January 4 – January 17, 2018 Flash Fiction Contest “Murder at Midnight”

Theme: This post is for stories related to the contest theme: “Murder at Midnight”.

Story Requirements: completely open to writers interpretation.

Word Count: 1,200


  • This is the thread for stories as well as general comments. Say hello and be sure to check the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email” box for email notifications.
  • To leave feedback/Comments directly relating to a particular story – click “reply” to the story comment.
  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
  • Keep feedback and critiques to a civil and constructive level, please. Please critique stories for construction, style, flow, grammar, punctuation, and so on. The moderator has the right to delete any comments that appear racist, inflammatory or bullying.

Please Note: Comments may be considered “published” in regards to other contest requirements.

All stories are fall under general copyright laws. No part may be reproduced without the express consent of the respective author.

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must stay within the word limit set for each contest.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

  • You may vote only once.
  • You cannot vote for yourself.

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Andy Lake per the Writing Prompt Roster.

To be included in the “writing prompt roster”, you must have submitted two stories in the last sixty days. The roster is alphabetical and can be found here.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


 

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75 thoughts on “January 4 – January 17, 2018 Flash Fiction Contest “Murder at Midnight”

  • January 10, 2018 at 2:07 pm
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    Birthday

    Harold was nervous, almost to the point of shaking in his slip resistant boots. For the last several days he had been receiving anonymous notes that seemed to threaten his very existence. Whoever was sending them knew his routine too well. They popped up with frightening regularity in places no single person could get to without him knowing, or so he had believed. Nothing was certain now.

    He opened his locker and jerked back. Another of the unadorned, white folded cards lay on the floor of the locker, his name neatly printed on the front. With trembling fingers, he lifted the thick paper from the locker and unfolded it. Inside in the same neat print was written “See you soon, birthday boy.” This seemingly innocent phrase struck minor terror in his heart when he thought of the others he’d gotten. “I’m going to destroy you on your birthday.” “Your heart will stop when you turn 40.” All kinds of other enigmatic, somewhat nebulous remarks that had melded into a single message that tomorrow would be the last day of his life.

    Harold barely managed to suppress a scream when a hand touched His shoulder. He spun, nearly knocking over his friend and co-worker Ariana.

    “Are you ok?” she asked, concern on her pretty features.

    “Yeah, yeah, I’m ok. Sorry, you just startled me.”

    “You looked more than startled.”

    “I’m ok, really. I was just thinking about something, didn’t hear you come in.”

    Ariana looked at him a bit skeptically but did not pursue the subject further, to his great relief. He was afraid he was going crazy and didn’t want everyone else to think the same thing. He finished dressing out, put on his personal gear, and headed out to the plant floor to work. He was able to immerse himself in the intricacies of installing, programming, and testing a new chemical analysis system and the events of the last few days faded from his thoughts. It helped that nothing else untoward happened and the he and Ariana got the new piece installed and ready for use in a lot less time than they expected.

    It was on the way out of the plant that a random remark brought them rushing back into his consciousness.

    “Got any plans for your birthday?” Ariana asked as they opened their respective car doors.

    “Uh, no, no, just staying home and reading. You know me.”

    “Yeah, I do. You should learn to live a little.”

    “I live just fine.”

    “Pssshhhhhhhh. If you lived in cave instead of a lakeside condo you’d be called a hermit.”

    Despite his disquiet over the mysterious notes, Harold had to chuckle. He’d been having these little arguments with Ariana for a few months now and neither had given an inch. He shook his head at her apparently sudden insistence that he change his lifestyle, liking her too much to be angry. He waved again before dropping into the seat of His sedan and starting the engine. He arrived at home a half hour or so later, car easing into the garage and the big door closing silently behind him.

    After a meal of leftover Chinese takeout Harold settled into His favorite spot on the sofa for a bit of work on the novel he’d been claiming to be writing for years. He’d actually been making some serious headway lately, the story unreeling like a movie in His brain. Today was no exception and his pencil flew across the yellow legal pad he put his manuscript on for what felt like an hour. When he looked up and saw the clock, he realized he’d been at it for closer to four. His eyes were burning so he shut off the television and killed the lights and half stumbled into His bed. He had totally forgotten the notes.

    Harold snapped awake, not sure what had triggered it but aware he was bound hand and foot. His wrists and ankles were secured in something padded but snug and he was stretched spread eagled across what felt like His bed. He could not move more than an inch in any direction. It got exponentially worse when he realized he was also buck naked. He thought about shouting for help but realized that if he was still in his bed it would be useless. He’d picked this place for its seclusion and there were no neighbors for at least a mile in any direction. He tugged once more on the bonds that held him before forcing himself to relax and wait for whoever had done this to make the next move.

    He started, jerking on the unyielding bonds when a warm hand touched His thigh. It ran up his leg, across His belly and chest, then caressed his face. He tried to pull away to no avail and the phantom hand kept slipping over him. Far from feeling endangered, he began feeling aroused.
    “Who are you? What do you want? Why are you doing this to me?”

    The unseen person did not answer, just the sound of his talking alarm clock saying in its synthesized voice saying, “It is 11:59 PM”.

    Midnight. He was suddenly very afraid, but just as He was about to scream and start fighting His restraints, he felts a warm, bare body drape itself across His.

    “Told you I’d stop your heart at midnight,” a soft voice whispered into his ear, one he recognized as Ariana’s.

    Harold shivered, wondered if it was possible to die from pleasure. If so, it would be murder at midnight..

    Reply
    • January 16, 2018 at 11:52 am
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      Haha, that’s one way to bring excitement into someone’s life!

      Reply
    • January 16, 2018 at 6:17 pm
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      Nice story Dean, I really loved how you led us to feel fear for Harold with those ominous notes being left for him. Loved the ending, great job of misleading us, and a very nice reveal.

      Reply
    • January 16, 2018 at 9:24 pm
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      Ha! Wonderfully unorthodox use of the prompt, Dean. Very clever. Great job of building the suspense and tension. Toward the end, starting with: “He started, jerking on the unyielding bonds…” you accidentally capitalized the word ‘his’ five times in the middle of the sentence. Three times in the fourth from the last sentence. This is just a technical mistake however, in fact, it’s barely noticeable. Just thought I’d let you know in case you wanted to fix it.

      Reply
      • January 17, 2018 at 9:27 am
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        Kind of too late for that, but thanks for the critique, everyone. I appreciate your feedback.

        Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 12:29 pm
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      I read this once and thought it was good. Then read it again and thought it was very good. Well constructed, nice phrasing, and balancing description seamlessly dropped in with a clear depiction of Harold’s character. And I like the way Ariana is shown to have worked her way round his defences and into his affections over time, not only in the immediate time-frame of the story.

      Ariana is a also good name for her – like the Ariane rocket launch vehicle. And I guess that’s what she’s doing, launching Harold into a new, more adventurous life.

      Reply
  • January 12, 2018 at 12:14 pm
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    THE MIDNIGHT MAN

    It’s one o’clock now, so I’m safe. A little light-headed – must be the drink – but safe.

    Sadly, someone else in the city won’t be. It’s been in the news for the last year – a regular phenomenon. The last day of every month, a person killed, a note left:

    “Dead at midnight.”

    It wasn’t until 31 March that the police began to regard the ‘Midnight Man’ (we can thank the tabloids for the name) as a serial killer; I suppose the deaths in January and February weren’t enough to constitute a series yet. But three was the ‘magic’ number, if you like, and on 1 April the papers were full of it.

    Some people thought it was an April Fool’s Day prank initially, but in retrospect, it wasn’t really a very funny idea, people getting murdered. Indeed, when the pattern was firmly established, no one was laughing.

    Apart from the day and time, there was another common feature of the Midnight Man’s work: each victim was found to have been drugged with a strong barbiturate, and a part of the body had been removed, death coming from blood loss.

    If that wasn’t morbid enough, another detail: the killer was working his way up the bodies. On 31 January, he removed the feet of the first victim, on 28 February the lower legs of the second, on 31 March both legs of the third. The whole of the male population will have fidgeted when they saw the news on 1 May.

    In subsequent months the Midnight Man started on the torso, removing all the major organs in turn, always leaving the wound open to let the blood flow away. So he took the liver from one poor soul, the kidneys from another … the heart. In October, it was back to the limbs; the hands went, then in November the arms.

    The city has been in a state of barely suppressed panic for some time. The victims appear to be chosen completely at random, and the Midnight Man isn’t fussy: men, women … in September a young girl. It’s a cruel lottery that no one wants to win. Then on the first of every month, there’s the name of the ‘winner’ on the front pages.

    And so we’ve got to New Year’s Eve. Understandably perhaps, people haven’t wanted to be alone; the Midnight Man needs time and adequate space to drug his victims and do his cutting. So tonight the streets and squares have been packed with people trying to enjoy themselves, but the mood is muted compared to the festivities of other years.

    I came down to the centre with Sarah and Brian, but we got separated at one point and despite several phone calls, we haven’t been able to meet up again. I’ve been wandering around, pushing through the crowds, polishing off the cans of beer I brought with me. Bad idea, really. As midnight approached, I had to make for the portable toilets surrounding Central Square, but man! The queues!

    My bladder was bursting so I desperately looked for somewhere to relieve myself. I wouldn’t normally do such a thing, but needs must and all that. Anyway, I found an alleyway and a few metres in there was a little pocket of space to one side, blocked from the view of passers-by in the busy street. What a relief that was!

    “You’re never as lonely as when you’re in a crowd”, isn’t that how the saying goes? That’s what I felt as 12 o’clock approached, I must admit. I had to spend midnight on my own, watching everyone hugging and kissing, forgetting for 12 precious moments the fear they’d brought with them. No one took any notice of me; I felt all but invisible.

    So it’s one o’clock, and the crowds have dissipated somewhat, although there are still some people hanging around in groups – safety in numbers, I suppose. And that’s exactly wha–

    Hang on! What’s happening over there? Police. A woman screaming. There’s a man vomiting into the gutter. Let’s take a look.

    Hey, that’s ‘my’ alleyway! Where I relieved myself. A ring of police officers holding people back. I’ll see if I can get to the front.

    Wow, that was easy. And here I am. What … What are the people saying? Of course! The Midnight Man! He’s struck again. Yes. There on the ground! My God!

    I said he’d been working up the body. Twelve o’clock, at the end of the twelfth month, and there it is. The culmination of his plan. Poor bastard. Poor, poor … wait a moment!

    That watch. And that ring. No! I … I …

    .

    Reply
    • January 13, 2018 at 8:51 pm
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      Nice build up Phillip. I take it she is watching herself now? She is dead? It is kind of obscure. I would like to see some other hints in the story just to give a bit more to visualise. Just something left me with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction. Am I being a fussy bugger? Probably.
      Did the murderer remove her bladder?

      Reply
    • January 15, 2018 at 12:00 pm
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      An enjoyable read, Phil. But I agree with Ilana: more hints would have helped. And I found that with the build up the end just…well…ended. I think you could have dragged it out a little more for a more satisfying finish.
      All in all, however, a great idea and story!

      Reply
    • January 15, 2018 at 5:23 pm
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      They’re ganging up on me! 😉

      Thanks for your comments, Ilana and Christopher. I have to bow to your opinions, but just to give you the rationale for the vagueness …

      It’s supposed to be a ‘sting-in-the-tail’ story, so you can’t give too much away. And there ARE clues:

      “A little light-headed – must be the drink” (not the drink)
      “No one took any notice of me; I felt all but invisible.”
      “I’ll see if I can get to the front [of the crowd]. Wow, that was easy.”

      But I’d certainly have another look at it for future drafts. Thanks again.

      (PS No, Ilana, not the bladder. And I had a man in mind as the narrator [men can wear rings …])

      Reply
      • January 16, 2018 at 9:28 pm
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        Philip,
        Well, blow me down. A fine story Philip. I had a feeling, right at the beginning that this was going to be related to daylight savings time, but no, it wasn’t that at all. Very clever and, I must say, I thought the writing was excellent. I’m not a big fan of stories with narrators who die, but there’s always the exception, and this is one of them.
        p.s. I must disagree with my honorable colleagues. I had no trouble picking up on your clues, and they were subtle enough to be plausibly insignificant observations without giving away the ending. I thought it was all very slick, tidy and neat. I also assumed the character was a man. (Sure, a woman might take a leak in an alley, but it’s so much more likely to be a man.)
        Apparently you, me, and the rest of the gang are on totally different wavelengths on this one.

        Reply
    • January 16, 2018 at 6:15 am
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      Creepy story, Phil. I wasn’t sure if the man was the murderer or the victim. The suspense was well portrayed and the Ist of May was nicely dealt with. Your clues were a bit too obscure for me, but overall it was a creative read.

      Reply
    • January 16, 2018 at 6:29 pm
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      Nice build up Phil, I enjoyed how you led us throughout the story. It made sense that the narrator was the dead guy, after I saw your comments. How the narrator was alone, couldn’t find anyone, no one paying attention to him, but as the others said, it was a bit too vague. Any hoot, still wonderful writing as usual, we just needed a little more info to truly get where you were going.

      Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 12:32 pm
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      A dark tale. Well executed, in more ways than one.

      I thought there were hints enough. Though not sure what body part the murder spree had escalated to at the end.

      Reply
  • January 13, 2018 at 9:13 am
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    Hi Carrie or Alice.
    Can you please delete the first version of my story, as I got some facts wrong.

    Reply
  • January 13, 2018 at 9:21 am
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    The Laird
    Standing on the battlements of his restored castle in the year 1798, the Laird surveyed his property. A hundred acres of good farm land, bisected by a river well stocked with plump rainbow trout, a loyal following of villagers and a herd of prize Charolias cattle. He was joined by his eldest son.
    “Dad. You’ve just got to get a professional farm manager in. You’re working yourself into the ground .”
    Andrew had had this argument with the Laird several times already.
    “Look, son. This estate has run smoothly for generations without interference, your great grandfather was left a hundred run-down acres, and single handedly made it into what it is today. D’you think it would be thriving like this if he had handed it over to a manager?”
    “But Dad….”
    “That’s enough, son, the subject is closed. Now pass me a whisky and take your newfangled college ideas somewhere else.”
    Later that evening.
    “You know darling, there’s a lot of sense in what Andy is saying. We’re not getting any younger. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a holiday, or even a few days off? You must admit, you have been working too hard lately. .”
    And then Emily played her trump card.
    “Your last checkup showed your blood pressure was dangerously high. What’s the point of all this stress if you drop down dead with a heart attack?”
    “Stop nagging me, woman! My father lived to be 92. “
    “but he was confined to bed for his last two years. You took over the business then, and you have worked and worried for the last ten years without a break.”
    The Laird was justly proud of his beautiful wife, Emily, and his two sons. No expense had been spared for their education. Andrew, the oldest, was going to the Royal Estates, where he would learn to carry on the family tradition and eventually run the farm. James, the younger, pursuing a career as a lawyer.
    Benevolent by nature, he looked upon his tenant farmers as one would his family. The odd poaching incident was overlooked, after all, the river was well stocked and the poachers only took what they needed. For generations peace and harmony had prevailed.
    The only small cloud on the horizon seemed to be the new fangled ideas Andrew had brought home from the king’s land. The Laird saw no reason to reform a system that had worked well for generations. Andrew maintained that a warden was needed to oversee the estate and keep running costs down. The boy presented a convincing argument, stressing the benefits of increased leisure time for the ageing Laird.
    “Dad, just have a look at this ledger”
    “What use is a writing book to me, All my figures are in here.” The Laird tapped his head.
    “ I know that, but we are standing still. Unless we move with the times we will sink.”
    Emily joined in: “I think the lad is right, Darling. Just think about it, for my sake.”
    Months of debate ensued and at last he was persuaded. The search for a suitable warden began.
    Angus, the man they finally chose to oversee the estate was an experienced farm manager. He had worked the land from boyhood and had a strong feel for how things should be run on a large estate. He was a wiry, red haired Scotsman and with his tartan trousers and ‘tam o shanter’ cap, was easily recognised around the farm, though the farm hands tended to give him a wide berth.
    Things went well for the first six months, though the Laird found it difficult to take a back seat and let Angus do his job. The day everything changed was when Angus dragged youg Adam, a village lad, up to the Big House. He was caught poaching trout. The penalties for poaching were severe, ranging from deportation or, in extreme cases, hanging. The Laird was devastated. He had built up a relationship with the villagers over a lifetime and was inclined to overlook this minor offence, but the warden was adamant.
    “How can I do the job ye pay me for if I am undermined at every turn?” He said angrily.
    In fact, the Laird thought most of what Angus said was angry. The Laird had no answer, caught between two extremes. Young Adam was transported to the colonies.
    Old Abel, rumoured to be near one hundred years of age, had been in the Laird’s employ all his life. He had a rent free cottage on the estate. As a boy he grew up alongside the Laird’s father, they worked and played together. When Abel married he was given the cottage as a gift. The Laird rejoiced with him at his marriage and supported him when his young wife was taken with the fever, leaving Abel to bring up his four sons.
    Angus, the warden, had been watching Abel for weeks. He had made a note of at least four occasions when the old man helped himself to trout from the river.
    “This time it’s a hanging offence,” he told the Laird. Abel was thrown in to jail to await trial, which, with the warden’s written documentation would mean a severe sentence. The village was in turmoil, the Laird distraught; had he been a stronger man he could over rule the warden, but he made the cardinal sin of wanting to please everyone.
    In the following months another ten young men from the village were caught. The Laird remained helpless. The peaceful atmosphere in the village was shattered, the workforce sadly depleted. Many of the young men were sent away, their wives and children left to starve. The only person seemingly unaffected by this was the warden. He had built a hide in the bushes by the river and instead of overseeing the running of the estate, he spent most evenings watching for poachers.
    At midnight, pacing up and down the battlements, sleep eluding him, the Laird heard a faint splash. Four shadows melted into the night. Sunrise saw a ‘tam o shanter’ floating in the clear waters of the river. Peace and harmony was restored.

    Reply
    • January 16, 2018 at 9:30 pm
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      Maudster,
      Great story. I read both versions and couldn’t tell what you changed. But then, as I like to remind people, I’m more of a ‘roads skoaler’ than a Rhodes Scholar.
      I’ve heard from at least two people who served, that, during WWII, on-board U.S. Navy ships, low-level commissioned officers who relentlessly harassed enlisted men, sometimes went for walks on deck during the night, and never came back from their midnight strolls. They went for involuntary swims instead.

      Reply
    • January 17, 2018 at 12:29 pm
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      Loved the idea of this peaceful place being ruined by someone who was supposed to make things easier for the Laird. I liked the beginning of the story very much, and how you gave us insight into the Laird and his family.

      I also liked the dark turn it took once Angus was in charge. The ending felt a bit rushed to me, still your writing style is so smooth and makes your stories very easy to read.

      Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 5:06 pm
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      I’m always well-disposed to a story with a far-sighted and sensible character called Andy. All flowed very smoothly.

      “A hundred acres of good farm land, bisected by a river well stocked with plump rainbow trout, a loyal following of villagers and a herd of prize Charolias cattle.” This may need rephrasing as it reads like the loyal villagers and are also stocked in the river …

      Minor historical point – there was very little transportation to the colonies from Scotland around that time – in fact very little transportation from anywhere in the UK in the time of the French Wars – except for Irish involved in the rebellion of 1798. An offender was more likely to be sent to serve doing forced labour in the naval dockyards. Here’s a risk here in picking a specific year, I guess.

      Minor point in an otherwise fluent story with a vigilante take on crime and punishment.

      Reply
  • January 13, 2018 at 8:30 pm
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    The Waiting Place
    By Alice Nelson ©2018

    Marnie Winslow lived her entire life in the town of Denbury, Idaho. She died there too, at the tender age of 25, her body found lying in the alley off of Cedar Lane, next to an empty carton of Pall Malls and a copy of People Magazine.

    Mayor Digger Vessey, who was part of a long line of Vessey mayors, didn’t much care for messy things like death or fair elections, and he wanted very much for the whole murder thing to just go away. But in a small town like Denbury, where murder was as rare as a foreign film festival, nothing Vessey tried could steer the townsfolk off the subject of Marnie Winslow’s murder.

    **********

    Denny Woodard heard Edna Campbell talking about Marnie when she was in his line at Woodard’s Grocer and Ammo shop, the store his family owned.

    “Found her dead as a doornail off Cedar Lane” Edna said excitedly.

    Denny, felt a heaviness in his chest, and could barely breathe. He had loved Marnie since grade school, but she never knew, and now she never would.

    But Denny wanted to say a final goodbye, and he would, by breaking into the coroner’s office to see Marnie one last time.

    **********

    Marnie Winslow’s head was throbbing when she opened her eyes.

    “Don’t worry, there’s an adjustment period, you’ll get used to it,” someone said above her, their face was blurred, but the voice sounded familiar.

    “Where am I?” she said to the still blurry face.

    “You’re in the Waiting Place,” the voice said.

    “What?” Marnie asked. As her vision cleared, she saw the face that went with the voice.

    “Bella Hansen?” Marnie was surprised to see her old school mate. “But you’re dead,” Marnie said.

    “Well, that’s no way to greet an old friend,” Bella smiled. “Here’s the brochure,” she said, “It’ll explain everything.”

    Marnie took the glossy color pamphlet and saw “The Waiting Place” printed in block letters on the front, with the smiling, happy faces of other dead people looking back at her.

    Welcome honored guest!

    Page one of the brochure said.

    This is your death! Unfortunately you are in The Waiting Place because…well, because you’re dead, and also because you were murdered.

    “Murdered?” Marnie whispered.

    Yes, murdered, The pamphlet said.And you shall remain in the Waiting Place until said murder has been solved.

    The brochure went on to say:

    In order to insure the safety of those staying at The Waiting Place, there are 2 rules you must obey: one, you are not allowed to use the highly addictive drug “Residue.” You may be tempted by some bad eggs, but we highly advise against it. Two, you are not allowed to contact the living to try and help solve your murder, through the use of mediums, or any of the countless A&E ghost hunting shows on television. You’re murder can only be solved by the living, then, and only then, will you move to level 2.
    Have a wonderful Eternity —The Management.

    “Sucks huh?” Bella said. “Management thinks murdered souls are defective ones, and we’re only made right after our murders are solved. Hence the separate but equal quarters.”

    Marnie was trying to make sense of it all; her death, and this go between place that didn’t appear to be heaven or hell.

    “What is Residue?” Marnie asked.

    Bella looked around to see if anyone was listening, then she whispered, “According to Dwight, Residue is your life energy. It never uh…dissipates, yeah that’s the word. You can tap into it, and maybe, just maybe find out who offed you. Management can’t monitor us in that state, and that’s why they don’t want us to use it.”

    “I want to do it,” Marnie said without hesitation. “Who’s this Dwight, can he help me?”

    Then out of nowhere, this weird guy appears, “Hey, I’m Dwight. Be cool, and follow me.” He had long, stringy blonde hair, a beard that hadn’t been trimmed —maybe ever, and he was wearing a multi colored dashiki.

    Marnie started to protest, but Bella pushed her along. “Dwight’s cool, don’t worry,” she said quietly.

    They left the lounge, and entered a hallway with hundreds, maybe thousands of doors lining a long, impossibly bright hallway.

    He took them to a room with a sign that read, Custodian, keep out!

    “Welcome to my office,” Dwight said waving them in. “Custodian is what I do during business hours, but assisting my fellow dead compadres is what I do for pleasure,” he smiled. His teeth as impossibly bright as the hallway they’d just come from.

    “Management mostly ignores us,” Bella said, “They have no idea Dwight is dishing out Residue, if they did…” she stopped and let out a long whistle.

    “Okay,” Marnie said, “How do I use this…this Residue?”

    “Whoa! Hold on sister. This is some heavy shit, you have to be super careful, okay?”

    Marnie nodded.

    Dwight handed her a little box and said, “Breathe a little of this in, and dude, I mean just a little.”

    “What is it?” Marnie asked.

    “It’s 100%, pure grade A Residue. It’ll help you tap into your own.”

    Marnie looked at Bella, who smiled and nodded. Then she opened the box and breathed it in. Instantly, the small custodian’s office was gone, and Marnie was back in Denbury on the night she died.

    **********

    And it was at this very moment that Denny Woodard, alone with Marnie in the coroner’s office, gently kissed her cold lips to say goodbye.

    As Marnie sniffed the pure Residue in The Waiting Place, Denny felt a tingle in his lips that spread throughout his entire body, then both were mentally propelled to the moment of Marnie’s murder.

    **********

    It was midnight, and Marnie was walking home with someone she couldn’t quite see. They were arguing, but Marnie couldn’t hear what was being said. Suddenly she was on her back, hands clamped around her neck. She tried to scream but it was useless. As she drifted into death, Marnie saw her murderer’s face.

    “Denny, why?” she breathed.

    Then Marnie was back in The Waiting Place, gasping for air and staring into the amused faces of Dwight and Bella.

    Dwight chuckled, “Wow! That must’ve been some trip.”

    **********

    Denny had loved Marnie, in his own sick way. When she rejected him that night as he walked her home, Denny snapped. The night played over and over in his head without ceasing, a side effect of the Residue drug on the living. He just couldn’t take it any longer. One night while closing the store, Denny Woodard hung himself.

    The note he left simply said, “I’m sorry Marnie.”

    **********

    “Level 2 looks a lot like level 1,” Bella said.

    Marnie nodded.

    After Marnie’s crazy Residue experience, Management felt compelled to change things, allowing those in The Waiting Place to advance to the next level as long as they passed a rigorous battery of tests, showing they were mentally fit to move on.

    Bella passed, Dwight did not.

    The two sat in the TV room, eating popcorn and watching the new Philip Seymour Hoffman flick.

    “He’s still got it,” Bella said.

    He sure does,” Marnie agreed.

    Reply
    • January 15, 2018 at 12:37 pm
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      An interesting idea, Alice, one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading you unravel. The only complaint I have was that I thought it was a little rushed, that each subchapter, if you will, was too short. I understand that given a longer word count you could (and probably would) have further flexed your writing muscles, but it left me wanting more story!
      Great idea, and great job!

      Reply
      • January 15, 2018 at 1:16 pm
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        I totally agree with your assessment Chris. My plan is to extend it for the podcast, and explore more of the story. Thank you, my friend.
        Though, I guess it’s good to leave ’em wanting more. 🙂

        Reply
        • January 15, 2018 at 2:32 pm
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          I’m looking forward to hearing it!
          And it’s never a bad thing when they want more of what your giving them!

          Reply
    • January 16, 2018 at 6:44 am
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      This had me interested all the way, but the ending felt a bit flat. You draw people in with your powers of description, and your stories move along, though sitting in a TV room for eternity didn’t move me.

      Reply
      • January 16, 2018 at 9:20 am
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        Thank you Maude. I wasn’t intending for it to appear as if that was all they would do for eternity, but that’s just what they were doing at that particular time. Still glad you enjoyed the story up to the ending 😀

        Reply
    • January 16, 2018 at 12:10 pm
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      I really liked the first section. It painted a picture quickly of who Marnie might have been and the transition into the mayor felt like a crime story unraveling. But then the mayor never showed up again and I was disappointed.

      But then you had a different twist to your story that was just as interesting, though I agree with the comments above that fleshing out would improve it. I would maybe have waited to add the part with Denny, instead starting with Marnie in the waiting room and putting Denny’s parts together to make that part more cohesive. But fleshing out the earlier parts would probably fix this and keep it in the order you used.

      Over all a fun twist to an afterlife story.

      Reply
      • January 16, 2018 at 1:39 pm
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        Thank you Wendy, wonderful advice. I will flesh it out more when I re-write it for my podcast. Everyone has given me a lot to chew on. Thanks, and welcome to the group!

        Reply
    • January 16, 2018 at 9:34 pm
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      Alice,
      Excellent fucking writing. (Yes, you may quote me if you like.) Once again, I disagree with my esteemed and more learned colleagues. The idea for the story is wonderfully original, the characters are nicely fleshed out, the structure leads you along as easily as descending a stairway. The dialogue is flawless. The concept of a waiting room, with a brochure, is lightheartedly funny. Top notch stuff, and the ending is perfect. (Seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman’s next flick has just the right heavenly aura to it.) This is an excellent story, and even if it weren’t, (which I categorically dispute) the writing is ‘to die for.’ I see nothing to criticize in this story. (And if I did, I’m sure we both know I’d mention it.) Great story, Alice.

      Reply
      • January 17, 2018 at 9:51 am
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        Thank you Ken! And I will quote you on that, in fact I plan on using it to advertise for my next book. And I do know if you had issues with it you’d say. So glad you enjoyed the story, because I had a blast writing it.

        Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 5:08 pm
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      Yes, another good story and one where you throw caution to the wind and the story gets a bit wackier as it goes along – in a good and entertaining way.

      I too felt the disconnect between the first section and the rest, and thought Mayor Digger Vessey was going to be a central character. But he disappears. BTW, the names you come up with, Alice, are great.

      Reply
      • January 21, 2018 at 3:50 am
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        Thank you Andy, I think I’ll expand Mayor Vessey in the re-write. Glad you like the whacky names I come up with.

        Reply
  • January 15, 2018 at 11:15 am
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    Morning Ritual

    Steam came off the dark liquid, wafting upward and disappearing three inches into the air above it. It still swirled slightly from when he’d stirred the sugar into it. The pungent smell of the coffee burned its way into his nose, momentarily blocking out everything else.

    He set the cup on the square table in the kitchenette. The table faced a dirty window, the only window in the one room apartment. A naked light bulb hung from the ceiling to light the table during the rest of the day and at night. Its harsh glare illuminated most of the space in the room. He’d had it on last night, but it seemed to have burned out at some point.

    He sat at the only chair in the room. It matched the table. There was a loud squeak every time he shifted. His gaze returned to the coffee and he remembered to drink it. It was slowly growing cold. He set it back down on the table. Now there were rusty fingerprints on the mug. He stared at them until the coffee was completely cold.

    He sighed and slowly got up from the table. Dumping the cold coffee into the sink, he watched it swirl down the drain. He managed to fill the mug again with hot coffee from the pot, dumped some sugar into it and watched the white grains flow into the brown liquid. Then he remembered that the spoon was still on the table. He’d have to turn around.

    His footprints were on the floor, a rusty red like the fingerprints he’d left on the mug. His eyes grotesquely followed them back into the shadows of the rest of the room. It was dim but he could still see her, glassy eyes staring up at the peeling paint on the ceiling. Hair spread out behind her head, now matted with congealed blood. Even further back, behind the toppled over milk crate he used as a bedside table, lay the rest of her. The machete lay where he had dropped it on the bedspread.

    There was only one thing left to do. He set the still unstirred coffee mug down and opened the drawer under the kitchen counter. He picked up the hammer and spike from within and walked the short distance over to the body. The head was still staring up at the ceiling. He pointed the spike above her heart and with one stroke pounded it in. It made a squelching sound and then a dull thud as the point hit the floor beneath.

    He heard a sigh and saw that the eyes in the detached head had turned to watch him. His knees cracked as he stood up and walked slowly back to the table in the sun. He lay the hammer down and picked up the spoon, finally stirring the now dissolved sugar into his coffee. He sat down and sipped the still warm brew. Behind him the body slowly turned to ash.

    Reply
    • January 16, 2018 at 11:19 am
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      Thank you Maude & Chris! It started as an exercise in description.

      Reply
    • January 16, 2018 at 10:35 pm
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      Wendy,
      Hi there. Always a pleasure to read a new author. I really like the style and cadence of your writing. This story reads easily and amply demonstrates your skill and ability. (Except for sitting ‘at the only chair’ instead of ‘in it.’) The plot is simplicity itself, and the thrust of the story is devoted to conveying visually rich exposition, which it does, quite graphically. The horror sneaks up on us, and the severed head and moving eyes are so creatively brilliant, I wish that you could have somehow placed more emphasis on them. I missed those two little gems on the first read, and they are absolutely fabulous details. (It could be me though. I mean really, it’s right THERE. How could I have MISSED that?)
      On the negative side, the passage of time (though evident peripherally by the coffee and the three laws of thermodynamics) is not so clearly reflected in the exposition. (In other words, the coffee gets cold too fast for the story.) And the reference to ‘rusty fingerprints’ left me wondering whether you were trying to camouflage the nature of the fingerprints until two paragraphs later, (which seems needless.) Or whether you felt that ‘rusty’ was the best word to use to convey the clearly powerful imagery of a cup with bloody fingerprints all over it. (If you were deliberately being deceptive, I would say, “What for?” Because the story is so short, that would be like trying to delay ones arrival time by moving to the back of the train. Not really worth the effort. You’re still going to arrive at midnight.) ‘Rusty’ does more to obscure the nature of the prints, than elucidate. I wouldn’t use it. And I wouldn’t bother to try to obfuscate. Others may disagree. Still, other than these two minor sticking points, this is a great story, brilliantly written, with a sharp and dramatic ending.
      I can’t wait to read more of your writing.

      Reply
      • January 17, 2018 at 10:25 am
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        Thank you for the critique and kind words Ken! I’m pretty sure I was just looking for a different way to describe bloody at first as the description spun out in my head. I understand what you’re saying though.

        Reply
    • January 17, 2018 at 2:24 pm
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      First Wendy, Welcome to the group!

      Love the way you set the tone of the story, it starts out ominous and I could feel the tension growing as I read. Great descriptive story, but I think because of your obvious talent at setting a scene, it feels like a partial story, the beginning of something longer.

      These shorter flash fiction stories have to get right into it and then end, and that’s hard to do. I agree with Ken that just describing bloodied finger prints, instead of the rusty colored fingerprints, would’ve worked better, and done what I’d mention above, get us right into the story.

      Having said all that, I still loved it, and loved how you set the tone of it right away. I’m looking forward to reading more of your stuff.

      Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 5:10 pm
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      It is indeed gripping and atmospheric, an effective descriptive vignette with a gory end I hadn’t expected that makes one rethink the whole story. The contrast between the humdrum details of the coffee, the spoon, the coffee-making, the milk crate on the one hand and the blood and detached body parts etc on the other is very effective.

      There are a few places where I think the effect is lessened a bit by somewhat repetitious “he”s and “his/him”s all close together, including consecutive sentences starting the same way. He did this, he did this, he did this … It’s difficult without naming the character to vary things, as the pronoun is all you have.

      Reply
  • January 15, 2018 at 2:06 pm
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    Fantastic tale, Wendy! The ease at which the story swung from calm and quiet to bloody and horrible was both nicely and effectively accomplished.
    I enjoyed it immensely!

    Reply
  • January 16, 2018 at 1:58 pm
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    The Right To Remain Silent.
    By Ken Cartisano
    ©January 2018

    “I’m Dark.”
    “I’m Stormy.” Her voice was the acoustic equivalent of a chocolate waterfall.
    Dark adjusted some knobs, spun a dial, leaned closer to the microphone, “Welcome back to the Dark and Stormy show.” The phone lines were all blinking. “If you’re just tuning in, we just had MUFON CEO Donald David on the line, and he thinks there may be a link between Bigfoot and Nibiru.” He punched a button. “Line two. Hi. What’s your name and where are you from?”
    “John, from Buffalo.”
    “What’s on your mind, John?”
    “I think MUFON should stick to UFO’s and, you know, stay, stay out of the Bigfoot business. I don’t think it helps their credibility.”
    “You don’t believe in Bigfoot?”
    “I—I didn’t say that. I just think they should stay focused on the alien thing.”
    Dark snickered while tapping a few buttons on his console.
    “Would you care to tell us why?” That was Stormy’s voice. She was the more reasonable partner, on the show, and in the marriage.
    “Well, how many Bigfoot’s are there? One? Two? Five?”
    “I don’t know,” Dark confessed. “And what’s the plural for Bigfoot? Bigfeet? Bigfoots?”
    “Laugh all you want, Dark. There are way more aliens than there are Bigfoot things.”
    Dark hit the kill switch, cutting him off. “Next caller. Line 5. What’s your name and where’re you from?”
    “Vince. From Sweetwater.” His voice was calm, deep and resonant.
    “Well, how about that. A caller from our home town. What’s on your mind, Vince?”
    “I realize it’s the middle of the night, and I don’t mean to sound elitist but, really, I wish you guys would cover politics, or sports. I mean really, UFO’s? It just doesn’t seem very relevant in the grand overall scheme of things.”
    Dark tapped some buttons and said, “It doesn’t? Well beam me up Stormy. The nuts are droppin’ out of the trees tonight.”
    His partner, and wife seemed to add, “What did we do to deserve this?”
    “Good question, Stormy. But not the only question.” He tapped some buttons and a different tape started rolling.

    “Do you have trouble naming your stories? Are you sick of your characters?” The soundtrack of a howling wind swelled and subsided. “Deadline looming? Is your proof-reader avoiding you? Is your morgue dead on arrival?
    “We understand,” Stormy’s voice faded in. “And we can help. We’re the Gilded Quill. We take your old, troubled manuscripts, turn them over to our creative team, and in just a few weeks, your old tattered memoir reads like a Robert Ludlum spy novel.”
    Dark dubbed in the last line. “The Gilded Quill, where manuscripts go when they die. But only if they’re good, and you’re lucky.”

    Dark leaned closer to the microphone, punched some buttons on the console and a soft melody began playing in the background. “We’ll be back to answer your calls and tweets after another brief message from our sponsors.” He tapped some keys and pointed at the engineer. A stream of commercials went out over the airwaves while he scrolled through a list of messages accumulating on their website. A large digital wall clock indicated that it was well after midnight.

    Dark and Stormy were actually Stan and Debbie. They’d been hosting the show for several years. And Stan was in the habit of reading her the more inane examples of the drivel that passed for listener feedback.
    “Listen to this,” he said. “Dear Dark and Stormy, UFO’s rock.’ Well, that’s helpful, isn’t it. Here’s another one, ‘Dark and Stormy, I hate the Dark, but I love it when it’s Stormy. What should I do?” He looked up. “What should he do, Stormy?”
    There was no response.
    The commercial feed concluded, and Stan picked up where he left off. “Welcome back to the Dark and Stormy show. Line eight. Who are you and what’s your question?”

    **********

    The show proceeded to its conclusion without much deviation from the norm, and when Stan gathered his keys and briefcase, the engineer gave Stan a vigorous thumbs up from the sound proof engineering booth.
    Stan responded with a dismissive wave, “Years of practice, Jeff. Years of practice. See you tomorrow.”
    The engineer smiled. In his particular profession, reading lips was a valuable asset.

    Stan could hardly contain his exuberance on the ride home. At two a.m. there was no traffic on the roads, but for one car that seemed to be following him. Still, he couldn’t help gloating a little over his performance. So he was a bit surprised when he rounded the last corner to his house and found the street and driveway cluttered with police cars.

    A detective intercepted him as soon as he stepped out of his car and flashed his I.D. “Stanley Powell?” His deep and resonant voice sounded familiar.
    Stan feigned ignorance, but the alarm was real. “What’s going on here? What’s happened? Where’s my wife?”
    “Are you Stanley Powell?”
    “Yeah. Yes. Who are you? Is everything okay? What’s happened?”
    “Take it easy, Mr. Powell. Stand over here, would you please?” The detective guided Stanley toward the front of his car as a forensic technician approached. “Hold on a second.”
    The technician spoke quietly but his message was loud enough. “Time of death appears to be right around midnight, Vince. Carbon monoxide poisoning.”
    “Okay. Let me see that.” He accepted something from the technician who headed back toward the house.
    The detective held up a baggy with a bottle of pills sealed inside. “Recognize these, Mr. Powell?”
    “Yeah, those are my sleeping pills. Why?”
    “I’m sure we’ll find more than a trace of this in Mrs. Powell’s bloodstream.”
    “She—what? What are you suggesting?”
    “Well,” the detective drawled, “here’s the way I figure it. Before leaving for work, you spiked your wife’s cocktail with a double dose of these sleeping pills, and once she was unconscious, you carried her out to the garage, placed her into her car, started it, rolled the windows down and then left for work.”
    “I want to talk to a lawyer.”
    The detective nodded. “I’m sure you do. You forgot one little detail Stan. The door from the house to the garage was locked, from inside the house, with a deadbolt.”
    “So?”
    “So that means Mrs. Powell would’ve had to lock the interior door first, and then conspicuously enter the garage from outside. Raising the garage door to do so. That just doesn’t make sense, does it Mr. Powell?”
    “Well—no, it doesn’t make sense,” Stan admitted, “but it doesn’t mean she didn’t do it.”
    “Actually Stan, it means that the only way she could’ve entered the garage was by going outside first. But she didn’t.”
    “How do you know she didn’t.”
    The detective pointed to the house across the street. Several neighbors were standing on their front porch, glaring at Stan suspiciously. “See that little gizmo attached to their exterior wall?”
    Stan squinted but didn’t see it. “No.”
    “It’s a security camera, Stan. We’ve already examined the recording. However it was that your wife got into her car, one thing we know for sure is that she didn’t go outside to do it. So—you have the right to remain silent…”

    Reply
    • January 17, 2018 at 9:05 am
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      I Iike the chocolate waterfall analogy, Ken. An ingenious story with several clues but I had to search for them. A nice, light hearted story – except for Stormy, of course !

      Reply
    • January 17, 2018 at 3:10 pm
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      I love the beginning of the story, specifically this line, “Her voice was the acoustic equivalent of a chocolate waterfall.”

      And I like the idea of the story, and maybe it’s just me, but the clues were a bit murky, and I had to go back and re-read it to make the connections with the clues you inserted throughout the story. Even after that it was hard to put two and two together, so the reveal at the end didn’t have the surprising impact it should’ve had.

      I don’t want to be led by the nose, I love stories that give hints throughout and only add up when you put them together at the end, as in the film The Sixth Sense.

      And I can see what you were going for with your story, and enjoyed the ride, but it didn’t quite live up to that kind of powerful reveal because the clues didn’t quite add up even once the reveal happened.

      Am I making sense, if not sorry. Simply put, I had to work too hard to make the connections.

      Reply
      • January 18, 2018 at 2:45 pm
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        Alice, Maud
        I think you two are being kind. I’ve already had two astute readers who said they were confused by the story, so I was expecting negative feedback. (In fact, I’m testing you all. I know it’s not right, but I’m a scientist at heart.) Writing this story was like making a scale model of a porcupine, using real porcupine quills. (Not to mention pointless. Who wants a model of a porcupine?) It was difficult, painstaking and unrewarding. There’s a good concept buried in the baloney somewhere, but…
        The idea to give the two characters alternate names didn’t help either.
        I toyed with the idea of having him come home to a dead stormy, for shock value, but I didn’t think that would fix it. I think what this story really needs, is about twenty more revisions. (Or a shredder.) No seriously, I should’ve done more research as the story needs a better description of how things work, and how that makes the events plausible. And creepy. I mean, I know that there’s a clever murder plot in here, but I’m not conveying it very well. Maybe he should get away with it. (Maybe there should be more chocolate.)
        Frankly though, this story is boring compared to the other entries this week.
        I should probably have you gals take it down and just keep working on it till the next prompt comes out.

        Reply
        • January 18, 2018 at 3:35 pm
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          Good story Ken given the build up. Modern technology solves many crimes these days. Eyes everywhere. 🙂

          Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 5:10 pm
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      I tried many ways but unfortunately I still couldn’t get it, I’m afraid. You’ve explained it to me outside the thread, and that makes sense – but I couldn’t fish the meaning out from the red herrings in the first half of the story. I really thought the aliens had something to do with it. And whether t’s the aliens wot dun it or Stan, for me the missing ingredient was motive.

      Liked Dark and Stormy for names of people from people who run “The Gilded Quill” giving writing advice. It was indeed a dark and stormy night.

      I’m not so sure about the phrase: “acoustic equivalent of a chocolate waterfall”. Are chocolate waterfalls without any acoustic properties at all?
      “Her voice was like a chocolate waterfall” – maybe that do the job just as well.

      Reply
  • January 17, 2018 at 12:12 am
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    Premier Night

    I already disliked the film, but the moment a little kid sitting behind me hurled grade syrup at my head, I started to hate it.

    It should have been grape soda, but I assume one of the community-college dropouts in charge of the Coca-Cola dispenser got anxious working a midnight movie premiere. It immediately stuck to my hair and I needed someone to hit.

    “I’m very sorry, nice lady,” the little kid behind me whispered to me at the top of his lungs,” Do you accept my apology?”

    He didn’t know I was close to removing his 3-D glasses and inserting a bendy straw into his iris. This wasn’t even a 3-D movie, the fuck was he doing?

    “Oh my God, I don’t know what to say,” the kid’s mother whispered under her breath, “I’ll be right back with a whole lotta’ napkins.”

    Goddamn. That mom was attractive.

    I didn’t rush to grab my pre-packed paper towels because I couldn’t get over how gorgeous she looked to me in that moment. I wanted to make sure the darkness of the theater wasn’t influencing my potentially horny perception. Soon after that concern arose, an early-morning establishing shot in the horror blockbuster lit up the auditorium, and her face, as a result. She looked even better with the lights on.

    “That’s ok, I already have some,” I said, “thank though.”

    “For what it’s worth, that purple streak looks pretty rad on you. I think you should keep it,” she said, before a patron, a few rows backed ssssshed us both with a certain hatred in his saliva spray.

    She winked at me while one of her other kids started tugging on her sweater for no particular reason. This woman was somehow paying attention to the shitty movie, her Adderall prescribed kids, and me (with my stupid-ass mouth open), all at the same. I was taking way too long to turn around. I hoped maybe she hated being here half as much as me. Wiping the high-fructose corn syrup from my hair, I was so infatuated I actually considered leaving the thick Fanta in my hair to give us something to possibly laugh about during the end-credits.

    Everyone around me was laughing at some predictable canned innuendo exchanged between unknown millennial actors on screen. I pretended to disapprove of their taste but she was the only image I was processing. I tried to figure out if she was overtly flirting or just making jokes so I wouldn’t be pissed at her kids. One of them was kicking my chair– sometimes on purpose, mostly on accident. Mom #1 looked straight, but there wasn’t a husband seated next to her and I couldn’t find a ring, save for the super cute one on her nose. I despised the fact I couldn’t think of a rational explanation for her deciding to bring her small children to a Rated-R slasher flick. I wondered how much time had passed since the soda-spill and if she had already forgotten my face.

    Mr. ManChild next to me was laughing way too hard at non-jokes and CGI-blood splatter. I can usually get into these things for free, but there wasn’t an advanced screening for this piece of crap. I hate big-studio, scary movies, but the Austin Critics Association has a hard-on for genre movies. Part of my job is having to pretend I enjoy watching garbage now and again. I wanted to skip it, but it included enough callbacks to get some Austin Critics boners over this soft reboot nobody asked for. Award potential for sure.

    Everyone was whispering without restraint to the warm body next to them. Old people were exiting with purpose every time a bare titty popped up on the screen. Some kid was bootlegging the movie on his Android but no one, including the ushers, seemed to give a fuck about his misadventures in pirating.
    I hadn’t walked out of a movie in over ten years. Mother Bear was the only thing keeping me from breaking my streak.

    “I want to go home,” I blurted to her on impulse.

    “What, you don’t like remakes or something?” she asked with a chuckle.

    “I don’t like bad movies. I’m not scared, I have yet to be even remotely scared”.

    “That’s why I don’t feel so bad bringing my kids. They think it’s funny and there’s free AC in here”

    She slouched over to the back of my seat, keeping a laser-sharp level of eye contact. Her breath smelled like unbuttered popcorn. It made me want to make out with her. Even more than before.

    “If you could see any other movie right now, what would it be?” she asked.

    I didn’t have time to think of an answer before the same movie theater cop shhhh’d at us again. He didn’t mind a girl in the back of the theater literally having an audible phone conversation or the tweens hitting second base with each other, who snuck in halfway through the movie, but there was something about us he couldn’t stand.

    Movie cop asshole got up on his feet and preached, “Hey! I tried to ask nicely. I’m giving you one more chance to be quiet and then I’ll report you to an usher,”

    “Sit down. This isn’t Casablanca and I doubt you can even hear us,” said the mom of my dreams.

    The asshole curmudgeon took dramatic strides to fetch an underpaid, stoned teenager, to tell us something we already know. Just to spite him, I answered the matriarch’s question while looking the asshole in his face.

    “King Kong,” I said, loud and clear.

    We talked about Godzilla until her kids fell asleep. A half-scene later the audience exploded in laughter at a stock idiot character getting killed off in a Looney Tunes level of absurd violence. At this particular moment, I couldn’t blame them one bit.

    The usher came by a half-scene later but approached a completely different whispering white woman. It was pitch-black and there were forty of us. I probably would have made the same call.

    Once I went up to go to the bathroom, I expected a pair of eyes to follow me on my way out. Thought it would be the pissed off movie cop. Or maybe that the usher teen would punish me for my behind-the-scenes sins. Perhaps, the overgrown baby next to me had been checking to see if I noticed him stealing my armrest space, there was a good chance of that.

    All those guesses were incorrect. The pair of eyes that watched me leave were now behind her son’s abandoned 3-D glasses. She put them on for a reason beyond my knowing. I wasn’t sure if it was for show or if she had something to hide. I would end up asking her later. When all the lights came back on and I had finished pretending care about the art.

    Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 3:58 pm
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      David,
      Cool use of the prompt. People getting murdered on the screen. Nice snappy style in the writing. One suggestion. The paragraph that begins: ‘Mr. Man Child next to me was laughing way too hard at non-jokes…’ And ends with, ‘Award potential for sure.’
      That whole paragraph should be the beginning of your story. It’s a great intro and doesn’t belong in the middle.
      And then: “I already disliked the film,…
      Just my opinion for what its worth.

      Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 5:11 pm
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      Energetic and acerbic writing. Routine murder on screen as the backdrop to a brief encounter that might or might not develop into something else. I like the narrator’s judgemental and caustic comments on the movie industry and how people act in cinemas – though I think she’s probably got too much of a misanthropic edge to be likeable. But that’s no bad thing in a story – she’s a strong and seemingly impulsive character well worth developing.

      Reply
  • January 17, 2018 at 10:17 am
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    Patsy by Carrie Zylka

    Mark buried his face in his hands. He was exhausted and thirsty and sweaty and scared. “Don’t I get a lawyer or something? I don’t now how many times I can explain that I didn’t kill him.”

    Detective Miller leaned back in his chair; he eyed the man sitting in front of him with distrustful eyes. “Sorry Mark, it’s not looking good for you. We’ve got your DNA all over his bedroom.”

    Mark nearly wept in frustration. He knew he needed to tell the truth, but the truth would only destroy his family and implicate him even more.

    The Detective leaned forward again. “Look, we’ve been over this for hours. Just tell me the truth so we can take care of it. You went to John Abraham’s apartment a little before midnight, he let you in, you argued for a few minutes, you fought, you hit him in the head with the Amazon Echo, you panicked when you realized he was dead. So you dragged him into the bedroom, ransacked the place to make it look like a burglary. Then you went back to your apartment down the hall. Just tell me why Mark, just explain it to me so I can help you.”

    Mark nearly wept. “I didn’t kill him, I swear to you I didn’t.” He buried his face in his hands again.

    “Darla Abraham confirmed you and her husband had a ‘neighbor war’ going on. That’s how she put it, gotta tell you that’s a new one for me. Neighbors go to war all the time but that was a great description. She was very helpful in putting the timeline together for me.” Mark flinched at the mention of Mrs. Abraham’s name. “Do you know Mrs. Abraham very well Mark?”

    “No. I don’t know her at all.” Mark’s answer was clipped.

    “Really? Huh…that’s interesting. She knows you well enough to tell me you sleepwalk.”

    Mark’s eyes darted to the side. “That’s ridiculous.”

    “I thought so too Mark…sleepwalking is odd, but hey, maybe you were sleepwalking when you killed him? Maybe that’s what happened??”

    “That’s utterly insane.” Mark muttered.

    “So tell me…if you don’t know her that well, how the hell did she know you were a sleepwalker Mark? Was there some hanky panky going on there Mark? Were you slippin’ it to your neighbor’s wife?” The Detective grinned broadly at the reaction his statement had on the man sitting across the table from him. “That’s it isn’t it Mark? You two were having an affair? And that’s how your DNA was all over their apartment! And that’s why you killed him!”

    Mark’s normally stoic face blanched. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    The Detective grinned and rubbed his paunch, quite pleased with himself. “Ok Mark, we’ll leave it alone for now. Why don’t we take a break, I have some interviews to conduct.” He stood up and moved to the door.

    Another police officer came into the room and hoisted Mark up by the arm. “Come on, I’ll take you to holding.”

    Mark was too tired to protest, he allowed himself to be led down the hallway into the main area. The noise of the common office area hit him like a ton of bricks after the silent interrogation room.
    As they walked he spied Darla, face tear streaked, sitting in a chair beside a desk and an office scribbling notes in a notebook. She glanced over at him and winked.

    The realization was overwhelming. He lunged at her. “You bitch!! You set this whole thing up!!”

    Two police officers jumped to restrain him, they dragged him past her and towards the door, kicking and spewing profanities.

    “Do you see! He’s violent!” She shrieked.

    The hustled Mark through the door and he nearly lost it when he looked over at her just in time to see her wink at him.

    It was then that he knew he’d truly been, the perfect patsy.

    Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 3:47 pm
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      I like the writing and the story. Stronger description of Darla wouldn’t hurt. (Hair piled up with one lock dangling; sleeveless blouse? boots with fur fringe? torn jeans. Just so we can see what Mark sees.
      One other thing, at the end, ‘…just in time to see her wink at him.’ (again.) (?) Your story has two winks.

      Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 5:12 pm
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      Murdered with an Amazon Echo – “Alexa, can you get rid of my husband for me?” – that’s a nice contemporary touch in a story of an illicit affair and manipulation. I like how Mark’s guilt is gradually revealed – but it’s not guilt for the murder. By denying his involvement with Darla it implicates him more in the murder – nice touch. A warning to us all when dallying with neighbours.

      Reply
  • January 17, 2018 at 11:18 am
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    After Midnight

    “I go out walking, after midnight …”

    They could hear her voice through the thin partition walls of the police station, sad and almost tuneful.

    “She doesn’t look like the usual type. Seems to be high as a kite, though. Humming that tune and talking about some murder.

    “You picked her up down by the canal?”

    “Uh-huh.”

    “And she’s an English professor?”

    “Uh-huh. Moira Lambert, Professor of Creative Writing.”

    “Weird. Has she got a lawyer yet?”

    “Yes, they’re in interview room 3. We may need someone to do a psych evaluation too – she wasn’t making a lot of sense when we brought her in.”

    In the interview room, Stella Armitage studied her new client.

    “I go out walking, after midnight …” At last Moira sighed, and rested her elbows on the bare table. “I killed him,” she said. She rested her head on her hands.

    “Let’s get one thing clear, Moira,” said Stella. “You don’t say anything like that when the cops are in the room, OK? You’re not accused of anything like that.”

    “It’s a fact, though,” said Stella softly.

    “Just start at the beginning and tell me how you ended up here?”

    Stella leaned back, a deep sigh resolving into a self-deprecating smile. “How did I end up here? Being stupid. Being gullible. Being in love. Being blind. Being furiously angry!”

    “OK, wind back. You fell for a guy who cheated on you somehow?”

    “Cheated on me? Every step of the way. Beginning to end. I used to do some writing in a coffee shop near the university. That’s where he saw me. Saw my loneliness. Saw my neediness. First he got into my line of sight, then my affections. Then into my pants, my home, my bank account. Took everything. All my savings.”

    “Go on.”

    “He started going out at night. Said he needed money for a sure-fire investment, and I gave it to him. He loved me – so why wouldn’t I? Then one night I checked my savings accounts and found he’d taken everything. I tracked him down to that club, the Romero, the one that backs onto the canal.

    “I went in to look for him. ‘Oh, Tony. Yes we know Tony!’ they say. Everyone knew Tony, life-and-soul-of-the-party Tony, buy-everyone-a-drink Tony. Seems it’s only me doesn’t know the real Tony. ‘Yes, but where is he?’ I asked.

    “He was out the back having a smoke, with half a dozen other drinkers, propped up by a couple of girls. One under each arm, laughing and joking and cuddling … You know, I’ve never caused a scene in my life before. But I caused one then. Shouting and screaming, ‘Is this what you’ve been putting my money into?’ I shouted. And one of his friends said, ‘It’s not only money he’s been putting into ’em!

    “The others – not Tony though – all fell around laughing. They shuffled back inside, saying they’d best leave us two lovebirds alone …

    “And there we were, in silence for a moment. It was so silent. One of those windless nights, the mist hanging over the canal, the haloed moon and streetlamps giving a ghostly glow …”

    Moira fell quiet.

    “And – you quarrelled?”

    Moira looked up, with an expression that seemed to say, “Are you seriously asking me that?”

    “He tried to defend himself,” she continued. “Saying he’d just needed a bit more money to clinch the deal. And he tried to convince me I’d agreed. I hadn’t. Then he started saying how much he loved me, how it was all for me. And that’s when I pushed him away.”

    “He fell in the canal?” asked Stella.

    “He slipped. And he was drunk.”

    “So, an accident.”

    “But then I walked off. Just walked off. I didn’t call for help from his drinking buddies, or the emergency services, anyone. Just left him to drown. So, I killed him.”

    “But no body.”

    “So far.”

    “Maybe he got out, and saw the chance to disappear. Start over conning someone else,” suggested Stella.

    A faraway look came over Moira as she picked up her thread. “I can still hear my footsteps, my heels click-clacking on the tow-path by the canal as I stormed away. And then an hour later, as I came back to try to find him, my heels seemed to beat out the same rhythm, ‘I go out walking, after midnight’. That song’s been on my mind ever since, when I went back to search for him. Hoping to drive out the guilt, hoping that he’d still love me … Stupid, I know. But that’s how it is.

    “Then every night for the next few weeks, I went out walking to find him, checking all the pubs and clubs. I called all the hospitals. Not the police. I wasn’t ready to confess, not then.

    “Then one night, I went back to the Romero. And I saw someone pointing me out to these four big men. I mean big, towering over me as they manhandled me out the back door onto the canal-side. The music faded as one of them pushed the door shut, and we were left alone in the almost-quiet, just the sound of the water lapping.

    “They pushed me up against the wall. ‘You’re Tony Ascot’s missus?’ said one, evidently the boss.

    “ ‘I’m not his wife – we’re not married …’ I protested.

    “ ‘Wife, partner, lover, sweetheart, paramour, moll, bitch, concubine, what’s it to me?’ he said, his breathe in my face. Seemed like he’d swallowed a thesaurus. Maybe his mastery of words gave him the edge over his colleagues. But it was his hands round my throat that gave him the mastery over me.

    “ ‘I’m looking for him too. He’s stolen all my savings and …’

    “One of the others smirked. ‘That sounds like him!’ The boss-guy shot him a glance, and turned back to hiss at me: ‘He owes us. Big time. And if he can’t pay us, it’s down to you, isn’t it darlin’?’ I could feel his spittle on my face.

    “ ‘How much does he owe?’ I asked weakly.

    “ ‘Two hundred and eighty grand, lady.’

    “It took a moment for the shock to sink in. That was twice the money I’d given him. ‘I’ve got nowhere near that kind of money. I told you, he stole everything I have. When you find him – ‘

    “He clapped his hand across my mouth. ‘No, no, lady. You don’t get it. No one gets away with shafting me. Someone always has to pay, you see. If you can’t pay – you work for me until you can.’

    “And with that, they lifted me off my feet, hauled me up the steps and threw me into the back of a car. To take me for my ‘induction’ he said. They own me now. And you know, the stupid thing is I still have this fantasy that somehow Tony will come back, and when he sees what’s happened, he’ll rescue me. One night I even thought I saw his spirit rising with the mist over the canal. But that’s all it was, mist.

    “And so you see why I go out walking, after midnight, searching for love.”

    (1197 words)

    Reply
  • January 17, 2018 at 11:26 am
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    Alright Ladies and Gents, Times Up!

    This story thread is now closed and it’s time to vote. It is 2018, but the rules remain the same; You Must vote in order for your story to qualify, and you Can Not vote for yourself (how rude).

    Please read David, Carrie, and Andy’s story, their entries came in just under the wire, and I don’t want you voting until you’ve had a chance to read their tales.

    Welcome to the group Wendy and David!

    And for you newbies, follow the link below, enter your email address, vote, and hit “submit.” And that’s it!

    Results will be posted here tomorrow around the same time, unless Ken is late, as is his way, then I have no idea when the results will be posted.

    Here’s the link:
    http://fiction.wwocz.net/blog/voting-for-january-4-january-17-2018-flash-fiction-contest-murder-at-midnight/

    Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 4:39 am
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      I thought we had two weeks Alice because don’t forget we extended the time for the other prompts! 🙁 🙁

      Reply
      • January 18, 2018 at 8:52 am
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        Hey Ilana the prompt was two weeks. It technically started January 4!

        Reply
      • January 18, 2018 at 11:40 am
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        Sorry Ilana, we had been extending the prompts because of lack of participation, but we had nine stories this time, so there was no need to extend it.

        Reply
        • January 18, 2018 at 3:27 pm
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          Ok I was working so did not get it in on time. Will vote anyway this time.

          Reply
  • January 18, 2018 at 5:09 am
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    Murder at Midnight

    He broke her neck at midnight. An act of supreme kindness, for she was old, and had lived a long life, so he believed. It was the right time. Poor old thing. Hers was a miserable existence he thought. Too old to be of use, she was prone to falling and her eyesight was also poor. So, it was better that he ended her life now, then have Esmeralda or the children find her dead body floating in the water channels that moat like surrounded the old mansion and stables, or caught in the drowned trees that reached ghostly limbs up out the water.

    It had been easy. The old girl had been totally caught unawares. She thought she was going to pick up a puppy to replace old Dingo. Old Dingo she had found the day before with his throat slashed, bleeding over the broken verandah boards. He had dragged himself up the half-submerged stone steps onto the front verandah. There, he lay gasping by the screen door. Margaret found him and held him in her arms as his breath gurgled out with his lifeblood seeping into her tattered skirts. She wept and then waded through the water channels to dryer land in one of the front paddocks to bury him. Then she had waded in the early dawn light back to the house, where she fell asleep slumped over the old kitchen table; her half-drunk cup of tea cradled in her withered arms. Later she would rise and walk the five kilometres to her neighbours, the Lancefield’s.

    It was still early morning two hours later when she awoke at six thirty. Steam rose from the spring fed dam in front of the Lancefield’s house when Margaret tramped barefoot and wretched through the swampy waters between her place and theirs.
    “He’s dead. Someone’s cut his throat.” She blurted out breathlessly to Esme.
    “Who? What? What happened?” Esme had just risen for she had been smoking and drinking with Donald the night before. She was tired. The children had been thankfully quietly playing a game of make believe in the untidy lounge room.
    “Dingo. They … someone’s cut his throat. Bloody bastards. Mongrels.”
    “Oh NO! Why would anyone do that? He was trained not to chase livestock?”
    “I know. Bastards!” Margaret burst into tears, standing there before her friend swamp water streaming onto the kitchen floor from her saturated clothes.
    “It’s ok love. Come and have a cuppa. Here. You sit.” Esme worked quickly to put the kettle on the wood stove and stoke the fire. She then lit a cigarette and sat by Margaret patting her hands while she smoked her first cigarette of the day.
    “It’s come too soon, hasn’t it?” Esme feared for the old woman all by herself on the mansion a kilometre away up the hill. Now the dog was gone. She really shouldn’t be alone up there on the hill surrounded by the swamp waters.

    Margaret had lived a full and long life – nearly four score years. She had travelled more than most and had her share of suitors. Only one though, broke her heart. The others were mere distractions to the real business of enjoying life.
    Last winter her older sister Jeanie had died in the house that had inhabited for the past sixty years. Margaret had made friends with the neighbours who had only been in the district for the past five years. They helped her with small tasks and had even considered buying their old mansion and the surrounding land from her and allowing her to live out her days there. However, the old girl was reluctant to sell. She did not want to end up in an Aged Care facility. Her nephew – son of a younger sister was also trying to get her to sell the place off.
    “Who’d do that to a dog?” Old Margaret wept.
    “Don’t know love. Here have your cuppa and just try not to think about it.”
    “He was an old dog, you know.” She sniffed. “Bark was worse than his bite. Had no teeth to mention.”
    “Yes, Maggie. Now don’t you dwell on it. You can’t change the past. He’s gone.” Esme lit a cigarette. “Why don’t you sell to us? We’d let you live out your days there. Then Frank would do up the place. Little by little.” She leaned over and patted her hand. “Think about it, Ok.”

    Old Margaret shrugged and looked pensive. Sadness overwhelmed her lately. But she had to move on day by day, week by week. She’d had Dingo for comfort when Jeanie died. Now she had no one. She didn’t want to sell the old mansion just yet. You could never trust people. She’d learnt the hard way. Once they get the title deed in their hands, they could then shuffle her into one of those awful government homes. She sighed.
    “I’d better get back home.” She rose from the chair. “Do you think it would be better to go to the police? They might have some ideas.”
    Esme shook her head. “Bit late now you have buried the dog. Are you going to dig him up for the police?”
    Margaret shook her head. She rose silently and walked down the path to the swamp and began the trek back to her old home.

    Later that evening she had a visitor.
    *****
    “I heard about the dog. Sad business. A friend of mine’s bitch has just whelped. Ten pups. Pure bred cattle dog and dingo. Do you want one?”
    She shook her head. Too soon she thought “and what if I die? Who will look after it?”
    “Com’on. You can have a look at them. It’ll cheer you up.”
    He finally convinced her that it might be good to take a look and decide later. His friend, he told her, was a shift worker. That is why they needed to go at 11.30 pm after he finished work.
    He took her through the swamp to the old land-drover sitting near the gate to the property beyond the water.
    The canny old bitch knew something was up when he headed down towards Wilson’s prom.
    “Strange”, she said, “I never thought anyone lived down here.” She looked out at the river flats of the prom.
    “He’s got a tent down by the water.” He lied.
    Then he took her down over by the rocks and broke her neck. It was a simple matter of tying some rocks to her body and allowing the high tide to take her out to sea. He ensured that the sharks would feast on her body by cutting her body. They can smell blood from a kilometre away so he’d been told.
    He broke her neck at 11.57pm and she ceased to struggle at precisely Midnight.

    Reply
  • January 18, 2018 at 10:14 am
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    Crap, I messed up my vote

    Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 11:39 am
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      You can resend it Wendy, I sent you an email. We all mess up, it happens 🙂

      Reply
  • January 18, 2018 at 11:41 am
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    Just waiting on Ken, and Maud’s votes. And some corrections on their votes from Dean and Wendy.

    Thanks

    Reply
  • January 18, 2018 at 2:54 pm
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    Hey! I haven’t read all the stories yet. Give me an hour. I’ll have them to you in 59 minutes. (It’s 3:53 now.)

    Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 2:55 pm
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      Just vote for mine. Guess at the rest.
      I’ll let ya, I promise! 😉

      Reply
      • January 18, 2018 at 3:46 pm
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        No trolling for votes at the polls, Carrie 🙂

        Reply
  • January 18, 2018 at 3:47 pm
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    Got Ken’s votes, waiting on Maud and Dean!! I’ll give them a few more hours then I’m posting the tallies.

    Reply
  • January 18, 2018 at 3:53 pm
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    Now just waiting on Maud. I’ve got Dean’s votes.

    Reply
    • January 18, 2018 at 5:05 pm
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      I got them Maud, thank you!

      Reply

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