AJ Niblock studied literature and creative writing at the University of Central Missouri. After completing her Master's in Literature and being a college professor for many years, she went back to school and completed a degree in Veterinary Nursing from Harcum College. She currently lives with her husband, daughter, a mini dachshund, two cats, and a bird.
I hope your year is off to a better start than mine.
My family and I had a wonderful winter break. We basically did nothing but chill. It was relaxing.
Then the first week of January rolled around and one of our pets died. Obviously, not a great start to the year. In fact, since we have lived in our current location (3 years) we have lost one pet a year. That’s three deaths in three years.
My heart is so full of grief right now. The pets we’ve lost led long happy lives, but it still hurts.
The biggest change since losing our bird is that my house is unbearably quiet. It’s kind of making me feel crazy. Our bird, Jingles, chirped all morning, and even more so when it rains, which it does a fair amount here (we live near Seattle). I miss every little squawk and cheep.
Like I said, I hope your year is off to a better start than mine. I have started to work on my goals for this year, but I’m taking things slow right now. The weather and other things is leaving me with very little motivation right now.
If you want to, I encourage you to join me in my short story challenge for this year. Like usual, I’m going to share one prompt a month and then write a story with that by the end of the month, for a grand total of 12 stories by the end of the year. This year I’m challenging myself to write a little bit more each month. My goal for each story will be 1500 words minimum.
Without further ado, here is the first prompt for 2023:
“He had trouble walking, trouble standing up, trouble buttering his toast. But his mind was as sharp as ever. He had this amazing way with trivia. He could tell you…”
Complete the Story
As always, happy reading and writing today and every day! If you decide to write a story, I would love to read it!
“They’re out there,” he told me. “Fields and fields of them. As far as the eye can see.”
I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. He pointed to the horizon, and I looked, but all I could see was crops and open sky. What the hell was he talking about? I should have been listening, but when you have to sit, watching a field for twelve hours at a time, your mind tends to wander.
Howard and I were the newest members of the security team. Our days consisted of sitting in a tower, watching the crops. Not much ever happened, but in the past, wild creatures had wreaked havoc in this area of the planet Z.
Planet Z was almost entirely crops and farms. There was one small port city connected to the closest space port where the farmers shipped their goods to the planets that people actually lived on. The other planets in this system were so overpopulated that they’d elected to deem one planet set aside for growing food. Over time, the entire planet had been doled out and cut into properties. There were no wild creatures anymore, but on occasion, farmers had a bad year and were known to steal from each other.
Either way, wild creature or farmer-turned-thief, our job was boring.
“What are you talking about?” I asked Howard, though a voice in my head said not to ask. Howard tended to talk about wild conspiracy theories and far-fetched fairy tales.
“Fairies. You know, the fey folk, magical creatures.” There wasn’t a hint of humor in his voice.
“Are you messing with me?” I stared at him without blinking. I shouldn’t have asked.
He shook his head. “No, I’m completely serious. This planet was covered with fey before the farms arrived.” He stared out the window towards the fields.
I couldn’t look away from him. My brow furrowed. I gave up trying to figure out what was wrong with Howard and went back to staring at the fields with him.
The day dragged on and like usual, nothing was happening. Howard had been quiet since earlier, and I don’t know why I decided to engage him. Probably sheer boredom.
“Howard, why do you say there ARE fields and fields of them? I’m looking at the fields. All I see are fields. They aren’t any fairies out there.” I pointed out the window waiting for him to respond.
“They’re still there. They’ve just learned to hide themselves.”
“You’re kidding. You think there is a whole planet of creatures just hiding in plain sight?” I couldn’t hide the disbelief from my voice.
“They had to survive somehow, so they learned to blend. They’re there—if you know how to look.”
I would almost swear I saw a twinkle in his eye. “Okay. I see. Very funny. You’re messing with me. I guess it’s something that passes the time.”
The rest of our shift was uneventful, like always. As we were switching shifts with the next set of guards, Howard kept grinning at me.
I ignored him and made my way to the elevator. As the door was closing, his hand shot in between. He stepped onto the lift with a huge smile on his face.
“Why are you grinning?” I asked.
“Because you’re thinking about it. Aren’t you?” Howard was practically bouncing on his feet with excitement.
“Howard, I am not thinking about fairies. I’m thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner.” I leaned against the elevator trying to will the machine to move faster.
The ding of the elevator felt like the sound of freedom as I made my way towards the path that led to the employee quarters.
“I’ll tell you what,” Howard was keeping pace with me. “I’ll show you some fairies, but only if you don’t tell anyone that I showed you.”
“You’re not funny.” I didn’t break stride and kept trying to out pace him. It wasn’t working.
He ran ahead of me a bit blocking my path. “I’m fully serious. If you want to see something amazing I’ll show you how to find them.”
I stared him up and down trying to figure out if he was messing with me. He didn’t look like he was kidding. In fact, his smile had faded. He looked eager, but not like he was pranking me.
“Fine. Let’s say I agree. What do I need to do?”
“Meet me at the back of the dorm after dinner. As the sun starts to set.” He turned to finish the trek back. He spun around again, “Oh and bring a mirror and some crumbs.”
“Crumbs? Of what?” I asked.
“Doesn’t matter. Bread. Pastry. Whatever you got.”
As I ate, I pocketed a package of crackers with peanut butter. Hopefully they would be good enough for whatever I’d gotten myself into.
As the sun was setting, I followed Howard away from the dorms. We walked for nearly an hour. The sun was barely still above the horizon.
“Quickly now,” he said as he reached in his pocket and spread crumbs in a circle.
I crushed the package of crackers in my hands. “In a circle around me?”
Howard nodded and stepped away from the circle he’d made. He pulled me towards him once my own circle was complete.
“Hurry, sit down over here with me. Turn your back to the circles. Did you bring the mirror?” He was talking so quickly and softly I barely understood him.
“Yeah, right here. I pulled a compact mirror out of my pocket.” I sat next to him on the ground wondering if any second now more of the security team was going to pop out and make fun of me.
“Hold it up so that you can see your circle.”
I held the mirror up until I could see the crumb and peanut butter circle reflected back at me.
Nothing was happening. The sun was still dipping lower and lower. As the sun passed below the horizon, I glanced at my mirror.
Reflected back at me were three sets of purple eyes.
It was just ridiculous enough to be true. Then again, she could be making the whole thing up. It was just so hard to imagine Diane’s father, the respectable banker who never left the house without a suit and tie, actually spending time at “the colony.” Everyone in town called it that.
The colony sprung up a few years ago, and since then, the town had seen more than a few of its respectable members seek the excitement within the extra tall privacy fences.
Cynthia listened as Sammy kept talking, but she found it hard to concentrate after the big reveal that the newest person to go to the dark side was Diane’s dad. It just seemed so unlikely. He was super boring, like worse than her own parents.
She tried to imagine him at the colony and instantly she regretted it. She didn’t actually want to picture that. She shook her head. Without saying anything to her friends, she took her tray and got rid of the rest of her lunch. Suddenly she wasn’t that hungry.
The rest of the day, everyone was talking about it off and on. It was like the only thing that had happened in the last week. Honestly, Cynthia was tired of hearing about it by the time she got home.
As she dropped her book bag right inside the doorway, her mother called, “Snack on the counter. I’m in the middle of laundry. Homework first.” Her mother didn’t even peak out to see who had walked in. Cynthia went to see what her mother had made for a snack. As she stepped past the door to the garage, she spotted her mom folding laundry. She didn’t wave or stop.
Her mother looked up and asked, “Did you hear about Diane’s dad?” She chuckled. She kept talking but Cynthia moved further away, and her mother’s words turned into a murmur.
She grabbed her snack of pb and celery. She walked quickly and snatched her bag off the floor taking the stairs two at a time to escape the gossip.
The next morning, she avoided her family in the morning. She didn’t want to talk or hear about the colony. It grossed her out. The only people who lived there were over forty, no kids allowed. That was probably a good policy.
Cynthia hated the place for one reason—she hadn’t been able to see her grandmother since she’d moved into the colony last year. She missed her. To Cynthia, the colony was synonymous with “homewrecker.”
School was the same as the day before. The hottest gossip was still about Diane’s dad. Apparently, he’d moved in. Cynthia hadn’t listened to that part. She’d thought maybe he was one of those people who just visited the colony for fun. But, he was like her grandma—he’d decided to move in and live there.
The idea made Cynthia shudder—gross. Poor Diane. She would try to find time to talk to her during lunch.
She didn’t get a chance to though. Diane was absent. Sitting her tray down, Cynthia sat next to Sammy.
“Sammy,” she whispered, hoping no one was listening. “Where is Diane?”
Sammy didn’t lower her voice. It wasn’t in her nature to talk at a reasonable level. She was a gossip and didn’t care when other people overheard what she was talking about. “Didn’t you hear?” She gawked at Cynthia like she was out of touch.
Cynthia shook her head and took a bite of her rectangle slice of pizza.
“Well, she won’t be coming back to school. At least, not for a while.” She beamed as she spoke looking around, trying to get others to listen in. “Her mother threw her and her brother into the car the day her dad moved out. They’re staying at her aunt’s. I think my mom said Diane’s aunt lives in the city.”
“Why would her mother just leave like that?” Cynthia asked.
Sammy looked at her like she was crazy. “Because of her dad, duh.”
“Oh, right,” Cynthia responded, blushing. “It just seems like an extreme reaction. I mean, Diane and her brother already go to school here. It seems like adding more problems to what’s happening.” Cynthia was trying to explain herself, but she felt embarrassed. She was sure Diane’s mother felt the same way. Having a family member leave and join the colony was embarrassing. She didn’t like what the colony was doing to families. She wanted to stop it, but she was only a kid. What could she do?
After school, she dropped her bag in the hall like always. She went in search of her mother.
“Mom. Mom!” she shouted.
“Upstairs.” Her mother answered.
She found her mother cleaning in one of the bathrooms.
“I want to call Grandma,” Cynthia said.
Her mother stopped scrubbing the counter and stared at their reflections in the mirror. She didn’t speak.
“Please, Mom. It’s important.” Cynthia whined.
“Why?” Her mother hadn’t spoken to Grandma, her own mother, since she’d moved into the colony either.
“Trust me. I just need to talk to her. I know you’re angry with her, but I miss her. I want to just say hi.” Cynthia begged, hoping her mother would give in.
Her mother let out a loud sigh. “Fine. I’ll get you the number. But just because you call, it doesn’t mean she’ll talk. You know what they do there.”
“I know, but I really need to talk to her.”
Cynthia waited until she could hear her mother cleaning again upstairs before she took a deep breath and dialed the number.
Someone picked up on the third ring.
“Hello, you’ve reached The Colony.” A friendly voice spoke.
“I would like to speak to my grandma, err, Mrs. Hudson,” said Cynthia.
“I’ll see if she wants to speak. Can I have your name so that I can tell her who’s calling?” the voice continued being friendly.
“It’s Cynthia, her grandkid.”
“Just a sec,” the voice said.
Cynthia heard a click and the phone was put on hold. While she waited, she listened to the sound of bees humming.
As she listened to the bees, she grew angrier and angrier. She couldn’t take it and hung up the phone.
(October 2022’s short story of the month. SOOOOOOOO LATE!)
The doctors had never seen anything like it. She was a perfectly healthy little girl who just happened to have two hearts. The only explanation they could offer was that at some point the embryo had started to transition to a twin, but then reverted back.
After all, having extra body parts wasn’t completely unheard of. Polydactyls had extra parts. But the medical and biological complication of having an extra heart wasn’t as problematic as the emotional aspect of being known as the girl with two hearts.
Her mother became an internet sensation. She enlisted her daughter to become the face of several major charitable foundations. The first foundation was called “Twice as Much Heart.” They funneled money into many other charities, including research for cardiac diseases.
Amara hated that her whole life was one long blip of content making for various social media sites. She couldn’t even go to the mall and hang with her friends because it would turn into a frenzy of people trying to take selfies with her.
At only thirteen, she didn’t really have any friends, not true friends anyway. There were people that her mom would let hang out with her, but they were all kids who’s parents were friends with her mom. She wouldn’t have hung out with a single one of them if her mother hadn’t made her.
Her teenage years were going to be lonely and annoying, so Amara made a wish. She couldn’t sleep one night and was sitting alone in her room listening to music via headphones.
She squeezed her eyes shut as hard as she could and wished and hoped and prayed to any one or being that was listening.
She wanted a friend. Someone who couldn’t be corrupted by the influence of her mother and who wouldn’t care about the drama of her life. She wanted a true friend. Someone to share her secrets with. Someone who didn’t want to be around her for status. Just someone to be real with.
She wished so hard that every thought she had over the next few weeks was about finding a friend. She couldn’t stop wishing.
On a night, much like every night of her life, she was alone in her room. She was laying on her bed, facing the wall. She sighed.
“Have you ever tried telling your mother you don’t want to do it anymore?” a voice asked from behind Amara.
She was alone in her room, or at least she thought she was. She was too scared to move.
“Are you going to talk to me, or am I just going to sit her all night waiting for you?” the voice asked.
Amara still couldn’t move. Then someone, probably the person connected to the voice, spun in her squeaky computer chair. Amara huddled into the fetal position.
“Are you scared of me?” the voice asked. “Of course you are, we’ve never met. Turn around and look at me. I won’t hurt you, Amara.”
Amara still couldn’t move. Maybe she was dreaming. She didn’t hear the door open. Besides, her mother wouldn’t let a complete stranger into her room.
Amara rolled over slowly but didn’t open her eyes right away. She took a deep breath and then swallowed. She slowly opened one eye just so she could peek out.
She saw a girl—a girl that looked just like her but was see-through. She was looking at a ghost. But how could that be? The ghost looked like her. She wasn’t dead. Maybe she was dreaming.
She closed her eyes again and pinched her upper arm as hard as she could stand.
“Ouch,” she whispered. She opened her eyes slowly again.
The girl was waving at her. “You going to sit up and talk to me, or what?” the girl asked.
Amara couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This girl looked like her, but she didn’t sound like her. Her voice was louder, more confident. She didn’t seem shy and withdrawn.
Amara sat up without looking away. She couldn’t take her eyes off what was before her. She was afraid if she blinked or looked away, she would disappear.
“Wha… what? What are you?” Amara finally managed to stutter out.
“A friend,” the girl and/or ghost version of herself said. “You can call me Cara.” She stuck her hand towards Amara. “Put ‘er there.” She smiled, grinning from ear to ear.
“Cara?” Amara paused because she didn’t want to offend the apparition. “What are you?”
“Like I said, I’m a friend. Do you want me to go?” Cara leaned back in the chair.
From where Amara was sitting, she could see the outline of the chair through Cara’s form. There was a faint green glow surrounding Cara. “A friend? Do you mean the friend I wished for?”
Cara nodded and then spun in the chair. “Yeppers,” she said.
Amara shook her head. She had to be imagining this. “Then how?” she started to ask. “But why?” She stopped again. She couldn’t seem to form a coherent question. “What are you exactly? Like a ghost or something?”
“Not a ghost.”
“But are you real?” asked Amara. “I mean, are you alive?”
“Yes, and no.” Cara kept spinning in the chair, faster and faster.
“So, what are you?” Amara asked.
“I’m a friend, that’s what matters most.” She stopped abruptly. “Let’s talk about why you’re sitting up here alone when you could be outside or downstairs, or anywhere but here staring at a wall.” Cara crossed her arms over her chest and started tapping her foot.
They talked for hours. Amara told Cara things she’d never told anyone else. They discussed her mother, the constant chaos of her life, and how lonely it was being her.
At some point as they were talking and giggling, Amara lay back down and closed her eyes, but they still talked for many more minutes.
Amara woke up the next morning, but there was no sign of Cara. As she splashed water on her face, she couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe she’d imagined the whole thing.
I started a new thing this year. (New for me anyway). As I read, I make a list of quotes I like for whatever reason, and then when I finish the book, I copy the quotes into a notebook that I have just for quotes.
It’s really fun to flip through the book and re-read the quotes. It takes me back to the moment when I was reading. I love reading them. Some of the quotes I wrote down because they were funny, some were like aha! moments that I feel like could be the seed of a new story, and some of them I write down because I think they’re very clever.
Here are some of my favorites from this year:
“That’s all magic is really: the space between what you have and what you need.” (from The Once and Future Witches)
“He let it slip that he was afraid that therapy might make him normal and well adjusted, and that would be the end of his writing.” (from Armageddon in Retrospect)
“If it’s not Disney, we won’t get sued for it.” (from Kaiju Preservation Society)
“Moral: to avoid embarrassment, never say anything at all to a human if you can possibly avoid it.” (from An Orc on the Wild Side)
“I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t tried it can properly appreciate just how horrible it is to be constantly surrounded by people who believe in absolutely everything.” (from A Deadly Education)
There were so many more, but I’m really enjoying this little side project of mine.
As always, happy reading and writing today and every day!
It’s time for the last writing prompt of the year! I’m excited because this year, I’m meeting a lot of my goals. Right now, I still need to finish some short stories for the year, but luckily, I have time this month.
Before I share this month’s prompt, I want to write a little about how NANOWRIMO went for me. So, as many of you know, last month was NANOWRIMO. I won again! All very exciting, but more importantly, I learned something about myself… I should NOT write mysteries.
I am not kidding. I decided this NANO to challenge myself to write something that is unlike anything else I’ve ever written. I tend to write sci-fi or fantasy, definitely leaning more towards fantasy. So, long story short, I tried to write a mystery novel.
To those of you who write mysteries, WOW, WOW, WOW! It’s not for me. You guys rock! I realized something very early in NANO… in order to write mysteries, you need to know stuff. In fantasy and sci-fi, you can make up how the world you’re writing about works. In a mystery though, you should sound like you actually know real things. I figured out very early on that I didn’t know enough about the forensics and details of my crimes to make them sound plausible. And this amounted to me really struggling to keep my story going. I still had a fun time, and I still managed to write 50,000 words. However, I have no intention of ever finishing that into a publishable novel. It ended up being a learning experience, and I’m okay with that.
If you came here looking for something to write about, look no further. The last short story prompt of 2022:
“They’re out there,” he told me. “Fields and fields of them. As far as the eye can see.” I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. He pointed to the horizon, and I looked, but all I could see was…
Complete the Story
Hope everyone is having a great day! Happy reading and writing today and every day!
(September 2022’s short story of the month. Better late than never!)
As a young girl, she learned how to juggle fruit: apples, oranges, sometimes pears. There was little risk, little drama, and people smiled politely and then moved on. But they started paying attention when she started juggling knives and saws.
She didn’t notice when the same man returned day after day to watch her. She smiled at the crowd and faked moments of danger. She didn’t notice him the first day when he watched in a suit, and she didn’t notice the second day when he watched in a hoodie and jeans. She didn’t even notice him on the third day when he was in a suit again, albeit a much nicer suit than the first time.
She didn’t notice, but Chuck did. Chuck watched her tips and drew in the crowd by hyping her skills.
As they sat on their bunks in their 400 square foot apartment, he asked, “What’s with that guy that keeps coming back?” He didn’t see any reason why someone would want to see the act more than once. It was always the same. The same fake moments of peril and the same planned moments of success.
“What guy?” Laney asked. She stacked the bills in a neat pile with each one facing the same way. “We did alright today. Might make the rent on time this month.”
“The guy in the suit,” replied Chuck. “He’s been back at least three times that I’ve noticed.”
“Weird,” said Laney and went back to counting their tips.
The next day the man returned. This time, Chuck nodded towards the man when he was collecting tips to indicate to Laney this was the guy.
After the performance, Laney collected their things, and Chuck took off after the guy. He followed him until he ducked into a coffee shop. Chuck stood outside waiting to see if the man would go somewhere else. Instead, hours ticked by. The man did nothing but sit in the shop ordering cup after cup of black coffee.
Chuck texted Laney the location. She arrived several minutes later, and Chuck still stood watch outside.
“He moved yet?” asked Laney.
“Nope. Just sits there like he’s waiting for something,” answered Chuck.
Laney looked through the window, and the man was looking right at her and waving.
“Pretty sure he’s waiting for me,” she said as she took a deep breath. “Stay here, and keep watch. If things seem off, don’t let me out of your sight.” Chuck nodded.
As Laney sat down across from the man, a waitress walked over and placed a latte in front of Laney.
“I didn’t order this,” said Laney looking back and forth at the waitress and the strange man.
“It’s all right. I ordered for you. I took a shot. Cinnamon latte. Don’t drink it if you don’t want to.” He folded his hands on the table in front of him.
Laney sat down reluctantly. She could smell the coffee. It was enticing. She didn’t trust the situation, but she wasn’t going to let a six dollar cup of coffee go to waste either. She took a sip. She waited for him to talk.
He smiled as she drank the coffee. “Right. You’re probably wondering why I’ve been watching you?”
She didn’t say anything or give any indication that she’d noticed him watching her. She kept studying him to see if she could figure out his game.
His hair was brown and cut and styled in a nondescript basic cut. He was clean shaven. Today he was wearing a suit that was dark grey with matching jacket. His buttoned up shirt was also grey. Everything about his was designed so that he wouldn’t stand out in any way.
He was caucasian with blue-grey eyes. He had an average build, and average height. She wouldn’t be drawn to notice him in anyway.
As Laney was taking all this in, she realized that the man’s whole point was to go unnoticed. He was boring in every way.
“I work as a recruiter for someone who needs people with a specific skill set. Specifically, the ability to look fear in the eyes and not flinch.” He didn’t smile or smirk. His eyes didn’t have a hint of humor in them.
This guy was being serious. Laney wasn’t sure what to think. What could he possibly want with her? She still didn’t say anything.
“I would like to recruit you to work for me.” He leaned back like he was waiting for her to respond.
“I don’t know what to say to that. Recruit me to do what?” Laney reached into her pocket and texted Chuck. Within a few seconds he was in the coffee shop too.
The man didn’t react when Chuck showed up. “Why don’t you join us, Chuck?”
Chuck shrugged and pulled up a chair. He sat close enough to Laney for their legs to touch.
“He offered me some kind of job, but he’s being purposefully vague,” said Laney. She and Chuck didn’t have secrets.
The man glanced at Chuck and Laney and seemed to come to a decision. “I can offer you both a job. You wouldn’t be the first pair we’ve recruited.”
“Recruited to do what, exactly? You haven’t said anything yet that makes me want to believe anything you’re saying,” responded Laney.
The man was quiet and stared at them for several minutes before he finally spoke. “You would be asked to perform odd jobs. Whatever is asked of you.” He paused and leaned forward. His voice dropped to a whisper, “No matter what is asked, you find a way to make it happen. Do you understand me?”
Laney and Chuck looked at each other. This was nuts. There was no way this guy was for real. Did he think they were stupid?
Without speaking, the two stood up, pushed in their chairs, and turned to leave.
They went back to their apartment hoping that was the last time they would see him. When they opened the door, they thought at first they’d been robbed.
Turning on the lights, they realized their mistake. All their belongings were packed like they were moving. As they stood trying to understand what they were looking at, there was a knock on the door.
I have won NANOWRIMO! Woot woot! I just finished writing 50,000 words this month. And now I don’t want to even think about the draft. As a more traditional NANOer, I don’t edit as I write. (I do check spelling). So, here is the first chapter of my very, very rough novel titled Solved by Magic. If you read it, be nice. It’s probably pretty terrible. I’ve never written a mystery novel, so this was an experiment for me.
As always, happy reading and writing today and every day!
Solved by Magic
Chapter 1 When It Rains, They Die
It was raining again. What else could you expect in Seattle? The emerald city was dreary and not doing anything to improve anyone’s mood. The air smelled of damp garbage and a faint whiff of urine.
A person rushed along the sidewalk trying to hug the buildings. Their efforts were in vain though, the rain was on a mission that night. It poured down onto the heads of everyone drenching them and soaking them through.
Their hand slipped as they tried to push the door open.
“Damnit,” they said. They moved the cake from one arm to the other and used their other hand to push.
The door to this building always stuck, especially when it was raining. After stepping foot in the door, they stamped their feet, though it did little good because the mat was saturated. The cake started to slip from their grasp, but they grabbed it with both hands now that they were through the door.
They followed the murmur of voices carrying down the hall.
“Hey,” a brunette said as they entered the meeting room.
“Hey,” they replied. They sat the cake down by what was arguably the worst tasting coffee ever made. Whoever made it each day should be ashamed to live in Seattle. It was against everything the city stood for.
The chairs were already set up in neat rows facing the podium at the front of the room. The floor was tiled and aged, and the walls were do for a touch up. The once white paint was now more of a grey brown. Those gathered didn’t care about the shabbiness of the place. It mirrored the tone of the meetings in so many ways.
Everyone took their seats. Most of them sat in the same place every week. Newcomers were the last to sit, waiting to see where others would stake their territory.
Some of the chairs creaked and squeaked as everyone settled. The meeting was underway. They listened to each person tell their story followed by the others congratulating them and clapping. They were the last to share. Tonight was a milestone for them.
They were celebrating, hence the cake.
“I’m ten years sober today.” They paused and smiled. “It’s been a very long, and a very short decade.”
Some of them chuckled. A few chairs creaked as people shifted around. Some of the new members were growing restless. They hadn’t planned on attending and celebrating someone’s ten year mark. Of those gathered, some were only ten days sober.
“I won’t bore you all with my story. Many of you have heard it too many times anyway.” They looked around and smiled at the familiar faces smiling back at them. “Why don’t we get to the part of the meeting we’re all looking forward to.” They pointed to the back of the room. “I brought a cake. Please, have a piece with the world’s crappiest coffee before you set back out into the deluge of our fair city.”
There was a big round of applause. It felt like it was more for ending their speech than anything else.
“Thanks for bringing a cake, though I feel bad for asking you to, since it was your celebration and all.” A familiar voice droned on while they ate their cake. Others came up to them and shook their hand. All in all, it was a fairly depressing celebration.
As they stood there, nibbling on bits of cake and making small talk, they started to feel uncomfortable. Others began to feel unwell too. First, their head hurt. It was a headache that felt like it might split their skull. They made a quick excuse and went to the restroom.
They sat with kneeling on the dirty and dusty tiles vomiting up the cake and coffee. It didn’t end there. They regurgitated everything they’d consumed that day. And when they were finished with that, they threw up bile.
In that few minutes, they didn’t understand what was happening. As the pain and nausea continued to intensify, they panicked. This kind of pain wasn’t normal. This was the kind of pain you went to the hospital for. As they rested on the floor trying to focus on anything but the pain, others came into the room.
The stalls filled with members puking up their guts. There were murmurs of “what is happening?” and “make it stop.”
In the seconds that felt like minutes that they were sitting on the stall floor, there was a brief moment of clarity.
Something was wrong, very wrong. And it wasn’t just the coffee. Before the pain blacked out everything else, they pulled out their phone and dialed 9-1-1. Unfortunately, they dropped the phone before they hit send.
As several of them succumbed, the rest of the members grew alarmed. Luckily, those falling to the floor weren’t the only ones concerned about the fast acting illness. Another member called 9-1-1 at the same time. Their call went through and Seattle’s finest were on the scene in just over twenty minutes.
In addition the police, ambulances lined up to take away those stricken ill, but they were too late. In the minutes that everyone stood there waiting, desperately wishing there was something they could do, five people died.
Once the police and EMTs were on scene, the remaining members did their best to recount what had happened. The problem was that it all had happened so suddenly. How do you explain something that is outside your own understanding?
As the cops took statements, the crime scene techs arrived and began collecting evidence. With this many bodies, and the sudden onset of the illness, poisoning was suspected immediately. Everything in the building was evidence. The cake was collected, along with the foul coffee.
The longer they stood there being questioned, the more the members realized that they were all suspects. They were told not to leave town and their statements were triple checked. Their alibi was irrelevant. Any of them could have done it.
While they were being questioned, another one of them started to feel sick. He dropped to the floor.
“Someone grab his head. He’s having a seizure.” The EMTs were still on the scene. They did everything they could to help. Everyone else, cops, AA members, and crime scene techs, were useless. Whatever was causing the rapid deterioration seen throughout these people was too fast acting to stop.
The death toll ross to six. After that, the police rounded up all the remaining members up again and escorted them to the precinct. They weren’t taking any chances. One of those at the meeting was most likely the culprit.
The techs went about processing the scene. They gathered the food and coffee and also water samples. They picked up the pamphlets and collected paper cups. Photographs were taken and diagrams were drawn. Everything was labeled and collected according to procedure. They taped off the room and locked it in case they needed to return to collect anything else.
The building super wanted to know when the room could be used again.
“Not anytime soon,” said one of the techs.
The super wasn’t happy.
“Seriously, don’t use this room until we give you the all clear,” said the tech making direct eye contact with the super.
“Sure, sure,” agreed the super.
The tech was pretty sure the room would be used the minute they left the building, but none of them were paid enough to sit around and guard it.
As the case proceeded, the cops questioned and re-questioned everyone that had any connection to the building, no matter how tentative. The forensics confirmed what everyone had suspected from the beginning—poison.
In this case, someone had laced the coffee with cyanide. When asked who’d made the coffee, every remaining member had agreed. Victim number six always made the coffee. They wouldn’t have poisoned themselves, would they?
As the days ticked by, little progress was made. The only conclusive fact was that the poison was a very strong form of cyanide. Not something you could just buy. Someone had made it more potent. That seemed to indicate intent. Had one person been the target and the other just collateral damage?
No matter how few leads they investigated, nothing was learned. The cops tried leaning on those who’d been at the meeting, but nothing came of it. No one knew anything. All of them seemed scared.
Following the deaths of their friends, some of them had fallen hard off the wagon. They needed those meetings now more than ever, but at the same, they would never be able to attend one again. Watching their friends die so quickly and without reason scared them for life.
No leads pointed to anyone. The case was going nowhere, but unfortunately, the news wouldn’t let it go. The media frenzy surrounding the story refused to die down. Headlines that predicted deaths were great for ratings. The papers printed stories with headlines like “What if you’re next?” “Random acts of violence on the rise.”
The detectives investigating the case, like every other cop in the SPD, were getting pressure from their boss to find someone, anyone, that could have committed the crime. Six deaths could not go unaccounted for.
The original cops on the case did their best but it lead nowhere, eventually, more urgent cases popped up. The files were kept open, but without any new leads, nothing could be done.
After nearly four weeks of nothing happening, the original detectives were called into the office of their captain. She was the meanest person in the department, but also the most respected. She didn’t get to be captain of the west precinct homicide squad by chance. She’d worked hard to get her place, and she fought hard to keep it.
Captain Carol Sayers was an impressive 5’11’ and thin as a bean pole. She towered over most people and wore heels that made her even taller. She liked to look people in the eye when she spoke to them, and she would rather be looking down into someone eyes than up into them.
“Sit,” she said to the two detectives milling about in her doorway. She was tapping a pen on her desk pad and glancing out the window watching the rain fall.
Detectives Rosemary Howe and Rook Wilmot were her best homicide detectives. They had an impressive closure rate, and more professionalism than most of the other detectives put together. The captain wished she could bottle up whatever made these two work so well and spoon feed it to the others.
The two sat quietly waiting for the captain to be the first to speak.
“You know about the poisonings that happened a month ago,” Sayers said.
They both nodded. How could you not know about it? The whole precinct, every department, kept talking about it. With no suspects and no leads, the news had resorted to blaming the SPD for the deaths.
“Well, today is your lucky day. It’s your case now,” said the captain.
Both detectives shifted in their seats. “We don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. We thought the case was Moore and Stevenson’s?” asked Wilmot.
“Not anymore,” replied the captain getting to her feet and coming around the desk. She sat perched on the side facing them. “They aren’t making any progress.” She paused and sighed. “We need fresh eyes. A new lead. Anything really. We can’t let six deaths go unexplained.”
“Of course,” said Wilmot.
“Plus, the media is determined to bring it up as much as they can. We aren’t looking very competent right now.” Sayers studied the two as they sat there. They studied her back, not in a challenging way, but in the way that capable detectives did. They observed and put pieces together. Hopefully this puzzle wouldn’t be outside their capabilities. “I want you to work on this case and nothing else until you’ve exhausted everything. Go over everything again. Requestion all the witnesses. Until I say otherwise, this is your only case.”
They nodded at her and left her office without asking any questions. Rosemary had a feeling this case would get dropped on their laps. The really tricky ones usually did. She hated cases like this. It was the kind of case that needed solving but didn’t want to be solved.
It’s NANOWRIMO! You should be writing! (Just kidding. Only be writing if you want to).
Well, it’s only the third day of NANO and things are going well for me. This year, I’m writing something I’ve never written before–a mystery novel!
It’s fun to be trying something new, but also daunting. I’m enjoying it so far. Unlike fantasy writing though, I’ve had to look stuff up. (Gasp). I’m not world building or creating my own magic. This time, it’s about solving a crime (and a little bit of magic).
Anywho… whatever you’re working on this month, I hope it’s going well for you.
If you’re here for the short story prompt of the month, you’ve finally found it!
November’s short story prompt:
It was just ridiculous enough to be true. Then again, she could be making the whole thing up. It was just so hard to imagine Diane’s father, the respectable banker who never left the house without a suit and tie, actually…
Complete the Story
This one sounds like it might be leading somewhere salacious…