Round 2 of NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest Result: 12th place
Genre: Suspense Location: A horse stable Object: A tarp
No amount of alcohol could get me to the numbness I needed, rendering my half glass of whiskey useless.
Sitting on the edge of the water fountain, the massive lily pads and bright blooms made it impossible to see my own reflection, but I knew how awful I looked. Puffy, aching eyes and a raw, red nose were inevitable when you were to cry for nearly twelve hours.
Police officers had clomped through my home, leaving trails of mud and wet grass on the marble and hardwood floors. I had watched silently as they took over, separating everyone for questioning.
I had sat on the velvet chair by the window and watched the sun rise over the pointy pine trees which eventually blanketed the racetrack in a warm glow. The peonies that ran along the track’s fence were near their end, more petals tumbling to the ground every day.
The first time Frank brought me to see the manicured gardens and century-old brick house, I told him I felt as though we had stepped into a romantic piece of art that hung in a museum.
He had led me through a maze of hedges to an English garden. He had every breed of rose planted after he learned that Alice in Wonderland was my favourite novel.
My husband’s talent for painting the perfect picture was one of his best qualities.
But also, his worst, and perhaps the reason I was left a widow.
I poured the contents of my glass into the fountain, wondering how long I had blacked-out for last night.
“I want to thank you for your cooperation.” A detective approached and stood in front of me. “But could you tell me how well you know everyone here?”
I twisted in my seat to look at the lineup of Mercedes, Jaguars, and latest Tesla models.
“Not well enough, apparently.” Other than my close friends who helped me empty half a dozen champagne bottles, I could barely remember anyone’s name, let alone how they knew Frank or why they were invited. “When can I see him?”
The detective followed my gaze to the patio set on the hill where the officers had covered Frank with a tarp to preserve evidence. “Soon.”
“Can I please have my phone so I can call my mother?”
Shaking his head apologetically, he replied, “It’s protocol. But I can have one of my officer’s call her for you.”
Silence fell between us for a moment, and I picked at my chipped nail polish as I stared at the horse stable.
Never wanting to pry into his racehorse business, my curiosity got the best of me two months ago. Detailed notes and payments filled an accounting book I had never seen before. Wins and losses were recorded going back the entire five years we’ve been married.
Once confronted, Frank apologized and promised to be transparent from then on.
Our farmhand, Vince, arrived in his truck; the brand-new model that Frank insisted on gifting him.
“Who is that?” the detective asked.
“Vince has worked for us since we moved here.”
He followed me to the stable and we met Vince at the main door, quickly ordering him, “You can’t go in there; we haven’t searched it yet.”
“The horses need to be fed,” I said firmly.
“So, it’s true?” Vince asked, wide-eyed. “I thought it was click-bait or something.”
“Pardon?” I looked to him and back to the detective who lagged behind.
“It’s all-over social media. Had to fight to get past the news vans at the front gate.”
“Some protocol,” I spat. “Someone obviously has their phone because this whole stupid town knows what happened.”
A young officer approached and broke the news that a couple camera operators were caught on the grounds.
“I am so sorry about this, ma’am. I honestly thought we had this locked down,” the detective apologized.
“How about you worry less about me feeding my horses and more on your incompetent force.” Anger rose, heating my cheeks.
“Let me get her a coffee or water and I’ll feed the horses quickly. Nothing more. Promise,” Vince offered in a calm, neutral tone.
The detective seemed to struggle with his decision, exhaling deeply as he shifted from foot to foot. His radio continued to go off, static voices calling for back up and requesting that he get to the house right away. “Watch this door,” he ordered the officer. “Keep them here until I get back and don’t let anyone in.”
Unlike the house, the stable was brand new and had an office for Frank, a private changing room and full bathroom for me to use after riding, a living room with leather recliners and fully stocked bar, and a full kitchen with a dining room overlooking our private lake.
After handing me a cold glass of water, Vince went about his chores, and I went in the opposite direction of the horse stalls.
The door to Frank’s office was wide open and I discovered it was ransacked. Loose paper littered the floor, and the drawers of Frank’s desk been rummaged through. The Tiffany lamp was smashed by the window and polished trophies knocked from their shelves.
Rushing to my private room, I gasped when I saw the small safe that I kept hidden in a bookcase was left ajar and empty.
In flashes, memories of last night’s drunken arguments turned my stomach. But I remembered it was when Frank stupidly admitted to paying one million dollars on a stallion that brought the party to a halt.
Shook, I sprinted to the back door and along the stone walkway that led up to where Frank had been found. Only feet away from the investigators was a white-washed teak bench. Nestled by a back leg was the Colt .38 that had intricate engraving and a Mother of Pearl inlaid grip.
It was the only gun I had ever shot and was the sole person who knew the safe’s combination.
Round 1 - NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest Didn't place, but moved onto next round
Genre: Action/Adventure Location: Sightseeing bus Object: Gravestone
Squished between my two best friends, I contemplated pouring the melting margherita over my head. I wish I could have blamed the alcohol for the stupid decision, but we were all drinking virgins and just wanted to play tourist in our own city.
Being all great procrastinators, we ended up with the only tour available, middle of the afternoon on the top deck of the tour bus.
Samantha held her canvas tote over her head while AJ was busy folding our pamphlets into fans.
“Not one of our smartest ideas, ladies,” I said, wiping the sweat from my forehead.
The three of us jumped in our seats as the speaker crackled and popped, a girl appearing from the narrow staircase. She tapped on the mic, too chipper for the heat we were suffering in. “Bonjour! Hello!”
“Oh, for f—"
I elbowed Sam in the ribs, stifling my own laugh.
An elderly couple across the aisle grumbled. Someone tutted from somewhere behind and the parents of five curious children sitting kitty-corner ordered them not to turn around and look at us. I wondered if they’d be even less impressed if I told them we were all in our thirties.
“I’m Becky!” the girl shouted into the mic, unperturbed.
AJ snorted. “Of course, her name is Becky.”
In an attempt to wrangle our trio of trouble in, I put my index to my lips and hushed them.
“Ladies, didn’t your mother teach you to wear a hat on hot days like today?” Becky crossed her toned arms in front of her. “Don’t make me get your father,” she continued with a sarcastic voice, laughing at her own jokes.
“Haven’t seen him since I was two,” Sam replied. “If you find him, tell him the daughter he abandoned is getting married in September.”
Poor Becky. Of all the people to tease, she chose us. But like a pro, she quickly composed herself, and moved down the aisle, leaving us be.
“Abandonment, eh? That’s new.” I shook my head, smirking.
“Well, it was either that, or tell her we were sister wives and that our husband is the same age as our father.”
The bus braked hard and we jerked forward, our hands instinctively grabbing the back of the seat in front of us.
Lurching forward onto Doctor Penfield, everyone but myself slammed back into their spot. My fingers pinched between the metal back and a man’s back, I tried to wriggle them free. Instead of coming to my aid, the girls thought the best move would be to take their phones out and snap a few photos.
Sam pointed to the carpet of hair that crept out from the arm and neck holes of the man’s tank top. “And we think we’re overheating?”
For once I was happy for Quebec’s potholes, the bus hitting a cluster and rocked the tourists back and forth, setting me free.
Becky was on a roll with her comedy routine, laughter could be heard in between the honks and shouts from impatient drivers, which is a win in my opinion. She asked for everyone to turn to a certain page in our pamphlet, pointing out where we would be walking to once the bus pulled into the parking lot.
“After the mountain of information, I give you,” she shuffled to the front of the bus again, whipping around to face her crowd. “Get it? Mountain of information? We’re on a mountain!” she squealed with delight. “Oh, I knew you’d all enjoy that!”
“It’s like the girl doesn’t feel heat,” I said, amazed how her curly hair hadn’t turned to a ball of frizz and her full face of makeup hadn’t melted off.
“Everyone got that?” she grinned.
A mix of verbal agreement and clapping of hands was all the satisfaction she needed, encouraging everyone to follow her.
“How much were these tickets?” AJ had fashioned her fan into a hat.
We were the last to disembark and dragged our feet along the pebbled walkway. The gap between us and the rest of the group grew larger and larger, until we couldn’t see them.
“Screw it,” I huffed and dropped down onto a bench. “I’ll google the mountain’s history and pay me with ice-cream.”
Unlike the bus, we had no reason to be stuck together and kept a comfortable distance from each other’s sweaty bodies.
“I swear if that’s a bell for an ice-cream truck, I’ll marry the man behind the wheel.” AJ lay flat on her back in the grass, her eyeliner smudged.
“No,” Sam whined. “He turned.” She motioned with a lazy arm and pouted.
Turning around, I spied the white and bubblegum pink truck through the trees, bumping along the winding pathway to a picnic area.
“Come on, ladies.” I rose, unsticking my dress from my thighs. “My treat.”
Opting for the shade, we slowly cooled down as we took a leisurely pace through the woods. Twigs snapped and past autumn leaves crunched under our sandals and ballet flats.
“I think we zigged when we should have zagged.” AJ stopped and looked around us.
“We can’t be too far off,” Sam replied with a tired sigh.
Neither the birds nor city’s noise pollution broke through the branches and bushes, and we all seemed to notice at the same time, staring at one another.
I took a step forward. “Like Sam said, we can’t—” I threw my hands out in front of me as I fell, scraping my palm on brush.
“Shit, you okay?” Sam asked and rushed to my side.
I rolled over and brought my knees up to inspect them. “I think so. What did I trip on? Tree root?”
AJ shook her head, kneeling a couple feet away from where I landed. She looked to Sam and me, then back down. Wiping leaves aside, she uncovered a grey rock. Her eyes met ours again, and a few seconds after she whispered, “It’s a gravestone.”, the ground had begun to shake.
Genre: Horror Action: Replacing a battery Word: A fishing lure
Another nail snapped, one side tearing skin off with it, but the door finally budged.
“Hurry,” my best friend whispered, her breath hot on my shoulder.
Wriggling my fingers through the crack, I gripped the jagged wood and yanked.
The door groaned in protest, but I put my entire weight into it. The bottom scraped along the rough, concrete floor a tiny bit more, finally giving us the small piece of hope we desperately needed.
Somewhere, the clock chimed its half past the hour warning. In thirty minutes, he’d come for us.
“I need you to hold here,” I instructed, guiding her bloodied hands halfway up the door. “Pull back as hard as you can.”
A scream came from one floor up, the girl in the room next to us had been dragged away an hour and a half ago.
The girl before her had gone silent two hours before that.
I forced my shoulders through the narrow opening and scraped my chest and ribs as I went. When I had finally made it through, I knew I had to ride the wave of adrenaline before it crashed to save Sam as well.
I swept my hands along the ground for anything that could help pry the door open. My fingers reached up a wall of cobwebs, landing on a metal pipe.
Another shriek echoed down to whatever hell hole we were attempting to escape from. I wasn’t religious, but I prayed to whatever or whoever was listening to keep that poor girl alive a little longer to give us every chance possible to escape.
With the pipe in between the door and frame, I forced it as wide as it would go, allowing Sam to crawl through.
“We need to keep moving,” She spoke with a confidence I hadn’t heard in days.
I followed behind her, splashing through water and whatever infested it, until we reached another door.
When my hand found the cold metal padlock, my heart dropped.
“Shit,” I cursed.
Just enough moonlight broke through the crooked boards, and brought our attention to a rusty toolbox on a workbench.
“We need something to break or cut the lock.” Sam searched among the metal tools, finding a small flashlight. After a few clicks of the button and no success, she unscrewed the bottom and dumped the batteries onto the floor.
I blindly searched the countertop, until something stabbed into my raw palm. A few curse words were muttered just as I heard Sam replacing the batteries, successfully turning the flashlight on and hovered it over my hand.
“Grab those pliers, I’ll cut that fishing lure once we’re out of here.” Sam pointed to a blue handle pair, handed me the flashlight, then lifted a sledgehammer.
It only took her one try and we broke out into the foggy night. We ran down the gravel driveway for the truck we had stupidly got in when hitchhiking, hearing one last scream from the torture house before starting the engine.
* While in France, I forgot to check my emails daily and when I did, I noticed I had made it to the next round, but missed the deadline.
As bad as I wanted to crumple the letter up, I kept it folded in my coat pocket, running my fingers over the tattered envelope.
The train station’s clock towered over me, the hands ticking closer to the meeting time, my anxiety peaking and knotting my stomach. My heels clacked across the floor, echoing, but I was invisible to everyone going about their afternoon, never noticing how badly I was falling apart on the inside.
It would be the talk of the town and the shameful secret whispered at our family gatherings. My heartbeat was nearly deafening, my eyes flicking back and forth over the platform in search of the person who would change my life forever. My wedding band caught on the corner of the envelope, and I swallowed hard, telling myself to keep it together.
Did it say a blue or black hat?
I yanked the letter from my coat, my fingers trembling, and my vision blurred behind tears when the waft of the woman’s perfume hit my nose. Her cursive was elegant, her instructions clear, and the love she proclaimed to have for someone who didn’t belong to her, knocked the wind out of me.
Unsure of who she was, cleverly signing darling, I hadn’t a clue of who to expect, but I knew what Grant looked like. He’d be in uniform, the one he wore the night before to a dance we attended with my brother and his fiancé. The same one I had found the letter slipped into the pocket for safe keeping.
One last hoorah.
Grant’s words had more than one meaning apparently. I had foolishly assumed it was the last outing we’d have before he left for England.
I had wanted to call my brother the second I found the letter before breakfast, but my embarrassment stopped me from picking up the phone from its cradle. The two of them had gotten into a small tiff at the dance, neither wanting to answer my question over a flash of white stationary being fought over, but it seemed he had discovered Grant’s plan to run away with this woman. I’d like to think he had convinced Grant to live by his marriage vows, but I couldn’t sit at home, staring at the clock for the time he might be in someone else’s arms.
The tiled column was cool against my shoulder as I leaned into it, and I checked the time, readying myself for my life to change drastically.
My heart sank to the pit of my stomach and my body flushed, seeing the blue hat appear in the growing crowd. She set her bag down, quickly checking her reflection in her compact, unbeknownst to her that more than one person was searching for her. The familiar smell of my brother’s aftershave broke my stare. My heart hammering hard inside my chest, watching him scoop the woman up into his arms, kissing her passionately.