extremely helpful, and several times, his comments even made me laugh. Overall, it was a really good experience.

Do you hate cats?

Ha! I am the Great Cat Emancipator, or so my inner circle calls me. Far from hating cats, I love them. I rescue them. In fact, I have four, erm five, cats at home. But my house is an equal opportunity household. I also have a rescued Akita!

Uggghhhh…

What makes you so damn interesting anyway?

My degree is in Commercial Spanish and International Studies, but I am a great lover of all languages and history in general. Why is that interesting? I speak and even write in a strange mixture of Spafrenglish with a tiny bit of Irish Gaelic, Hindi, and Japanese thrown in for fun. Imagine what my first drafts look like…it is gobbledygook. However, my obsession with world culture adds a lot of color to my stories.

You have a blog. How did that start?

My blog, Tea Leaves, Travels, and Tapestried Tales, began with the need to have a space to keep my readers updated on what’s new with my books. The blog evolved when I received several requests to share pictures from trips I’ve taken. So now, it is also the place where I share my experiences and tidbits of my traveling adventures.


Gang, join me in congratulating Victoria for a terrific story!

Here’s where you can read more of her work:

Amazon

Facebook

Twitter: @VictoriaClapton

Instagram: victoriaclapton

Blog

Site

 

 

 

 

 

 

Profile of Word Weaver Writing Contest 3rd PLACE WINNER Heather Kindt, “Dreamers”

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your humble host

What goes on inside the writerly mind?

Let’s sit down with the second of our two Word Weaver Writing Contest 3rd place winners, Heather Kindt, and find out.

Heather Kindt grew up in Derry, New Hampshire, but now resides in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and two children. She loves writing YA fantasy and humorous fiction.

A terrific story she called “Ruby Slips and Poker Chips” won our July 2017 Word Weaver Writing Contest; she went on to publish the entire novel under the same name shortly thereafter.


DAN: Did you write your latest story, Dreamers, for the contest or was it part of a larger piece or something you had written before?

HEATHER KINDT: I began Dreamers about seven years ago. In the file on my computer, I only had a page and a half done. When Dan announced that the contest could involve suspense, I brushed off the old file and finished the first chapter of something that I hope someday can become a book.

It reads like an opening chapter of a book to me – I think I even asked if it was one.

Tell us about your writing process. What is the journey from idea to published piece /completed story?

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author Heather Kindt

When I won my first Word Weaver contest in July, I answered this question and probably had a similar response. With Ruby Slips and Poker Chips and The Weaver Trilogy I didn’t really plan out the writing beforehand. I’m a teacher so don’t tell my students I just said that. Now that I’m writing a little bit each day, I’m trying to be more intentional in my writing. The Ender, which I’m writing right now, contains complicated plot points so I need to know where they are going. I still try to let my characters drive the story at times, but I have to be in control of where it is ultimately going.

Where do you do your writing?

In my office, in my bed, in the giant beanbag and sometimes standing up because it’s not good to sit a lot and I’m on a health kick.

Do you have a writing goal you want to achieve?

bookcover0001307-Revised-2I’m glad you asked. My current goals are to continue to promote Ruby Slips and Poker Chips, which is doing very well in its reviews on Amazon. I also want to finish The Ender by June or July so I can publish my YA trilogy.

What helps you the most when it comes to writing?

Encouragement. I receive encouragement from my husband who has had my back since the beginning. Dan has been my newest cheerleader, but he also provides honest critique, which moves my writing forward. My fans also give me encouragement. Words in reviews that have meant a lot to me are “Amazing read. Light, witty with real life thrown in the mix. Worth more than five stars” and “Keep writing Heather Kindt and I will keep reading.” These words keep me typing every day. Thank you to those of you who have left reviews. They mean a lot to authors.

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With 24 reviews that are almost all 5 stars, accumulated in less than 5  months, fans agree – Heather’s writing is a hit!

What does writing success look like?

Success to me is having people read my books and gaining some sense of joy from them. I think it’s true for most authors that they write because it is something within them that they want to share with the world. This is true with most artists. I feel alive when I’m writing and if I could make it a career, that would feel like a success to me.

What “person” do you like to write in? First Person, Third Person, etc. – and why?

Both Dreamers and Ruby Slips are written in the first person. I love the reader being able to go along on the journey with the main character. It’s my favorite way to write because I become that character as the writer even if they’re nothing like me. My first draft of The Weaver was written in the first person. I decided to rewrite it in the third person because I wanted the reader to see in the heads of other characters. In the first book, you hear from Laney and Jason. The Watcher and The Ender are told from Laney’s, Jonas’s, and William’s perspectives. I decided to do that because the first book starts off in reality and it takes awhile for Laney and the reader to discover she’s living in a fantasy world.

Tell us about yourself. Who IS the real Heather Kindt? And not typical the boring bio stuff. The dirt. Like, when was the last time you did laundry?

I’m going through my midlife crisis, but I think it’s a good thing. Most people go out and buy a Porsche or get a Botox injection. I’m obsessed with setting goals. I’ve totally changed what I put in my body and I’m working out. I’ve also set goals for my writing. Keeping to my goals is tough when most days I’m away from my house from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with my job as a teacher and I have two almost teenagers at home. But I’m determined and I know that’s more than half the battle. And yes, this keeps my house a disaster at times.

I want to write stories that people get lost in and fall in love with the characters. I HATE scary stories, except Stranger Things, but I love fantasy and romance. I love to write what I love to read.


Gang, join me in congratulating Heather for a terrific story!

Here’s where you can read more of her work:

Heather’s Amazon page

Haether’s Blog

And of course, my interview with her after she won the July Word Weaver Writing Contest.

The second of TWO 3rd PLACE WINNERs in the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest: Dreamers by Heather Kindt

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your humble host

It is my pleasure to present to you the second of two 3rd place winners from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, “Dreamers” by Heather Kindt.

I liked this story a LOT. Heather has entered our contests a few times and always done well, coming in 1st a little while ago with an absolutely terrific story that swept me off my feet – Ruby Slips And poker Chips, a Wizard Of Oz parody. (Get it? Swept me off my feet?)

This story is equally good if not better. I think it’s the best thing I’ve read from Heather, and I hope it finds its way to becoming another one of her terrific full length novels.

The other judges didn’t know she wrote it, though, since I take the names off the stories once they become finalists, so you can rest assured that the following story is a good one.


Word Weaver Writing Contest Winner

3Dreamers

Heather Kindt

Hugging my knees to my chest, I struggled to push the agony aside, betrayed by the sweat-drenched sheets wrapped around me like a chrysalis of iron. The hollow sound drummed through my head . . . solitude . . . isolation . . . panic. The sounds wanting to escape from deep within had to be suppressed out of fear of lengthy explanations to the higher-ups. The neon red lights of the clock alerted me to the fact that I only had a precious few hours of sleep before I had to face the dreaded day looming before me.

But the sleep that lay behind my drooping eyelids filled me with more dread than my first day at a new high school, so I rolled over to turn on the light and read a book. Flipping to my bookmark, I tried to focus on the fictional world before me, but my dream refused to give up its hold on my thoughts.

I tossed the book to the side and stormed into the bathroom. My hair was in a state of disarray from the tossing and turning. My eyes pointed to my sleeping deficiency—hollow, bloodshot, rimmed in an unflattering shade of gray. Sure, they still held on to their turquoise. My father told me once that they reminded him of the ocean at the family’s get away in the Caribbean. Now the water of my eyes seemed to be shark infested. Nothing that eye drops and a little dab of cover-up couldn’t fix.

I had a dire need to stay awake, even though my eyes threatened to close half a dozen times reading my book. There was no way I was going back to the place I had just been, and had been every night for the past month. It haunted me. Every time I dreamed, I found myself in a tiny room, gagged and bound. The room reeked of sewer. The odors vivid even in my conscious state. But the persistence of this dream scared me more than anything.  I didn’t dream in black and white, I didn’t dream about random images, and my dreams didn’t connect the loose ends in my life. From as early as I could remember, I dreamed about the future.

The alarm woke me at six, but my sleep had been dreamless. I took a shower and then opened my closet and sighed. Hanging, neatly pressed, on a wooden hanger was my school uniform—the green and navy plaid skirt, the navy sweater vest and my white polo picked out by my mother from some high-end catalogue. Wearing the hideous uniform at high school in DC would have me shot. My parents insisted that I attend Woodland Academy, a private school that the country’s elite sent their stuck up children. Back in Washington, I went to public school, because my parents trusted the teachers with my education. Here, in Colorado, the school of my parents’ dreams was right down the road. How convenient.

From my top desk drawer, I removed a tattered spiral notebook and opened it to the page marked with a paperclip. I wrote down the date—August 20th. Doomsday. To the list I added click. Tiny room—bound—gagged—sewer stench—click. Possibly a door handle opening? If this were my future, I collected every clue I could recollect to the page.

“Lucy. Breakfast’s ready, hun.” My dad poked his head in the doorway. New fancy suit. New job. He’d started a month ago at some high-powered, top-secret military position in Colorado Springs.

“I’m coming,” I grumbled, trying to secretly let him know with my eyes that I’d rather walk across hot coals on top of a nuclear warhead than step one foot into Woodland Academy. To start a new school as a junior with the country’s so-called elite was suicide.

Mom cooked up a full breakfast in our fancy new kitchen listening to some self-improvement podcast on her phone. Through the sliding glass doors off the breakfast nook, Pikes Peak stood in all its grandeur. The landscape was definitely an improvement on the beltway, but I’d take my friends over the mountains any day.

“You could learn how to ski.” My father was forever trying to convince me why this move would make my life better. The moves always made my dreams worse—move vivid. Whatever was coming was getting closer.

“I’ll probably fall and break my leg.” I rolled my eyes. “In Washington, you wanted me to bike to school. We all know how that turned out.” The first time on the bike path, I hit a rock and flipped over my handlebars, ending up in the ER.

“I know this move is going to change our lives, Luce. To be able to live so close to nature after living in the city will do something for our souls.” My father was a tree hugger at heart, despite his outward appearance. He grew up in a wealthy home and had to live up to his parents’ expectations. Christmas at Grammy and Pa’s house were what one would call interesting, and not in a good way.

“Whatever.” I threw my favorite pillow into the cardboard box that would be picked up by the movers later that day. I loved my room looking out over the Potomac River. Now I was going to be buried in snow nine to ten months a year. Maybe a sled dog would be more appropriate than a bike.

I scooped scrambled eggs and added a couple of pieces of bacon to my plate. Sitting down in my Colorado kitchen, I felt alone in a vast wilderness. My mom would drop me off at the Academy each day on her way to her new job at a local boutique. It was the kind of place that sold high-end clothing to the tourists and local snobbery.

The ride in the car to school took all of three minutes, which I could have walked, but my mom said it would look better if we showed up in our BMW. I let out a breath, tired of the show that accompanied my dad’s status.

The large wrought iron gates that read Woodland Academy opened for our car after the man in the security gate found my name on the list of new students. My mother found a parking space near the building that read office.

“Good morning. May I help you?” The woman behind the counter wore a pantsuit in the same shade of blue as my uniform. Her nose literally stuck up so far I could count her nose hairs. I wondered if my mom would kill me if I offered the poor woman some tweezers.

“Yes.” My mom stepped up to the counter. “This is Lucy Thorne. She’s registered to start school here today.”

The nose hair woman removed a folder from a small stack she had on the counter, my name typed on the label. “I have a few things for you to sign, Mrs. Thorne, and then I will escort Lucy to her first class.”

We walked in silence across the campus to a brick building named after some wealthy benefactor. “This is where your Language Arts class will be.”

The classroom was on the second floor and when we reached it, the woman motioned the teacher to the door. “This is Lucy Thorne. She’ll be joining your class. Could you please send out Miss Johnson?”

“Hi, Lucy. I’m Mr. Hastings. It’s nice to meet you.” He shook my hand. Mr. Hastings appeared to be in his early thirties. I noted his receding hairline. We remained in the hallway while Mr. Hastings went to fetch Miss Johnson.

“Bree, this is Lucy. Do you mind being her tour guide for the day?” The woman plastered on a fake smile.

“Of course.” The girl turned to me. “I’m Bree.” She was tall with long blonde hair. Typical rich girl pedigree.

“I’m Lucy Thorne.” I felt self-conscious even though I knew my mom made sure before she left that my appearance was picture perfect. In Washington, I’d be dressed in ripped jeans and a t-shirt, ear buds around my neck. At the Academy, I already sensed that I couldn’t have one strand of hair out of place.

“There’s an empty seat next to me.” Bree smiled. Was it fake? “We’re discussing Of Mice and Men.”

The woman from the office opened the door and every eye in the classroom was on me. Not normally being self-conscious, I had butterflies fill my stomach. I didn’t notice individual faces, but the class as a whole. It was like a giant, well-dressed wave ready to swallow me up.

“Students, this is Lucy Thorne. Her family moved here from Washington and she will be joining our class.”

In my peripheral vision, a couple of guys whispered something. One of them elbowed the other and laughed. Heat burned my cheeks. I followed Bree to my chair by the window.

I hadn’t read the book, so I took notes and then absentmindedly doodled death threats to preppy boys in the crisp composition book.

As time passed, I realized that my doodles began to represent my repeated dream. The word click was scrawled all over the paper along with words associated with it. But if I created a Wordle, the two largest words would be CLICK and DOOR. Who was coming through the door in my dream?

“Lucy?” Mr. Hastings raised his eyebrows, probably expecting an answer to some question that I had no clue how to answer.

I threw my hands over my drawings and directed my attention to my teacher. “Could you repeat the question?”

A few muffled giggles sounded throughout the classroom.

Mr. Hastings frowned at the class, and then smiled at me. “I asked you what book you were studying in Washington.”

“Oh.” I kept my eyes on my hands that were covering my notebook. “Animal Farm.”

He set his chalk down on the desk in front of him and ran his hand through what hair he had left. “I’d like to see you after class, Miss Thorne.”

The class shuffled out when Mr. Hastings released them. Using bells seemed below Woodland Academy.

“Here’s a copy of the book we’re discussing. Please have it read by Friday.” Mr. Spalding also handed me the syllabus and the rules of the classroom. Now I knew what I’d be doing every night for the rest of the week.

*****

“What’s your story?” Bree asked on our way to lunch.

“You know. Dad’s got a high paying government job. We move around a lot.” I readjusted the leather strap of my bag on my shoulder. “They made me go here because we live down the street.”

“Do you live in Woodland Hills?” Bree stopped, wide-eyed. “That’s where I live.”

“Yeah. Do you want to walk home together once I get my mom over the feeling she needs to drive me?”

“She’ll get over it. They all do. And it’s not that bad here.” Bree waved at a couple of students passing by. “You’re going to get the cold shoulder from a some people. Especially Sam.”

“Who’s Sam and why will he give me a cold shoulder?” I wasn’t sure what I’d done to piss off someone already.

“Sam’s a girl. You know, Samantha.” Bree leaned in close as we walked up the stairs of a large historical looking building. “You’re dad being here made her boyfriend have to move.”

“What? How did that happen?” Great. A revengeful mean girl had it out for me and it wasn’t even lunch yet.

“Sam and Levi dated since freshman year. His mom held the job at the base that your dad just started. It was all a big conspiracy and things were supposed to remain confidential, but you know how rumors fly in a place like this.” Bree stepped into an alcove leading into one of the classrooms.

“Why did she lose her job?”

“She was getting all hot and heavy with one of her superiors. Instead of getting rid of her boss, they got rid of her. Levi had to move to El Paso.” Bree wrinkled up her nose in disgust.

“Ewww.” Early in her father’s career, they’d lived in the Texas military town. It was warm, but their front yard consisted of dirt and scorpions. “So now she has it out for me? It was his mother’s fault, not my dad’s fault.”

“She wants to blame someone else.” Bree shrugged her shoulders. “Right now, you’re majorly on her radar.”

This was all I needed. First day of school and I was on someone’s hit list. Wasn’t it bad enough that I had to wear knee-high socks?

The cafeteria was surprisingly small and intimate with round tables scattered throughout the room. It also included docking stations for phones and laptops, a small lounging area, and a coffee shop. Bree claimed two seats at one of the tables near the center of the room.

I felt eyes on me, so I didn’t glance up on my way to the buffet. I call it a buffet because it was nothing like the food service at my high school in Washington—no lunch ladies, no hairnets, no liquid slop trying to be passed off as meatloaf. Most of the people replacing food on the line reminded me of waiters at the fancy restaurants we went to when my dad had a family business meeting.

The food was divided into sections—gluten free, vegetarian, dairy-free, and so on. “So where’s the normal human being section?”

“You’re not a vegetarian? I thought the schools in Washington were a little more evolved.” Bree used the tongs to scoop salad onto her plate.

“No, I like all kinds of foods.” I took the tongs and placed two leaves from the salad bowl onto my own plate to show her I could be progressive. “I’d just like to have a cheeseburger.”

Moving forward in the line, I left Bree and began my quest to find decent food.

A short girl with long dark hair and crystal blue eyes glared at me, leaning toward the girl next to her but speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. “Not only is her dad a job stealer, she’s also a line cutter.”

“Excuse me?” I held my tray in front of me, wondering if I should accidently dump it on her shirt. “Do I know you?” She was no match for me. I made it through public school.

“Sam.” The girl inclined her chin in my direction. “And I don’t care to know you.” She clicked her heels and about-faced. The other girl attempted to keep up with her as she crossed the room.

The rest of the day went by without any other uncomfortable confrontations with the infamous Sam. Syllabus after syllabus was crammed into my binder, to be poured over that evening or at least glanced at. I ignored the continuing whispers and stares, which I now believed all stemmed from the pint-sized troublemaker I’d encountered in the lunchroom. If I was going to survive this school year, things were going to have to change.

That night, I lay in bed flipping through page after page of boring syllabus. I picked up Of Mice and Men, thinking it would lead me into peaceful, dreamless sleep. Yeah, right.

I choked on the rag in my mouth. The rope around my wrists cut deep as I twisted my hands back and forth, trying to break free. There was no way to block the ungodly smell that permeated every pore in my body. But then it came . . . the click.

Tonight was the night I’d find out. I twisted my body against the ropes that held me to the chair, trying to see what was behind me, but it was no use.

Footsteps echoed through the room landing on the concrete near the door. They were coming closer. My captor? My heart was about to burst out of my chest. Squeezing my eyes shut, I feared the worst.

But then he spoke. “Lucy?”

He knew my name. I lifted my eyes to a dark-haired guy around my age. It was longer, and untamed. He wore clothes that would never be caught dead on the school campus—ripped jeans, a Grateful Dead t-shirt, and a flannel. Not the dirty old man I expected.

He raised his hand to my face and I flinched. He drew his hand back away and used it to draw a switchblade from his back pocket. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

I’d heard that one before, at least on TV shows. I screamed, as well as anyone can scream through a gag in their mouth. I wanted to wake up—to be back in the world with mom and dad, Bree, Mr. Hastings, and even Sam. If this was my future, I didn’t want any part of it.

“Shut up, or they’ll know I’m here.” The guy started cutting through one of the ropes that bound me to the chair.

Maybe he was telling the truth. My heart raced with hope this time.

The ropes lay on the floor in a heap of gained trust. I didn’t move, but widened my eyes. He lifted his hand to my face again and untied the rag in my mouth. I gasped for air.

“How did you know I was here?” I wasn’t even sure why I was there yet. My dreams didn’t tell me what led me to this point.

He crouched down and his deep brown eyes peered into mine. This time he let out the breath. “I’ve been dreaming about you for a long time.”


What did I like about this story?

What spoke to me?

img_2351-11DAN ALATORRE: For me, I love the snark! A main character that is three dimensional, flawed but aware of the flaws; pained, yet able to crack a joke – that goes back to what readers loved about detective Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep – and again when Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe on the big screen. Classics are classics for a reason. They are worthy of emulation.

I liked the setup and the fitting-in awkwardness of the main character, but also the defiance. I wanted to read more – always a good sign.

JOHN WINSTON: Authentic Dialogue: Spot on, flowed well = 10. I got into the characters and story. Character development: Great job of developing the characters, especially Lucy through their    dialogue, thoughts and actions = 9. Setting and description: This was the best part, great descriptions and settings mixed in with dialogue and action and it flowed well = 10


This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.

  • Join us Sunday for more. Not sure what yet; I wrote these posts a week ago and scheduled them out. Hopefully I remember to put something in for Sunday.

  • Next week, we’ll feature the profiles of our two 3rd place winners.
  • and much more! We have other stories you need to read, plus additional profiles. We’re just getting started!

Right now, please join me in congratulating our second of two 3rd place winners, Heather Kindt. 

See you tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first of TWO 3rd PLACE WINNERs in the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest: Excavation Murder by Victoria Clapton

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your humble host

It is my pleasure to present to you the first of two 3rd place winners from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, “Excavation Murder” by Victoria Clapton

There was a lot to like in this story! Victoria’s main character was interesting on many levels, the first which – for me – was an Indiana Jones-type setup, but with a relatively young woman as Indy. Not a Laura Croft bad@ss, but a thoughtful and somewhat flawed character. The theme interested me and I wanted to know more – always a good thing in any story!

Obviously, it was a fave of the celebrity judges, too.

Have a good time reading this story. I’ll give you my reasons for why I liked it, as well as including comments by the celebrity judges, at the bottom of the post.

Enjoy!


Word Weaver Writing Contest Winner

3EXCAVATION MURDER

Victoria Clapton

 

Over a week ago, I’d received a call from Eugene Bryan requesting that my archaeological team join him immediately in America at some field site in rural Tennessee. Curiosity got the better of me. Eugene’s request to pull my team out of Spain and rush them to some pasture in the States, well…it caught my attention. And being that he was a friend who had once pursued ancient ruins with my parents when they were younger, I now felt an obligation to honor his summons.

 

I arrived in the middle of the field and discovered Eugene pushing around what looked to be a fancy version of an old-fashioned mower with a computer attached. He clearly wasn’t cutting the grass. It was an expensive ground penetrating radar system, and it could create a map of what rested beneath the surface.

 

“Dr. Whitcomb!” He offered one wave of his hand but did not pause in his slow walk across the field in his garish-patterned sweater and 1970s era corduroy pants.

 

I walked through the grass towards him. The countryside should have been bustling with life, but it felt lonely, like that of a crypt. I brushed away the thought and tried not to laugh at the ludicrous appearance of my sponsor. He was an eccentric rich man though I’d never heard my parents mention how he’d achieved his wealth.

 

“Mr. Bryan, thank you for having me.” I didn’t bother offering my hand as I fell into stride with the man. He didn’t shake hands.

 

“Call me Eugene, Ally. There is no need to stand on formality. We are family.”

 

We weren’t family. This man, who didn’t shake hands, had always seemed weird to me. Knowing that things could quickly fall into uncomfortable silence around him, I continued, “What have you discovered that prompted you to invite me all the way here?”

 

“Take a look.” He gestured towards the screen of moving images that sat atop the contraption he continued to push, covering every bit of ground. “There is something there, a large something, and I’m hoping this machine,” he patted the handlebar, “and your expertise will tell me what lies beneath the dirt.”
I frowned at the screen and could make out what appeared to be a long continuous straight line and then something solid. He had made enough passes back and forth across the area that I could see that something square or rectangular-shaped sat waiting several feet below the dirt and grass. However, with every pass he made, the structure grew bigger. “I think you have some sort of building, Eugene.”

 

“Precisely, but of what sort?”

 

I scanned the open pasture. There had been no digging here. The ground remained undisturbed. “How did you find this?”

 

“I had a hunch.” He explained no further as he finished scanning the area. “Well, would you look at that? It’s a large rectangle.”

 

“Who owns this property? We will need permission and permits before we go any farther.” I’ve been told many times that I am all work and no party. That may be true, but my current grumpiness derived from a feeling of being misled. Over the phone, Eugene had implied that I was coming to an active site, but no earth had been upturned here.

 

“I’ve taken care of all that.” He waved my questions away as he walked me towards a sturdy canvas tent.

 

I sighed, inwardly knowing that I would have to go into town the next day to make sure he’d done just that. My reputation depended upon my forthrightness and my respect for the land.

 

“This will be headquarters for us, and you and your crew can set up your tents in that area right there.” He pointed to the empty clearing beside a large open-sided tent.

 

I nodded and checked my watch. My crew consisted of Joe, who explained every mystery away as proof of alien existence, and Kaylee, a young woman who always complained about dirt but had made digging in dirt her profession. They would arrive soon with our tents and the most rudimentary of exploratory tools.

 

While I waited, I veered away from Eugene to do a proper walk of the site and surrounding area. This place felt off, or maybe it was the job itself, and I could not put my finger on the problem. The land was beautiful. The wide open field was surrounded by walnut and cedar trees. Wild blackberry bushes mingled with wild roses and honeysuckle vines, creating what I imagined would soon be a fragrant natural border. I found no clues as to what could be lurking beneath the ground here, and so, when my crew pulled into the muddy makeshift entrance, I abandoned my fruitless search and headed towards them.

 

“Eugene, these are my assistants, Joe and Kaylee.” I introduced everyone as they were swiftly unloading the gear in an attempt to beat sunset.

 

They were well trained. Neither of them needed direction from me on how to set up camp.

 

“Good, good. Everyone is here. In the morning, we will break ground.” Eugene rubbed his hands together with excitement.

 

“We need more information before we begin. What is the history of this property?”

 

We were far enough away from town that I doubted we’d run into gas or water lines, and I hadn’t seen any electric lines, but it didn’t hurt to have facts. Not to mention that the large rectangular shape could simply be the foundation of a house or where someone built a basement but never built a house. Eugene was loaded with money, but I saw no reason to spend it until we knew what we were dealing with.

 

With a jolly smile, he insisted. “We have all the information we need. This property has been owned by the same family for two hundred years. Before that, no one is known to have lived on it except maybe the Cherokee.”

 

“So, we could be dealing with a house foundation.”

 

“Absolutely not. I’ve done all the research. There has never been a house here.” His insistence caught my attention. I suspected that Eugene was withholding information.

 

Joe, having overheard the conversation, looked at me in earnest when he approached and said, “This could be it. The proof I’ve been looking for.”

 

“Proof, my boy?” Eugene’s eyebrows rose.

 

“Aliens,” I sighed. He thinks that every unexplained occurrence relates back to aliens.

 

“It’s going to rain,” Kaylee snarled as she, too, approached where we all stood in the main tent, looking out over the field. “I suppose tomorrow will be a muddy work day.”

 

Normally, I would laugh at both Joe and Kaylee, but I didn’t have the heart. I felt a little paranoid.

 

We had supper around a fold-out card table and listened to Eugene tell stories of his adventures around the world. Several times we attempted to bring the conversation back around to the excavation at hand, but he had a way of diverting our questions off to some other topic. After several fruitless attempts, we all readied for bed.

 

Later that evening, while sleeping fitfully in our tents, a terrible cry wrenched into the night, jerking me from my sleeping bag. Grabbing a flashlight, I quickly unzipped my tent as a bone-chilling wail permeated the silence. Disheveled, my crew joined me.

 

“What the bloody hell is that?  Is that a woman screaming?” Kaylee asked. Her teeth chattered as she shivered at the chill in the air.

 

Joe opened his mouth to reply, but I held my hand up to him and spoke instead. “I am not sure. It isn’t aliens, Joe.”

 

“It sounds like a woman. We should…” the screeching ended abruptly, and Kaylee’s words fell short.

 

We stood there, trying to decide what we had just heard when a cracking of limbs sounded off to our left. Kaylee inhaled so sharply it made an audible sound.

 

“Hello,” I peered out into the darkness, shining my flashlight in the direction we’d heard the rustling.

 

“Don’t shoot!” Eugene joked as he walked into the beam of my light with his hands held up high.

 

“Did you hear that?”

 

“It sounded like a woman screaming, like a woman being murdered.” Kaylee muttered.

 

Eugene shook his head and laughed. “I didn’t hear a thing.”

 

I did not believe him. The sound had been so loud that I could still hear the haunting screams ringing in my ears. The echo of it could have been heard quite far away.

 

“You really didn’t hear it?” Joe looked Eugene straight in the eyes.

 

“No, my boy. I heard nothing but night crickets.”

 

Joe’s eyes grew wide. “Then it must have been…”

 

“Joe!” Kaylee and I both exclaimed.

 

I wasn’t in the mood for theories. Instead, I debated on going to investigate the sound.

 

Eugene must have seen it in my face. “I wouldn’t worry about it, dear. The sound you heard was probably coyotes. We have them here, you know.”

 

Coyotes were a perfectly plausible explanation, but I didn’t believe it. “Maybe, but I’d rather have a look around to be sure. I’d hate to think that anyone was in distress, and I did nothing.”

 

“No, no,” Eugene emphatically insisted. “It’s much too dangerous at night. If you must search, do so in the morning.”

 

I shook my head. His warnings made sense, especially if it was coyotes out there in the dark, but I hadn’t heard a pack of animals. I’d heard a woman screaming, and I didn’t believe that he hadn’t heard the sound. I couldn’t rest until I was sure.

 

Joe and Kaylee must have been in the same mindset as me, as they were already tugging on boots and grabbing head lamps and lanterns. If it was animals, maybe all the lights would deter them from thinking we looked tasty.

 

Within moments, we were ready to set out on our trek through the dank darkness. A slow drizzle began to fall. Eugene remained unusually quiet as he followed behind us.  This, too, felt strange to me. He knew this property better than we did, yet he did not lead the way.

 

Our way through was hindered by wet slosh, grass and mud. The rain made visibility poor. I’d stopped along the way to pull my honey-colored hair back into a messy bun.  I didn’t think sleep was in the near future for any of us, so I fastened it out of my face and out of my mind in order to get down to business.

 

“We should really go back,” Eugene urged as we ignored him and trudged on in the muck.

 

We were nearing the edge of where I knew the rectangular shape rested beneath our feet and would soon be to the hedge of blackberries. I began weighing the dangers of proceeding into the woods and was startled by a manlier scream.

 

“Ladies, don’t look,” Eugene commanded. “Don’t take one step closer.”

 

I realized he’d been the one to scream, and rather than listen to him, I focused the beam of my flashlight down onto the ground in front of where he stood. There, just at Eugene’s feet, was a woman, bruised and battered, and most definitely not breathing.

 

I dropped my flashlight as I lowered to the woman to listen for her breath, preparing to administer CPR. At the periphery of my conscious, I heard Joe placing a call to 911. Kaylee had come around to the body, ready to help me keep up the rhythmic compressions should I tire out. In the background, Eugene mumbled to himself. His words were unintelligible.

 

It seemed like it took hours for the first responders to arrive. We were in the middle of nowhere Tennessee, so maybe it did take longer than usual, but it didn’t matter. Even with Kaylee’s help, we’d been unsuccessful in reviving the woman, and she was declared dead before her poor body was placed into the ambulance.

 

I was still sitting back on my knees on the wet ground when an officer approached me.

 

“I’m Chief Hawkins.”

 

“Dr. Ally Whitcomb.” I answered as I stood up and made a useless attempt to brush off my sopping pants. I cast a glance over to see that my crew and Eugene were being interviewed by detectives.

 

“You’ve had quite a night,” the police chief observed. He was a quiet sort of man, the kind whose presence instantly calmed a situation.

 

“You could say that. It’s not exactly what I expected to find on a pastoral dig.”

 

“Yes, I heard that old Eugene asked y’all to come down and plow his old place up. I’m not sure what he is hoping to find. Would you mind telling me what happened tonight?”

 

“Not at all,” I complied. I began the story with the loud screaming, and I paused after I got to the bit about the coyotes. Chief Hawkins just nodded as if coyotes could have indeed made those kinds of screams. So, I continued telling every minute detail I could recall until a thought occurred to me. “Wait! Did you say this property belongs to Eugene?”

 

“Yes, it’s been in his family for a very long time.”

“Why would he ask me to come excavate his own property? Wouldn’t he know what is here?” I asked no one in particular. Chief Hawkins nodded as if he’d wondered the same thing all along, but he made no comment on the matter.

 

“When are you supposed to break ground?” Chief Hawkins asked.

 

“Tomorrow morning.”

 

He nodded again and then took his leave from me without giving me any reassurance on how or why the woman had been murdered.

 

As dawn approached, we’d all been told to stay close to town, so as much as I wanted to grab my crew and head back to Spain, it wasn’t possible. Until we were given clearance by the police, we could not go anywhere.

 

“I suppose we should all get some rest.” Now that the body had been removed and the sun rose in the sky, Eugene had stepped back in as the authoritative figure at the site.

 

“I don’t think I will be sleeping for a long time,” I admitted. “Might as well get to work.” I wanted to ask him about his property, but hesitated. Previous attempts to gain that information had been thwarted.

 

“Come now,” Eugene said with an unusually bright smile. “Don’t you come across dead bodies all of the time in your line of work?”

 

Suspicion rose within me at his blasé response. After his initial scream upon finding the body, Eugene hadn’t seemed bothered in the slightest that someone had been killed on his property.

 

“Sure, but they aren’t usually murdered within earshot,” Kaylee snapped. She was covered in mud. The rain had dissipated, but everything was a begrimed mess. Her mood would not improve until she got somewhere warm and dry.

 

Eugene scoffed at Kaylee and chuckled.  Grabbing the keys, he winked at me and tossed them to Joe. “Start her up. We marked the edges yesterday, so you won’t hit the structure. Let’s see what we are working with.”

 

His excitement worried me more than anything we’d encountered so far, including the dead woman. Eugene already knew what was under the ground. I could see it all over his face. We were a part of a game, his game. I just didn’t know what that was yet.

 

Soon, smooth concrete came into view, and not long after that, Joe was able to hop down off of the bulldozer and use a smaller version of the ground penetrating radar to confirm that it was a hollow structure, like that of a building.

 

This should have thrilled me. Even my crew had that tell-tale gleam in their eyes that only occurred right at the brink of discovery, and Eugene had grown quiet, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet rather than speaking.

 

“There must be an entrance,” Kaylee spoke as she looked to me.

 

“Unless. Aliens…”

 

“No, Joe… no.” I half-hoped that someday we did stumble upon proof of alien life forms, if only just to fulfill Joe’s dreams.

 

I turned to Eugene to implore, “Thoughts?”

 

“I’m not sure what you mean. I agree that there must be an entrance, but I’ve no idea where that could be.”

 

I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from telling him to cut the crap. And then I realized what he’d just said. Where that could be…but not what side the entrance was located? Full on panic struck me. Eugene knew where the entrance was located. He knew what waited beneath the ground. I needed answers, now.

 

By all accounts we were digging up a large rectangular building. It stood to reason that the entrance would be on one of the four sides. I recalled how undisturbed everything had been and looked to Eugene once more. “The entrance isn’t on the building. It is somewhere else. Where is it Eugene? You went through all of the trouble of having us fly to America.  Why did you have us come all the way here?”

 

I expected him to brush my questions off as had been his way since we’d arrived, but he only met my gaze with that infernal smile he always had plastered on his face.

 

“My, aren’t we impatient! I thought you, Ally, would be the one to understand, the one to take the time to uncover the beauty the way it should be, to discover it as it was meant to be discovered.”

 

The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck rose high.

 

“Very well, follow me, children, and all shall be revealed.”

 

I should have refused.

 

Eugene bid us to follow him into the woods past the inviting tree line and thorny wild rose bushes. Longing for clarification, I motioned for my team to follow me, and, feeling cautionary, I simultaneously reached into my pocket and pressed the emergency button that would dial the Chief of Police on my cell phone. I’d saved the number as an icon on my screen. Being careful, I did not pull my phone out of my pocket as we followed dutifully behind him, and I prayed to all of the gods I’d unearthed in previous shrines that there was enough signal that Chief Hawkins could hear us walking, that he would somehow sense that I wouldn’t call him by accident. I had a bad feeling. Since my arrival, Eugene’s behavior had been strange, and now, I had this inkling that we could possibly be in some danger.

 

“Where are you taking us, Eugene?”

 

“You’ll see, soon.”

 

I cursed inwardly. I’d hoped he’d reveal something for the Chief to go on, but he’d not. “You are taking us pretty far into the woods.”

 

I said this loudly, hoping it would help the Chief. I didn’t dare say more.

 

“Mr. Bryan, erm Eugene,” Joe began. “It’s an awful mess today. Perhaps we should go back to camp and get some rest and start again tomorrow.”

 

Joe’s voice shook a little, which further validated my worries. Until now, it had been only me who had been suspicious, but now I could tell by their demeanor that both of my crew were also concerned.

 

“Why would we do that? We’re here.” Eugene announced with a chuckle.

 

The entrance consisted of two leaning old rusted storm cellar doors surrounded by leaves, twigs and bracken curling and spiraling across them, like a crypt long forgotten. Eugene easily opened the dilapidated entry, creating even more anxiety to course through me. This entrance to the supposed “unknown” structure had been used recently and often.

 

Without a word we followed Eugene down into the darkness as the cellar doors closed behind us. We were forced to creep in the silent oppression, listening only to the sounds of our racing hearts and ragged breaths while smelling what surely was the awful, unmistakable scent of death. Along the way, I had begun to beat myself up for not having the foresight to put a stop to this charade earlier. We should never have followed him down to this pit. I’d had a bad feeling from the beginning, and now, we were underground in the middle of nowhere, walking into what I imagined would be a horrific death. I opened my mouth to shut this mission down. For the first time ever, I did not care what waiting in the unknown. I did not even care if my suspicions were unfounded. “It’s time we…”

 

“We’re here.” Eugene’s excitement filled the cold space. “This isn’t the way I’d hope you’d discover my treasure trove, but, Ally, I’m so glad it is you. I’d always hoped your parents could come here. But alas, they were the ones who got away. Not you, Ally. I knew I could depend on you.”

 

Darkness thickened around us, and I fought an urge to tell my crew that I was sorry, though I didn’t know for what, when Eugene struck a match and lit a couple of old oil lanterns, casting an eerie, dull light around a large chamber illuminating an unimaginable sight.

 

“What the hell?” Joe wrinkled his face in disgust. “Ugh, the scent of death.”

 

“Eugene? What is this?” I looked around at what must be thirty, maybe forty concrete cavities, exactly like a crypt, filled with bodies crammed into each one. There were no coffins, nothing to preserve or decompose the bodies, just dead people shoved carelessly into cold caverns. I’d entered many such places in my line of work, but nothing compared to this horror. These weren’t bodies from the past. In various examples of modern clothing such as blue jeans and t-shirts, these dead were relatively fresh in my way of thinking. All had died within the last thirty or so years.

 

“Bodies are everywhere,” Kaylee whispered. I could hear frightened sobs building in her chest.

 

“My masterpiece,” Eugene’s laughter caused my heart to skip a beat. “I wanted to leave this so that, someday, when an archaeologist such as you broke ground here, I would be remembered, immortalized.”

 

His voice was steady.

 

As he revealed his thoughts to me, I froze in disbelief. Standing before me was not the man that I’d considered a family friend. “You want to be remembered in the annals of time as a serial killer? Where is the glory in that?”

 

Suddenly, my disgust with him banished my fear of imminent death, at least temporarily. This ghastly crime scene made a mockery of my life’s work.

 

“Killer?” He seemed honestly stunned. “No, look around. These are all different, but perfect, specimens of the 21st century. Once they decompose, scientists and other archaeologists will have examples of every age and culture currently in our world to study.”

 

Bile rose in my throat. I didn’t want me or my team to become part of this macabre exhibit.  “I see.” I said, but I didn’t. “They aren’t ready yet. Why did you have me come now?”

 

“You are a top-notch archeologist, famous in your field. You, my dear Ally, complete the collection.”

 

The fear returned instantly. My heart thumped so loud my ears pulsed. I looked around for an escape and noticed Joe and Kaylee. “Let them go. They have nothing to do with your masterpiece,” I begged.

 

“So that they can go and tell the authorities? Now, Ally, dear, why would I do that?  Wouldn’t that ruin this experiment?” Eugene’s smile disgusted me.

 

He began walking towards me, his hands outstretched as if he planned on just grabbing my throat to choke the life out of me. Without moving, I glanced around. There were no weapons that I could see. For that matter, none of the dead bodies looked as if they’d been assaulted beforehand.

 

Keep him talking, I thought.

 

“What happened with that woman last night?”

 

For the first time since we’d arrived the night before, his grin faltered. “She was suspicious. They never suspect a gentle old man.”

 

Eugene froze, staring behind me. His hands still held in the position to reach out and choke me, when a shuffle from behind caught my attention.

 

“Drop your hands, Mr. Bryan, and step away from Dr. Whitcomb.” Chief Hawkins spoke calmly as other officers filed into the room, moving Joe and Kaylee back through the tunnel to escape.

 

A prayer of thanks ran through my mind. Chief Hawkins was a dull, quiet man, but Eugene’s strange behavior must have made him apprehensive as well. I hadn’t been sure he’d pay attention to my call.

 

“Dr. Whitcomb, step back, please. Go with one of my detectives.”

 

I didn’t hesitate to obey Chief Hawkins’ orders and quickly made my way out of that macabre cavern

 

“Ally!” Kaylee and Joe rushed over and embraced me.

 

We stood silent for a minute, absorbing the atrocious twenty-four hours we’d just had. Soon, Chief Hawkins came up from the opened cellar doors with Eugene handcuffed before him. Two of the detectives then took the disturbing man, who was no longer smiling, off in the direction of where I supposed their police squad vehicles were waiting on the outside edge of the woods.

 

Chief Hawkins walked over and handed us a business card, “Here, this local bed and breakfast will have rooms available. Hot showers, food, and rest wait for you. Come to the station tomorrow to give your statements.”

 

“Chief Hawkins.”

 

He turned to face us once more.

 

“Thank you.”

 

With a brief nod, Chief Hawkins motioned for us to follow him out of the woods back to where our belongings could be found.

 

We walked in silence for a few minutes, too stunned to make any real comment on what we’d just witnessed. The ground was still muddy, but this time, Kaylee made no complaint.

 

“Geesh!” Joe shuffled disappointedly.

 

We all stopped. Even Chief Hawkins paused.

 

“What, Joe?” I asked, knowing what his reply would be.

 

“Why couldn’t it have been aliens?”


What did I like about this story?

What spoke to me?

img_2351-11DAN ALATORRE: For me, I loved the Indiana Jones element, a dusty scientist who finds herself in pretty deep, and by her own hand. I found the main character very likable, which is key. Victoria has a good storytelling voice, which is a big plus. I think the story moves along well, a fun story that anyone can enjoy!

ALLISON MARUSKA: The mystery of the underground building was compelling. The MC using her phone to get out of her predicament was smart.

JOHN WINSTON: Show not tell: Perfect blend of show and tell = 10. Beginning, middle, and end: This was a great short with well-defined and executed beginning, middle and end, that flowed seamlessly = 10. Rising Tension: Great gradual escalation from beginning to the end. (If I were the author, I’d try a darker ending with maybe the Chief not making it in time. Yikes!) = 9. Clear goal: The goal was clear early on; Ally knew something was wrong and that was reveal to all at the climactic end = 10. Setting and description: Good descriptions of setting, which I think were important to this piece. I could see everything clearly as it unfolded.


This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.

  • Join us Saturday for the second of our two 3rd place winners, Dreamers by Heather Kindt

  • Next week, we’ll feature the profiles of our two 3rd place winners.
  • and much more! We have other stories you need to read, plus additional profiles. We’re just getting started!

Right now, please join me in congratulating our first of two 3rd place winners, Victoria Clapton. 

See you tomorrow!