(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…
How is every one this month? I hope you all are doing great. I am super busy.
In exciting news, I have finished editing my fourth novel!!! Now, I am finalizing some other things (synopsis and query letter) before I start querying next week. I’m super excited and nervous! Wish me luck!
In other news, I am prepping and doing all the things I try to get done before NANOWRIMO starts. I don’t write extensive outlines, but I write out a very rough outline of the book from start to finish. I try to create the names for the main characters too (otherwise I get hung up on naming people and can’t seem to write).
As you can see, once again, I am participating in NANO, and this means next month is basically all booked for me.
I am a little behind at this point in the year as far as writing and some other personal goals go but I should be able to get caught up soon. Gotta keep trying, right?
Anyway, if you are participating in NANO, good luck!
How is everyone doing? I’m once again trying to play catch up. I went on vacation the last week of September, and then when I arrived home, I was sick within two days. Since then, I’ve been in bed, watching tv, blowing my nose, and wishing I was writing. My head has been too foggy for editing though.
In happy news, I’m feeling much better today. Yesterday I made myself work on editing a bit. I’m a little behind on my list, but hopefully in the next few days I can catch up. And hopefully then I’ll also have time to get caught up on my short stories.
Anyway, I hope whatever you are working on is going well! If you are here for the prompt, look no further:
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…
Writing and editing is a long, tough process, and I’m sure many of you know that as a writer, there is always room for improvement. And there is always room to learn a new skill. And sometimes you need to brush up on old ones.
Even though, I studied literature in college, that doesn’t mean my writing is anywhere near perfect. It just means I can analyze fiction (a mostly useless talent outside of academia).
Here are three things to keep in mind when you’re working on your own writing:
1. Practice makes perfect.
2. Sometimes you need to go back and review things you thought you knew.
3. Have someone else read your work!!!! I cannot stress how important this is.
4. Take some time to learn or study the craft of writing. Every year I read one or two books about writing. It’s nice to read what other writers have learned throughout their careers too.
In addition to practice being the best method of improvement, there are some other things that I use to help with my writing and editing process.
Here are a few of my writing/editing tools:
This website allows you to submit your writing and it checks it for everything! It’s nice, but it’s still just a program. It doesn’t make up for reading and editing by humans.
Understanding Show Don’t Tell
This book by Janice Hardy is a great resource for understanding the show don’t tell concept. When I first edited my own work, it was something I struggled with. It’s a challenging concept if you don’t know how to recognize it.
Ready, Set, Novel!
This book was created for NANOWRIMO. I love it! I like to use it when I’m brainstorming a new project. The exercises are practical and build on each other. You can go from something very basic to a detailed outline in no time.
Complete the Story
This book is page after page of story ideas. I use it to write my short story every month. It’s also where the original Unicorns Are Really Vampires (my first novel) idea started.
As always, happy reading and writing today and every day!
It’s a new month, and that means it’s time for a new writing prompt!
If you’re looking for something to write about, look no further:
“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…”
Complete the Story
This month is all about editing for me. I am working through my new novel before I start deep editing. I’ve finished my first round of edits, and now it’s time for the real work. If you’ve ever edited something as lengthy as a novel, you know what I’m talking about. It’s an even harder process when you edit yourself. I always have someone else read my work too, but before it goes to them, I go through it about four times. It takes months. And here we go…..
My plan is to start querying in mid-October, maybe November. Wish me luck.
The boy woke up before dawn. The horses were restless. Something wasn’t right. He rose and tiptoed quietly down the hall, careful not to wake his mother. She was exhausted after last night’s attacks. With the help of their neighbors, his mother had fended off the vamp-wolves again. Their attacks had been increasing lately, and his mother was up many nights protecting their homestead.
He paused outside her door and waited until he heard her deep snores. He let out a silent sigh of relief and walked down the hall. He slowed only as he descended the stairs. They didn’t creak, but he didn’t want to run down them stomping either.
Morning light was spilling into the living room. He grabbed a cookie on his way out the kitchen door. He didn’t have to think. This was his morning routine. He tended the horses first. They had four of them. One mare and three of her offspring. He gave them fresh water and hay. He filled their feed bins.
When he opened the fourth stall to lay down fresh hay, he saw the blood. It was everywhere. The horses must have smelled it too. This, at least, explained their restlessness. He’d just walked past them out in their pasture. They’d been standing right next to the fence waiting for him. He paused and had to think if he’d sensed anything off about any of them.
He’d been so used to going through his morning without thinking about it that he didn’t trust himself. He walked back out to where the horses were munching away. Nothing appeared amiss.
He shrugged. He’d clean the stall and ask his mother about it later. Maybe she knew where the blood came from.
After the horses, it was time for his favorite chores—tending the flying bison. Their family farm had been raising blimpies for generations. The creatures were docile and gentle despite their size. Every once in a while, he would sneak atop one and ride it. His mother said it was disrespectful. They were not horses.
He loved them. They were about the size of a small hover car when full grown. Their demeanor was friendly like a dog’s. And they weren’t scared of humans. Most people owned one or two, but only certain families knew the secret to breeding them. Their wooly coats made the warmest and softest textiles.
As he loaded the hover cart with everything he would need, he couldn’t help but grin. This season they’d had more younglings than any year he could remember. He loved the younglings. They were so full of joy.
His favorite thing to do was to go out into the field with mints in his pockets. He would give one youngling a mint, and it would start grunting at him. The other younglings would hear the one and come over to see what the commotion was.
Before long, he would be surrounded by them all grunting at him. They were fluffy and round and would bump into one another. And since they didn’t have good control over their bodies yet, they would float off a bit. It was like being in the center of bumper cars bouncing into one another over and over again.
It was easily the cutest thing they did. The adult blimpies would look on without venturing closer. He made sure to always save at least one mint for the elder blimpie. He was their oldest, and his mom didn’t even know his age. She told him that when she was a girl, the elder had been ancient even then.
As he approached the field, something strange caught his eye. The blimpies were pressed up against the door all huddled together. They normally floated about seemingly at random within the dome enclosure.
He searched around by didn’t see any reason for their alarm. His first thought was that he should go wake up his mom, but then he felt ashamed. She needed to sleep. He could handle this.
He restarted the hover cart and drove toward the door. The blimpies parted and let the door swing in and surrounded his cart as he settled it next to their feeders.
Their collective grunts and snorts bombarded his ears. He pushed his way through. The blimpies kept near the cart.
He looked once again at the blimpies all huddled together and turned to search the dome. He didn’t see anything immediately. He heard something in a moment when the herd quieted.
He didn’t know what it was, and he needed the herd to still before he could listen longer. He fed them and despite their nervousness, they ate and calmed down.
As he placed the now empty feeding tubs on the cart, the sound came through clearer.
It sounded like a whimper from a dog. That didn’t make any sense. They didn’t have any dogs on their ranch. Could a wild dog have wandered into the dome? That also seemed unlikely. The dome only had a few doors, and you needed their programed farm equipment to open it. Nothing could just wander into it.
Could there be a breach in the dome? He hoped not. It was expensive to fix the dome and his mom would be furious.
He left the cart and stepped towards the sound. He moved toward one of the boulders in the field. He climbed on top. He scanned the pasture hoping to find the source of the sound and the blimpies’ anxiety.
He heard it and saw it at the same time. The elder blimpie was standing next to something bloodied and whining on the ground.
He approached cautiously and patted the elder as he walked alongside him.
The crying animal was a vamp-wolf. It had been stomped and from the looks of the elder’s front hooves, he’d done the stomping. He’d never heard of a blimpie killing another creature.
Even though that fact would shock his mother, because there was no way he could keep this from her, the more troubling part was that a vamp-wolf was in the dome. There had to be a breach somewhere.
In addition to editing my novel, I am brainstorming for this year’s NANOWRIMO. At this point in the year, I try to gather and read through any unused ideas that I have stashed away. I keep them all in a notebook. Occasionally, I pull it out and write down more, or if I have thoughts about an idea already in the notebook, I add to it.
I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to work on in November, but I’m thinking about branching out and trying something other than fantasy writing. To date, I’ve written four novels, all of which are middle grade fantasy. It’s still what I enjoy writing the most, and it’s what I want to try to publish more of.
However, sometimes it’s nice to work outside your comfort zone. I want to try something new. So…. I’m thinking of trying to write a mystery.
As a reader or writer, what are your favorite mystery writers? What types of scenarios do you like to read about? What do you think is over done in that genre? Or, do you love mystery so much that you will literally read anything by anyone?
I’m genuinely curious. I don’t read a lot of mystery, but every once in a while, I do pick one up. I enjoy them, but I only like a handful of writers. I don’t know why I find it so hard to like more mystery writers. And the even weirder thing is, I love, love, love crime shows. I watch any and all mystery shows I can.
August is doing that thing, again… flying by! I don’t know what I’ve been doing this month, but it isn’t anything productive. I’m okay with it though. Sometimes it’s good to just be happy.
This month I’ve been roller skating twice! It’s so much fun. I love skating! But at my age, when I fall it hurts for days and days. Luckily, I only fell once, and I’m thinking of going again soon.
Anyhow, I haven’t been drafting much because it’s about time to start editing! I can’t believe I’m about to edit my fourth novel! It’s a great feeling, but every time I get to this point, the overwhelming amount of work still to do is shocking and renders me into long straits of procrastination. I find the best way to avoid editing is to not make eye contact with the draft.
In all seriousness though, if you are here for the prompt this month, it’s about time: