October 12- October 25, 2017 Flash Fiction Contest “Stuck in an Elevator”

Theme: This post is for stories related to the contest theme: “Stuck in an Elevator”.

Story Requirements: You are stuck in an elevator with a serial killer, your ex, and a gerbil. What happens?

 

Word Count: 1,500

 

 

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  • Specific critiques, comments, and feedback are encouraged. If you do not want honest professional feedback do not post a story.
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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:

One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
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 Carrie Zylka 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.

 

 

126 thoughts on “October 12- October 25, 2017 Flash Fiction Contest “Stuck in an Elevator”

  • October 14, 2017 at 6:37 pm
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    Happy Writing!

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    • October 17, 2017 at 7:34 am
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      I love this prompt.
      Being so close to Halloween I do believe I might watch M. Night Shyamalan’s “Devil” again for some writing inspiration!!

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      • October 19, 2017 at 4:44 am
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        Classic … I’m waiting for the next in the series …

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    • October 25, 2017 at 9:42 am
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      Alice: I have been away for awhile. Can you remind me of the voting procedure and where I send my votes? Thank you.

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      • October 26, 2017 at 3:11 am
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        Sure Randall, Carrie’s posted the link below (almost at the bottom of this page), choose your favorite stories and hit send, it will come directly to our email.

        Reply
  • October 17, 2017 at 8:44 am
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    Stuck in an elevator. Good prompt and there are all sorts of inspirational stories we can use for this prompt. I have an idea, but it is more along the lines of a spiritual angst, going up and down on the one spot – an emotional loop given the intense grief I have been feeling over the betrayal recently by some people I thought were close friends, which echoes the betrayal of my family when my mother died, plus other issues. Had six goat boys sold and castrated without prior consulation with me the owner and been lied to and told they were sold for pets when I know that no one buys six boys for pets. They will be meat before twelve months are out and I will never forgive the person who sold them, the same way I will never forgive the so called family I was supposed to have had notify me and the vicious emails from my so called brother’s wife are a ‘delight in vile bile” negative emotion, lies and hatred. I do not believe in Astrology as such but boy oh boy I must be having some pretty vicious transits for deception and betrayal and more horrid crap than I care to deal with. Like a tsunami of hatred and lies, like a tractor going over your emotions back and forth, back and forth until they mince you into pieces and then say she was hurting us and attacking my son – a fourteen year old boy who has never hurt any of them. But what can I expect. I have experienced the real brunt of mid western WASP hatred of black people and anyone who is different to the lily white catholic girls and boys of the Mid West. I can tell you that when you scratch the surface of a real Mid Western racist – it is a sewer of nastiness and absolute viciousness without parallel. I could never understand the story of Emmett Till – how a young 14 year old kid could be so brutalised by grown men, but after an exchange of emails with this “delightful” woman if you can call her that, I do now. There are some sick, evil puppies in the USA. My son is one of the most sensitive and gentle of people and this woman’s attitude and some others is horrific. I even wonder about the attitude of the woman that sold my goat boys out from under me. Whether it had to do with racism or a current of something. Still can’t figure it out and do not want to. I have to write and find a place of my own and try and rebuild my herd again. Plenty of angst to write this week if I see through the fog of hurt and betrayal.

    Reply
  • October 17, 2017 at 7:16 pm
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    Well, someone has to give it a go first. So here we are.

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    • October 19, 2017 at 4:43 am
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      Thanks for taking the lead, Andy.

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  • October 17, 2017 at 7:19 pm
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    The Way of the Gerbil

    “This isn’t such a good idea.”

    “Well, of all the people here, you probably know her best. Though, I guess if you’d known her better, she’d be your wife rather than your ex.”

    “Thanks for that, Emily.”

    I was still trying to process what Emily had told me. My ex-wife was stuck in the lab’s elevator with drugged scientists, several rabbits and a couple of dozen gerbils.

    “We take the stairs?”

    Emily gave me a look. “The lift’s occupied. Did anyone mention that?”

    As we hurried along the second-floor corridor, I saw a huddle of mostly uniformed people clustered around the lift. Firefighters had wedged open the doors, and stood by with cutting gear. What they were going to cut, I’m not sure, as the lift was stopped between the second and third floor. Through a narrow opening, about two feet high at most, a policewoman on a ladder was talking to the occupant. Medical teams waited nearby.

    “Ah Dr Emily Summers with the cavalry,” boomed the imposing figure of Professor Danton, Head of the Life Sciences Faculty. “You, Giles, are apparently our last hope for a peaceful resolution of this farce.”

    “Hardly a farce, sir,” said the nearest police officer icily, “when there’s an armed criminal threatening lethal action against her hostages.”

    Somehow that didn’t ring true. I could never imagine my ex-wife a danger to human life. Except through her driving, perhaps.

    Danton gave the police officer a withering glance, then added in a stage whisper, “Down to you now, old man. Just don’t turn it into a family drama, that’s all.”

    He stood back theatrically and ushered me forward. The policewoman stepped down from her ladder, narrowing her eyes at me. All eyes were on me, in fact, fixing me in a gaze of uniformed scepticism and blame. I shrugged and mouthed, “Nothing to do with me …”.

    I climbed a couple of steps up the ladder and peered through the gap. Inside I could see Jody, incongruously dressed in a boiler suit and balaclava. In her hand she held a bag containing several syringes. On one side of her, propped against the wall, were a man and a woman I vaguely recognised from around the campus. Except I was not familiar with seeing them in their underclothes, bound and gagged with duct tape. On the other side of her was a stack of animal cages containing the rabbits and gerbils.

    “Jody,” I said. “We can’t go on meeting like this!”

    “Giles!,” she replied. “How are you?” She emphasised the “you” like we were long-lost friends. I could hear the smile under her balaclava. “How are the kids?”

    “They’re fine. Looks like they’ll be spending Saturday with their grandma.”

    “How is she, your mum?”

    “She’s good …”

    I nearly lost my balance as Professor Danton gave the ladder a hefty kick. I looked down as he gestured to me to get a move on. I gestured back, “Calm down, it’s under control.”

    “Jody – I think you can take the balaclava off. Everyone knows who you are out here.”

    She pulled off the balaclava, and shook her hair loose. Her cheeks were smudged with camouflage paint. As with all things she had to go the whole hog. But I had to say, she was looking good.

    I rested my arms on the floor of the elevator, as if settling in for neighbourly chat over a garden fence. “Perhaps you can tell me what’s going on? Why are you in here with these animals and a couple of – ?”

    “Serial killers!” she interrupted. “Serial killers, that’s what they are! How many animals have they imprisoned, tortured, experimented on? How many more will they kill? And for what?”

    I nodded. I was beginning to get the picture. Jody was frequently seized by new beliefs, and new identities that she embraced with gusto. She’d been a full-on earth-mother-home-maker when our firstborn came along. I guess it lasted until the arrival of the second one.

    Then she’d left me after falling in love with a woman. OK, it happens. But for Jody this meant becoming a militant lesbian campaigner.

    Then I bumped into her one day, looking exquisite in a caftan and headscarf. She was working with refugee women, and had become a Moslem, it seemed as much out of solidarity as religious conviction.

    Now she had thrown herself heart and soul into animal liberation.

    “So, you’ve decided to liberate the gerbils,” I said.

    “Now, don’t mock me, Giles. Being supercilious was always your defining fault.”

    I inclined my head to one side, taking the blow. It was probably true. “Can YOU justify why you’re doing what you do to these animals?” she added.

    “Come on,” I said. “This isn’t even my faculty. I’m an astrophysicist. Although …”

    “Although what?”

    “We are training up some gerbils.”

    “For what?”

    “Sub-space travel. We’re locating wormholes, and want to see if it’s possible to pass through one alive. Probes first, then animals, then humans …”

    “That’s terrible! I can’t believe you’re caught up in – oh. You’re doing that thing again.” She pouted. “Are you feeding the kids this kind of bullshit? They’ll grow up so confused.”

    “On the contrary. They’re already skilled in separating fact from fiction, the most essential of modern skills. Though Anna did ask me why we don’t send worms through the wormholes. Good idea, I’m going to write a paper on that.”

    I nearly fell off the ladder as Danton gave it another hefty kick.

    Jody leapt across and grabbed my arm, as my chin bashed on the elevator floor. “Are you OK? Oh, you’ve grazed your chin. It’s bleeding a little. She took a tissue from her pocket and pressed it against the cut. With our heads close together, we continued the conversation.

    “Down there, they think you’re a clear and present danger to these guys. Are you?”

    “Well, I threatened to inject them with a lethal dose of whatever this is, if they tried to take me by force, or take control of the elevator.”

    “How did you do it? I mean, get the better of these two in their underwear. They’re both twice your size.”

    “You really think I could do this alone? There were six of us,” she whispered. “We thought the lab would be empty. Then surprised us.”

    “Of course. The animals have to be looked after, and monitoring goes on round the clock. I think one’s a research student, the other a lab technician. Why undress them, though?”

    “Ritual humiliation. Like they humiliate and terrify the animals. Just a bit of payback. We were going to dump them in the town centre. So we put everything in the lift, but then there was only room for me. The others took the stairs, then ran for it when the alarms went off. So I stopped the lift. Then the circus arrived.”

    She sighed. “I don’t think this can end well.”

    “The question is, how long do you want to have no contact with your children,” I asked. “A few months, or several years?”

    “That’s a low blow! Well, you know I’m a terrible mother. So maybe …”

    “…Maybe you want your kids growing up trying to work out why their mother chose a bunch of random rodents over her own children?”

    “But they’ll know her mother stood up for justice and freedom for our fellow inhabitants on this planet.”

    “Good speech. Save it for the judge. Or maybe we can hush this up. We’ll talk to the Vice-Chancellor. The University won’t want a big fuss, and Professor Hurricane down there can make sure it all blows over.”

    “Yes, but I want to make a fuss. That’s why we did it.”

    I leaned forward and whispered, “Take some photos. Cut a deal, and keep your powder dry for later.” As I leaned forward, I snatched the bag of syringes and slipped them into my jacket pocket.

    “Come on, you don’t really think I’d murder them, do you?” She looked aggrieved.

    “It wasn’t them I was concerned about,” I replied.

    She smiled, and her eyes welled up a little. “You’re a sneaky bastard, you know that.”

    “You know who might die, though? The gerbils. Then the rabbits. Sounds like they’ve missed their morning feed. You know small animals can die quickly If their stomach empties.”

    I still have no idea if that is true or not, but I was pretty sure Jody wouldn’t have any idea either. It sounded plausible enough. She stared at the animals for a while.

    “It’s a deal,” she said.

    I helped her down the ladder and into the arms of the police. “No handcuffs,” I said. “She’s not armed.”

    * * *
    “Police negotiator to add to the CV now, eh?” said Emily as we left the scene.

    “Yes, how did you make her change her mind?” asked Danton.

    “Well, my learned friends, it seems in some circumstances, the way to a woman’s heart is through a gerbil’s stomach.”

    (1493 words)

    Reply
    • October 21, 2017 at 5:52 am
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      I liked the way you pictured the interaction between the man and his ex, it rang true. ‘I could hear the smile under her balaclava’ was a great line. A thoroughly good story.

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    • October 25, 2017 at 10:20 am
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      Very good, pacey story, Andy. The situation is well-established, the characters are well drawn and sympathetic, events are well organized. Great last line! Belief has to be suspended a bit – nowadays the police (especially in the US) would probably have shot the ex by the time the narrator gets there. I had to re-read the opening lines a couple of times to orientate myself. Maybe if the line “I was still trying to process” came directly after “This isn’t such a good idea.” (?) Very enjoyable read.

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      • October 25, 2017 at 2:49 pm
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        Thanks, Phil

        “Belief has to be suspended a bit” – what with this prompt, lol? 🙂

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    • October 26, 2017 at 1:25 pm
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      An enjoyable story, Andy. It kept me reading, for sure – wasn’t sure how or where it would end up!

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  • October 19, 2017 at 1:05 am
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    The Way Of The Gerbil?! I think you and I have approached this prompt in a similar fashion, Andy.
    This story’s a hoot. A really good, fun, fast moving and zany type of story. Nice last line.
    Two minor mistakes. (Only.)
    My favorite line: “So, you’ve decided to liberate the gerbils.”

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    • October 19, 2017 at 3:31 am
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      Thanks, Ken

      Yes, two mistakes. “Then” should be “they” and “her” should be “their” … 🙁 There was another one I found and Alice kindly corrected. Doh!
      This one was written very quickly and edited down by 300 words. Needed at least one more round of polishing, I think.

      The identity changes of Jody are loosely based on someone I knew years ago. Our kids went to the same kindergarten. She left her husband for a woman, and then became a Moslem. She was seriously fearsome, though, and scared the bejabers out of the other parents – very large and powerful personality. Whereas I think Jody in the story is a bit of sweetie.

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      • October 19, 2017 at 6:02 am
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        Love this story Andy to lighten my heavy feverish mind with some humour. Good going. I have a different lift story based on the antics of a past real life friend from years ago.
        She gets stuck in a lift going to meet her lover. She is married. They have four children (yes really) unsuspecting husband thinks she is working late and she gets stuck in the lift with the lover going up to his office. He is her superior. Then things get really interesting….no spoilers.
        I was wondering how this ex wife had gone through all these life changes. Going feral for gerbils and lesbian, then moslem and directing to Animal Liberator etc, oh my quite an interesting life. But there are people like that, extremists who swing from one cause to another like over active monkeys forever in search…..

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        • October 20, 2017 at 6:27 pm
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          Thanks Ilana 🙂
          Looking forward to your elevated love affair – [all sing:] “You raise me up …”

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          • October 21, 2017 at 7:05 am
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            I was thinking “Love in an elevator …”

  • October 19, 2017 at 4:38 am
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    Remedy for the Broken Mind

    I was staring intensely at the crude graffiti, tags and bubble letters unceremoniously thrown up on the scratched walls, when the elevator jolts to a halt. It steals my attention. I look over at Mary before refocusing on Ray.

    “What’s going on?” I ask, sweat starting to bead on my forehead.

    Ray turns and slowly pulls his hand down from the control panel.

    “I’m sorry, kid,” he says, his voice as rough as waking up in the desert after a three-week bender. “I’ve been thinking about this and I just can’t let you go through with it.”

    I look over to Mary, the determination on her face growing with each passing second.

    “What the fuck are you fucking talking about? You saw what those fuckers did to Petey!” I draw a short breath, the memories still fresh, the memories more so.

    “Language!” Ray booms.

    I sigh. “I told you I wanted to be the one to pull the trigger. That we just needed you to get us inside.”

    “And I’ve done that,” Ray barks back.

    Mary steps forward, pulling the gun from her waistband with frightening ease. A hundred bucks at the gun store and a couple of trips to the range had changed her. Now she was a badass and dangerously appetising, like chocolate sauce on lamb’s brains. “Don’t you take the high ground now, Ray. Don’t you dare do it now when we are so close.”

    “Yeah,” I add. “You just popped two guys out front and a couple more in the lobby, so don’t start talking about what’s wrong and right.”

    Looking back, I can’t remember who had suggested this ridiculous plan, but I do know it came from a deadly concoction of love, hate and tequila. Mix that with the right tools, company and knowledge, and you’ve got the makings of a B-grade movie.

    “Look,” Ray says throwing his up. “I loved that parrot more than anyone -.”

    “It was a budgie.”

    “Fine! Budgie! But I can’t let you throw your life away over this.”

    “Petey was all we had,” Mary said.

    “Can’t you see,” Ray pleads. “You’ve still got each other.”

    Mary places her weapon to the side of her head. “If I don’t have Petey, I don’t have anything. And if you don’t let us do this, then I might as well blow my brains out right here, right now.”

    “God damn it, Ray! You see what you’ve done here? Made Mary suicidal. No wonder I bloody divorced her.”

    “Yeah,” Ray shrugs. “I can see why you would do that. Look, you’re going into the town’s biggest and most ruthless pet trafficker’s den. That mere thought alone is suicidal. Trust me. Petey is better off dead than in within his deadly grasp.”

    I pull out my own piece. My action isn’t quite as deft as Mary, but still menacing to the untrained eye, which Ray wasn’t. “No more talk of Petey. Now, start this lift or step out of the way, or you’re going to have a bigger pain in the arse than Wednesday’s Zumba night with Mum.”

    Ray groans, and I can tell he had a flash back to last week. He came home with a limp and a cold sweat.

    With the speed and dexterity of a ninja cat, Ray pulls open his jacket and extracted twin semiautomatic pistols.

    Mary changed her target.

    “Don’t let the Gerbil’s bite ya, kid.” The lack of plural had me guessing if he was talking to me or Mary. I mean, he was looking at me, but that didn’t mean squat in Ray’s world.

    I could make out the large capitalised letters engraved along the barrel’s length.

    I look deep into Ray’s eyes and narrow my vision. “You never told us why you call them gerbils.”

    Ray smiled. “Have you ever been fucked by a gerbil, kid?”

    I stand there with a blank look on my face, not answering the obviously rhetorical question.
    “Because it ain’t pretty!”

    I was wrong.

    I drop my arm to my side.

    “For the love of God, Ray, please stop calling me ‘Kid’. I’m a grown man!”

    “About to do something stupid.” Ray adds. “And stop calling me ‘Ray’. It’s either Dad or Eduardo the Justice Fighter.”

    “Alright, for the last time I am not calling you that. It’s stupid. This whole situation is stupid.”

    “No, son. This is what we call a good ol’ fashioned Mexican standoff.”

    Mary looked over at me, frowning. “No, I don’t think that’s right. Is that right?”

    “No, I don’t think it’s right,” I say. “Dad, I think you’re a little off.”

    “What are you two talking about? This is the quintessential Mexican standoff. In fact, if you look in a dictionary they would have a picture of this exact moment.”

    “Fine.” I resign.

    “Look,” Ray pleads. “Bottom line. You guys drop me off and go and get yourself some ice-cream.”

    “Ice-cream? Are you fucking serious?”

    “Language!” Ray shouts back.

    “I can’t …”

    I look over to Mary who is contemplating taking the offer, her shoulders raised to her ears. The fight all but left her body, her adrenalin on the downward slope.

    “I promise to tell everyone you guys did it, okay?”

    I chew my lip. It was quite the offer. “Promise?”

    “Promise,” Ray repeats.

    “Pinky swear?”

    “How old are you?”

    “Fine,” I say, making a show of reluctantly pushing the firearm into my belt, hoping to hell it doesn’t go
    off and blow a hole in my nuts. Mary follows suite, although I’m damn sure she doesn’t have any nuts. At least, she didn’t the last time we hooked up.

    “Awesome!” Ray shouts.

    “Dad, please don’t use that word.”

    “Rad!”

    “Even worse.”

    “Well, what can I say then?”

    “You can say how much you love us, and that you’re doing this because you care about Mary and me.” I try to keep a straight face.

    Ray sighs and clears his throat. “Alright. I love you -.”

    Mary and I burst out laughing, holding onto each other to stop us falling on the floor. “Shit, Dad, I was just joking!”

    Ray ignores the jibe. The elevator recommences its journey to the penthouse, and Mary and I stand so close to each other we spark.

    Reaching its destination, the doors open with a squeal. Ray steps out into the dark, brandishing his guns like a wild west outlaw.

    As the doors start to close, Mary shouts out, “Want anything?”

    Ray stops dead in his tracks and turns his head to talk over his shoulder. “Oh, chunky-monkey for me, please.”

    The doors close. Barks from the Gerbils penetrate our sacred space, the decent slow and measured. We watch as the floor numbers above the door illuminate in reverse order, and Mary grabs my hand. Just two kids out on a date. Our hatred for one another had evaporated into the graffiti. Our future as illustrious as the fading yellow glow of the overhead fluorescent.

    Reply
    • October 19, 2017 at 5:12 pm
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      Don’t you hate it when you read your own post and every little error stands out like dog’s balls??..

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    • October 21, 2017 at 6:13 am
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      Like IIana, I had to read it twice, then it began to make sense. I was confused over whether Petey was a parrot, a budgie or a gerbil, and since when do gerbils bark? Nice father and son dialogue.

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      • October 21, 2017 at 7:08 am
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        Hi Maud … Petey was indeed a budgie … gerbils don’t bark, but gunshots can sound like barking …

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    • October 25, 2017 at 5:44 pm
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      Really like the style of this, Ken – got a bit of a ‘Pulp Fiction’ vibe going on. Nice angle on the prompt (the guns as deadly gerbils is very neat). Also, the relationships between the three are really well drawn, little reveals coming as we go through. Ray’s attempts to be ‘with it’ are very funny. I found the motive for the hit a bit far-fetched (okay, it’s fiction, and tongue-in-cheek violence, but even so). Couldn’t there have been a more substantial reason for wanting to off the gang? The tenses are a bit back and forth, which I found a little distracting. But I must say I really enjoyed it, mainly for the dead cool style and dialogue. And the ironic ending (i.e. not a very bright future?).

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  • October 19, 2017 at 6:06 am
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    Not sure I understood the ending in that. I will reread it. It is quite an esoteric story. I need to reread.

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    • October 21, 2017 at 7:13 am
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      Hi Ilana – certainly didn’t mean for it to be esoteric. Maybe there’s a swath of information in my head that didn’t make it’s way onto the page…

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      • October 24, 2017 at 9:06 pm
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        Ken, I saw the ‘Broken Mind’ part of this, but alas, I did not see the ‘Remedy.’ Okay, I got it the second time through with Maud’s clues. So Petey’s a budgie, the gerbils are guns, they’re mission is to take out the leaders of the pet smuggling cartel, but Ray, (Dad) convinces his kids to let him do it and give them the credit. I like the concept but it’s a bit murky the first time through. I think the fast-paced jazzy writing style obscures the story a bit. (Possibly.)

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        • October 25, 2017 at 5:42 pm
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          OK – I kept reading this story until I think I have it. I like the immediacy of the first person and present tense for the tone of the story. It’s effective though there are several occasions (including the opening sentence) when a past tense intrudes. But I think from your comment you’ve spotted these and a few typos.

          The Gerbils – my take on this is that this could be a gang name. Like the Jets and the Sharks, only smaller and furrier.

          I like the central theme of the story, which I take to be a contrast between the external callousness of the group, and the inner morality and sentimentality that binds them: “You just popped two guys out front and a couple more in the lobby, so don’t start talking about what’s wrong and right.”

          And the dad who wants to preserve the kind of one-eyed innocence of his son and (ex)girlfriend. So they have one last shot at innocence like two kids out on a date so that “Our hatred for one another had evaporated into the graffiti” – good line. But it’s a forlorn hope with the world as it is for them (symbolised by the fading fluorescent light). Has the makings of an affecting moral fable, in its own hard-boiled way.

          Reply
  • October 19, 2017 at 8:59 am
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    ‘A DISH SERVED COLD’

    Methinks my ex far worse than the man pointing a gun at me, I thought, Whose face I recognize in an instant. Whose composite sketch in the Daily Post does not do justice to those rabid, glowering eyes and the foul stench he emitted when he spat out: “I hate all women.” My ex standing next to me, craven coward that he is: too afraid to defend me. Cheated on me with Bimbo Betty, cheats me on my alimony payments, and ready to cheat me out of life itself. Here I am in a stuck elevator going nowhere with the two worst specimens on the planet, because (my luck) my ex and I happened to be attending two different business conventions in the same hotel on the same day.
    “Oh, so you hate all women, do you? Well, guess what? My ex (pointing at Louis the Loser) cheated on me after we got married. Now he refuses to pay me alimony.”
    “Shut up, Marla.”
    “No, you shut up, you son-of-a-bitch.” Nicky the Nailer swung his gun in Loser Louis’ direction, and I watched the color drain from my ex’s complexion. (Yes! Oh, yes!)
    That’s the funny thing about gerbils who appear out of nowhere in stuck elevators. And serial killers that holler bloody murder at the sight of one. “Th’ hell this rat come from? Gahhh! Gahhh! I hate rats. Gahhh!”
    “It’s a gerbil, idiot.”
    “Shut… up, Marla.”
    “You shut up, you son-of-a-bitch.” Nailer Nicky trained his gun on the gerbil, and my ex rendered Nailer’s distraction unconscious with a right hook.
    “I love animals,” Loser slobbered. “Well, except for Marla, that is. I owe you, little fella.”
    Damned gerbil, I thought as I took Loser with a sucker punch that landed him on top of Nailer.
    Okay. No witnesses. Just me and the gerbil. But I kid you not: the little ball of trouble scurried to one corner, to something silver partially hidden underneath a crumpled paper cup and a few cigarette butts. Jewelry? I mused. No. Far better: the answer to this sorry summation of twenty years of married purgatory.
    I retrieved a pair of handcuffs and made expeditious use of them. “Maybe I could start to like you a little,” I squinted at the gerbil.
    When the elevator gave a heave–that was a few minutes later–I flicked the “Basement” button several times. What if people enter this rat-trap? I thought. Do I stand there and finger point? Oh, hi. That’s the serial killer over there. And that’s my ex. Both up for grabs?
    The elevator, by a stroke of great fortune, chose the basement destination, and the doors opened on two housekeepers with carts overflowing with clean bed linens. I stepped out with a broad smile as they shoved the carts inside, slamming them unawares against the back. A few guests stepped on in front of the carts, then left again, and at the eighth floor, the housekeepers departed behind their workloads giving nary a glance.
    Feeling it prudent to exit as well, I did so, to be greeted by a frantic patron in her thirties. “Did you happen to find a gerbil in the elevator?”
    “Why yes, he’s still in there.” I held the “Door Open” button, as Loser and Nailer opened one eye.
    “Chauncey! Thank God, my precious baby… Oh my… who are those two on the floor in cuffs?”
    I turned to give them a smirk, then faced her again. “I’m an animal lover. They tried to harm Chauncey. Look. The gun in the corner by the paper cup and cigarette butts.”
    To which, Chauncey’s Mom polished off Round Two. “The greasy one looked familiar,” she smiled her thanks as she pressed “Basement” and the door closed leaving her, Chauncey and me in the hallway.
    “My ex?” I smiled back.

    Nicky, upon his arrest, groaned: “It was a damned gerbil did me in.”
    Sadly, the cops let Louis go; but not without warning: “With this woman, your alimony better be on time.”

    Reply
    • October 21, 2017 at 6:23 am
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      A clever plot, who would think a big tough crook would be scared of a gerbil? At least she got her alimony. A couple of capitals misplaced at the beginning, but otherwise a bit of fun.

      Reply
    • October 24, 2017 at 9:15 pm
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      A fun story with a creative plot, Myrtle. I like the way you drop us into a story that is already in progress, with no explanation of how they got there. It totally works and a backstory is unnecessary.

      Reply
        • October 25, 2017 at 5:43 pm
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          Indeed a fun and enjoyable story, playing with a convoluted set of circumstances – just as the prompt demanded. You could use this plot as a logic puzzle – a serial killer and an alimony evader are found handcuffed and unconscious in a lift in a basement, behind two laundry baskets. How did they end up like this?

          Favourite line: “That’s the funny thing about gerbils who appear out of nowhere in stuck elevators”

          Reply
          • October 26, 2017 at 12:39 am
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            Thank you so much: I appreciate all this feedback!

    • October 25, 2017 at 6:06 pm
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      Crazy goings-on in the hotel lift! Everything’s really far-fetched, but that’s okay for this story because it has a bit of a farcical, comic-strip feel to it. The gerbil appearing out of nowhere pulled me up momentarily, but then its presence is justified well later, and it has a central role in events. Some good lines (“I love animals … except for Marla.”) There’s a good, strong female character. Just for ease of reading, the paragraph breaks could have been double-spaced.

      And … welcome, Myrtle. Hope you stick around!

      Reply
  • October 20, 2017 at 3:44 pm
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    Little Things May Mean a Lot
    By: Randall Lemon
    1279 words

    Emile’ Barth was having a horrible day. Emile’s ex-roommate and lover, Clayton had brought suit against Emile’ claiming he still owed money to Clayton for his share of the rent and the utilities even though Emile’ had quit both their apartment and Clayton almost six months ago. The really sad part of all this was that Judge Horton ended up agreeing entirely with Clayton and Emile’ had been ordered to pay the $6,000.00 dollars Clayton claimed he owed as well as all court costs. No, Emile’ was definitely having a bad day!

    Admittedly, Emile’ was something of a germophobe and a bit of a hypochondriac. He and Clayton had seemed like the perfect couple until that awful October evening when Emile’ arrived at their shared apartment to find that Clayton had purchased a rodent without even consulting with him.

    “What is that?” asked Emile’ pointing his slender finger in an accusatory manner at the cage sitting directly on his stylish French Provincial coffee table in front of the divan the couple had only recently purchased at the furniture boutique just down the block.

    “Isn’t she adorable?” responded Clayton. “I spotted her in the front window of Shockley’s Pet Emporium. The moment I saw her, I knew she’d be perfect for us, almost like we had a baby together! I was thinking we could call her, Emma, just like the heroine in your favorite novel.

    “You brought a rat into our home and want to name it after a Jane Austin character. Have you gone mad?”

    “Now don’t go overboard Sweetie. First of all, Emma is a gerbil, not a rat. She’s cute as a button! Look at that fuzzy little face. Doesn’t it make your heart just melt?” Clayton reached into the cage and picked up the furry little ball and turned towards Emile’

    “Stop right where you are. Don’t take a step toward me with that infectious plague carrier. Gerbils can carry all kinds of diseases like leptospirosis, salmonella, or choriomeningitis. I knew someone who caught the hantavirus from one and only a short time later he suffered lung failure and died. He probably thought his gerbil was cute, too! I’m afraid this is quite nonnegotiable. Either it goes, or I do.”

    Emma had stayed and Emile’ had fled the apartment never to return.

    That was how this day in early May had found Emile’, Clayton, and yes, even Emma, at Court W on the tenth floor of Memphis’ General Sessions Criminal Court. Now that the trial was over and the required paperwork signed, Emile’ had headed over to the elevator. Although he had tried to avoid Clayton and his horrible little furball, there was only one elevator open to the public and Emile’s was not about to walk down the ten flights.

    The doors to the elevator opened to reveal a single passenger. The stranger moved back to make room for them. Emile’ stepped into the little room wishing Clayton would not follow, but knowing he would. It seemed that Clayton still carried a torch for Emile’ and kept trying to persuade him to come back to him. They all stepped into the elevator and the doors closed as it began its slow descent.

    Hank Cantner stood in the back of the little car listening to the two nattily dressed men argue back and forth about the cute little gerbil carried by one of them. Hank had spent an entertaining afternoon in Court J watching the trial of some old bum that had been accused and convicted of a murder which Hank had actually committed. Hank had killed seven people in and around the Memphis area and never even been interviewed by the police. With each murder he found it getting easier and more enjoyable. As he stood by he began a pleasant daydream about what it would be like to kill the obviously gay men in front of him. Hank had nothing against Gays, but he relished the challenge of killing two victims at once. He knew he couldn’t kill them on the elevator in a building full of cops, lawyers and judges. He’d be dead meat the moment the elevator doors opened. Maybe he’d follow them once they left the courthouse…

    Just then, the elevator lurched to a stop and an alarm began stridently ringing.

    Emile’s bad day had just advanced to the horrendous level. He was stuck in a tiny, smelly elevator with his annoying former lover and his disease spewing mouse, or whatever it was. The screeching of the alarm was giving him a headache or was it Clayton nattering on about getting back together? He’d lost the court case and a good deal of his savings account and the large man at the back of the elevator was giving him the creeps. It couldn’t possibly get any worse could it, he thought?

    Hank hated to draw attention to himself but neither did he want to leave his fingerprints all over the elevator. “Excuse me, but could one of you two gentlemen open the compartment door under the floor buttons and get on the phone to maintenance requesting help?

    Clayton tried to hand Emma to Emile’ but there was no way Emile’ would even touch her so he got Hank to hold her instead. Then Clayton opened the small door, pulled out the phone and got involved in a conversation with someone in maintenance.

    While Clayton chatted on with whoever was at the other end of the line and Emile stood fuming as far away as he could get from Emma in the tiny space, Hank looked at the furry little critter held in his huge hands. He had used those powerful hands to squeeze the life out of seven humans, but as he held Emma, he couldn’t help but marvel at her. She was warm and her fur was soft. She made the cutest little squeaking sounds and Hank found himself chuckling in obvious delight.

    Shortly the alarm was silenced and after another few minutes, Clayton finished his conversation and replaced the receiver back into its compartment.

    “They say they are working on the problem and should have us out of here in just a few minutes.”

    Clayton turned all of his persuasive powers back on the love-of-his-life, Emile’. He promised Emile’ the sun and the moon but the stuffy fellow remained adamant.

    “I will not set foot through the door of our apartment as long as that creature lives there.”

    “But what can I do, I can’t just release Emma into the streets! Some cat would make a meal of her in no time. No, that’s just too cruel! I would need to find her a good home with someone who loves her.”

    Hank had no idea why, but something moved him to speak up. He was still holding Emma against his chest and Emma seemed perfectly happy with the arrangement.

    “Perhaps I could offer a solution to the problem you gentlemen seem to be facing. I have no pets at present and live alone. Perhaps I could take Emma home with me?”

    While Clayton hated to lose Emma, he had decided that he hated to lose Emile’ even more and Emma did seem happy with the stranger so he agreed to the adoption.

    Once Clayton agreed to give up Emma, Emile’ decided he could move back into the apartment once he got a cleaning crew to come in and give the place a thorough washing.

    For his part, Hank decided he would take Emma home and get her settled instead of following the couple and killing them. After all, he could always go out tomorrow night and find someone else.

    Reply
    • October 24, 2017 at 8:15 am
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      So even hardened serial killers have a soft side. I love a happy ending.

      Reply
      • October 24, 2017 at 10:06 am
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        Thanks, Maud. After all serial killers are people, too. And as we all know, everyone needs a little love.

        Reply
      • October 25, 2017 at 9:38 am
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        Thanks, Ken. It’s only the second I have written since December. I have been living out of boxes since the big move. I finally have a complete computer and have found a new writer’s group down here to replace the one I had at my former home. I think my next project is a superhero story.

        Reply
        • October 25, 2017 at 5:44 pm
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          Enjoyable story with some misdirection leading to an unexpectedly benign and positive ending. I liked the insight into the gay couple’s life, which I recognise from people I know. Very good technique for a short story here, just a few incidental details seamlessly woven in about the apartment sets not only the context but also says something about their values and relationship.

          I slightly had the feeling that you could have made more use of the wordcount available, Randall: there are some things told through the narrator that might have had more of an impact from the POV of one or other of the protagonists, either their thoughts or in dialogue to involve the reader a bit more emotionally with the characters. What do you think?

          Reply
        • October 26, 2017 at 10:00 pm
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          Randall, ‘a superhero story? That should be interesting.
          By the way, there was one thing about your story that threw me off. It opens with a character named Emile’. Initially, I thought this was a woman. I thought maybe it was some foreign iteration of the name Emily. Like: Em-ee-lay. So some of the sentences in the first paragraph confused me, and I thought you had made several errors. But I kept reading and realized that Emile’ was Em’-eel, not Em’-ill-ee. Others might not have my lack of sophistication, and it wouldn’t be a problem for them. Once I understood the gender of the characters, it was very entertaining.
          I just wanted to tell you that. Moving sucks. I once went through a stretch were I moved four times in seven years. And I used to rent houses, not apartments. So I had yard implements, garden hoses, mowers, a garage full of tools, thirty years of books. I had a lot of shit to move. I found that the trouble with moving, aside from the obvious, is that I ended up tossing a lot of stuff a way that I would have liked to keep. Especially when moving to a smaller place, as I did a couple of times. And you lose stuff, and you break stuff. Yeah, its a pain. You have my sympathies, amigo.
          And on top of all that, an incomplete computer.
          So where’d you move to?
          And about this writer’s group, is this a group that meets in person?

          Reply
          • October 27, 2017 at 5:17 am
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            “And about this writer’s group, is this a group that meets in person?”
            Why not? Apart from the transatlantic, transpacific and transcontinental issues. None of those insurmountable.

            I have met a couple of people from another online writing group at different times, and survived the experience 🙂

          • October 27, 2017 at 7:02 am
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            I would totally host a writers group event!!!!
            Chicago is an international hub!!

    • October 25, 2017 at 6:22 pm
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      Welcome back, Randall!

      A good plot to this – quite an intricate series of events leading to a nice happy ending (for now!) for all involved. The (key) moment that Hank takes Emma in his hands is nicely described. I think I agree with Andy about some of the information imparted; there’s quite a lot of exposition here of details that could have come out a little less directly, perhaps. Just another thought: would Clayton have been allowed to carry a loose gerbil around the courthouse?

      Reply
    • October 25, 2017 at 11:21 pm
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      Aha Randall glad you are back in the mob. Another straggler is back, Maud Harris. we shall have to get those stock whips going and bring in some more rogue story tellers. Fuller muster this fortnight than before.
      I enjoyed this story and it hung together in the plotline remarkably well. I probably would have Hank turn the gerbil into a killing machine if he is a good serial killer. Or is he going to feed bits of his victims to the gerbil and watch it grow into something unholy? Who knows. Great prompt this week and you have used it well.

      Reply
  • October 21, 2017 at 6:32 am
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    DANGER

    “Hold the lift!”

    I punched the ‘open doors’ button. A man – tousled hair, tie half-mast, shirt poorly tucked in, carrying a cardboard box – appeared at the lift doors and stepped in.

    “Thanks.”

    “You?!” I admit I eyed him with what must have been ill-concealed disgust. “I wouldn’t have bothered if I’d known.”

    “Hello, Daphne. How are you?” He blinked at me and shifted his focus to the floor; he’d always been a shifty shit.

    “Derek.” I hoped I’d laced the name with enough disdain.

    He took up position against the opposite wall; there was no one else in the lift. The doors closed and it started to rise.

    “So, where do you want to go?” I asked, finger poised at the buttons.

    “Where …? What, you mean, like, for coffee? Lunch?”

    I rolled my eyes, although this kind of response wasn’t particularly surprising; apart from shifty, I’d always thought him a dumb shit, too.

    “Floor! What floor do you want?!”

    “Where do you work?” He lifted his eyes now. There was something in them, something that caught me unawares.

    “Me? Work … I … on the 7th.”

    “So that’s the floor I want.”

    I put the hand that had been hovering near the buttons in my coat pocket and closed my fingers around the small canister of Mace that I always keep there.

    “Nice building,” he said, apropos of nothing much at all. “You’re going up in the world.” He started laughing his grating laugh at what he obviously thought was a hilarious remark.

    I wasn’t in the mood for his stupid puns, though, and began punching the button for the 7th floor again, as if that would make the bloody thing climb quicker.

    Whether it was a coincidence or not, I don’t know, but no sooner had I started punching than the lift shuddered to a halt. We both staggered a little and I looked at Derek. He had a kind of twisted smile on his face.

    “That’s all I need,” I said under my breath, emphasising ‘all’ and gripping the Mace tighter.

    “That’s all I need,” said Derek out loud, emphasising ‘need’. “A chance to talk.”

    Talking to Derek at any time since our break-up would have been a chore. Doing it in a lift hanging four-and-a-half floors up was going to be more like a penance.

    “I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a long time, Daphne. You haven’t been answering my calls or messages, and I know coming to your flat would have freaked you out, so …”

    “Derek, spare me, please.” I found and started pressing the alarm button. It wasn’t making any noise and I wondered if it was ringing somewhere down below.

    The alarm bell. A different one rang in my brain.

    “Hang on a mo’. How did you know where I work? I’ve changed jobs since we … So how?”

    His twisted smile twisted a bit more.

    “Oh, you know. I’ve been following you.”

    I started thinking that the Mace might not be enough, and prayed silently that the lift would fix itself.

    “Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.” This time he emphasised the word ‘you’. I swallowed a little spasm of panic and waited for him to elaborate.

    “All I want is for us to go out one evening, to try to patch things up. I think we didn’t–“

    Never antagonise a possible aggressor, I know. That would have been sound advice. Okay – call me headstrong. I interrupted him.

    “Derek, let’s get one thing straight. I’d rather this lift plummeted to the ground than go out with you again. Am I clear?”

    There was that twisted smile again. In a flash he produced a flick-knife from his pocket, clicked it open and took a step towards me. I backed myself into the corner with the buttons.

    “Please, Derek.”

    “I told you. It’s not you I’m going to hurt.”

    He held up the cardboard box with his other hand.

    “Say you’ll go out with me. Promise me … or the gerbil gets it.”

    I must admit I laughed, what with the accumulated tension and that absurd threat. But then I noticed that strange something in his eyes again and the laughter died in my throat.

    “Larry?!”

    Derek nodded and shook the box. I noticed now that it had small holes in the top. I could hear the scurrying.

    “How …?”

    “Well, you see. I gave you the keys back, yes, but …” he sniggered now “… I made a copy beforehand.”

    I could feel my jaw dropping but I quickly gathered my wits.

    “You mean, you’ve been to my flat this morning, after I left, grabbed Larry, and arrived here at the same time as me? How did you do that?”

    “Car.”

    It was a simple answer that made sense. I took the train and a bus. It would be easy to overtake me by car, then wait for me to arrive.

    “I know you, Derek. You wouldn’t hurt a fly. Just give me Larry now and when the lift gets going again, we’ll part ways and I won’t report you. How does that sound?”

    “But you don’t know me very well at all, Daphne. In fact, you never really took the time to get to know me properly. But I’m willing to let that ride, because … well … I love you.”

    I felt more laughter bubbling up inside me. Here was this scruffy bloke in front of me with a cardboard box containing a gerbil in one hand, a flick-knife in the other, professing his undying love for me. You couldn’t make it up.

    “Oh, and as for hurting a fly,” he continued. “I’ve actually hurt plenty in my life. Mainly when I was younger, of course. Spiders, too. Ants, wasps, butterflies. But then I progressed to bigger things …”

    He paused to let that sink in. And during the pause, a thought occurred to me. A terrible thought.

    “No, Derek. Don’t tell me … Suzi? Alf?”

    He nodded again. My cat Suzi had died suddenly, mysteriously … while I was away at a conference and Derek was cat-sitting; we buried her in the garden. He’d taken Alf, my collie, out for a walk and came back hours later saying the poor thing had slipped his lead. Now Larry was potentially next on the hit-list.

    The lift shuddered again and began to rise. We were nearing the 7th.

    “Daphne?”

    I was very fond of Larry, so as the doors opened I held out my hand.

    “All right. Call me.”

    Derek grinned and gave me the box. He was still grinning when the doors closed and the lift started going down.

    So then I was at my desk, Larry on the floor beside me in the box. And I was thinking. I was remembering what a boring bloke I always took Derek to be, the reason I split up with him. And I was remembering that look in his eyes in the lift. And despite being angry at the murder of my pets – I should by rights have been calling the police – something else, something bigger, began to block the anger out. I was trying to put my finger on it. Then it came to me.

    Excitement.

    .

    Reply
      • October 25, 2017 at 6:23 pm
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        Thanks, Maud!

        Reply
    • October 23, 2017 at 8:33 pm
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      Definitely interested to see where this leads to. Great story line.

      Reply
      • October 25, 2017 at 6:24 pm
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        Thanks, Ilana! (It ain’t leading anywhere else, though …)

        Reply
    • October 24, 2017 at 9:27 pm
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      A funny story Philip. I anticipated the ending, and you delivered it perfectly.

      Reply
      • October 24, 2017 at 11:45 pm
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        Philip, my favorite line: ‘Promise me…or the gerbil gets it.’ BTW, wasn’t it you who advised me that dashes are for pauses, while ellipses were for trailing off?

        Reply
        • October 25, 2017 at 5:45 pm
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          I very much enjoyed this story that builds tension effectively and is told with characteristic smoothness. And I’m a sucker for a dark and twisted ending – good one! Very good to break away from the usual stalker clichés in this way.

          Excitement – will Daphne join in the pet/people murdering? Or maybe if she still harbours resentment, the excitement could be what she will learn from him and eventually visit upon him … the ending also sets one thinking – a good thing

          Reply
          • October 25, 2017 at 6:35 pm
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            Thanks for that, Andy (once again, I’m not sure if this comment will be attached to yours – it’s all gone a bit higgledy-piggledy on here!). The way I intended it was simply that Daphne, used to a dull Derek, suddenly sees his dark side and finds it exciting (hence the title: ‘Danger’) … but your alternative theory is a good one!

        • October 25, 2017 at 6:29 pm
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          I do remember mentioning it, Ken (responses may be out of synch on the page here – my ‘Thanks!’ one was). The way I understand it, yes, ‘…’ can be used for trailing off, but also for pauses mid-text, whereas a dash is used for interrup–

          Reply
      • October 25, 2017 at 6:24 pm
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        Thanks, Ken!

        Reply
  • October 21, 2017 at 7:45 am
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    Kylie and Carl

    “Your decree absolute is finalised.”
    The judge, a benign smile on his face, pronounced what was to Carl, a death sentence; to Kylie, a relief.
    Carl glared at Kylie; half his income gone in a few legal sentences. The house would have to be sold, living with his parents wasn’t an option, he would have to look for a flat.
    The bachelor life, which had seemed so attractive when he was trapped in a marriage, now seemed less appealing than ever.
    If only he had been more discreet in his liaisons.
    Kylie glared back at him, a hint of triumph in her gaze. Half a house and half an income – that wasn’t too bad, she thought. It had been a bitter battle, lasting two years. In that time Kylie had experienced all the emotions known to man. Disbelief, anger, despair, and finally acceptance. It had not been an easy time, dividing up their assets. Who did the red kettle actually belong to? The record collection was a definite sticking point. Kylie dug her heels in though, about the gerbil. Sniffy was hers. OK, so Carl had brought it home originally, but it was as a present for her. She had taken to carrying the animal everywhere with her – afraid that Carl would try to snatch it back out of spite.
    The air crackled with tension as they approached the lift. Sniffy, in his cage, happily oblivious as he nibbled his peanuts.

    In a dingy basement flat, the single unshaded bulb struggling to pierce the gloom, a man stood in front of the mirror. The three days worth of stubble had to go, the blunt razor made little headway in the craggy features. Discarding the stained tracksuit, he removed the new shirt from its packing. A sober tie and a pin striped suit completed the picture.
    Parting his hair carefully, he stood back to survey himself in the mirror.
    Last nights adventure had left him dis-satisfied. Where was the usual feeling of euphoria? Truth be told, he had stalked the girl for a month. His feelings of indignation grew as he replayed yesterday’s incident. She was a tart, that he knew from observing her closely. The thigh length skirts and the see through tops screamed ‘trash’. Her kind couldn’t be allowed to inflame the passions of decent men. She had to go.
    Hidden in the bushes he watched as she moved to the front gate, its hinges squeaking as she closed it behind her. On 4 inch heels she tottered down the tree lined path to the bus stop. Anticipation quickened his pulse as he followed her. Sweat dampened his brow as he visualised his next move. In his minds eye he pictured the scene; a brief struggle, a scream or two, but she was no match for his superior strength. The others had been the same. The best part was watching their terror as he bound their hands and feet and bundled them into the back of the van. So what if the ropes were rough on their delicate skin, it was no more than they deserved. The anticipation was the best bit. He would explain, carefully and patiently, why they had to die, and the exact method he planned to use. The build up to the climax was so powerful that he occasionally felt deflated when the time came to despatch them.
    Last night had been different. The girl had been wary from the start. In the dark path to the bus stop she had turned around several times, then quickened her step. Finally she broke into a run. None of his other victims had noticed that they were being followed. How could she possibly be aware of his presence? Throwing caution to the wind he moved into the light, determined to catch her. Yard by yard, he closed the distance between them. Gasping for breath, tears streaking her face, the girl knew she had no more strength left. Nearer and nearer the heavy footsteps sounded. Ten yards, five… He was within reach of his prey.
    The bus rounded the corner and the girl staggered the last few feet.

    Defeated, he headed back to his basement flat. All night long he tossed and turned, anger eating away at him. The sense of anti-climax was overwhelming. He should have been able to catch her. With trembling hands he reached for the whisky bottle; anything to stop this churning inside him. Dawn found him drifting into a disturbed sleep, visions of the girl floating and disappearing in his tortured dreams.

    Kylie stood back as Carl pressed the button for the ground floor. After today they would go their separate ways, she to the house that they had bought together with such hopes and dreams; he to temporary digs in an older house with a suspicious landlady.
    The well dressed man in the pin striped suit carried his umbrella as a walking stick, oozing confidence as he strode to the lift, his brief case tucked under his arm. How easy it had been to affect an air of superiority simply by donning a pin striped suit and tie. How gullible people are, he thought.
    Inside the confined space the tension was palpable. Kyle and Carl standing as far apart as space would allow; the pin striped man, his calm demeanor hiding the turmoil inside him, stood to the side. With a slight jerk the lift clattered into life, the indicator informing the trio that they were on floor seven.
    Kylie stared into space, not wanting to meet Carl’s gaze. She felt the eyes of the pin striped man boring into her, it was an uncomfortable feeling; not that he was leering, he wasn’t, but she wished he would look somewhere else.
    It was Carl who first noticed the change in vibration, the muted whine of the machinery faltered, the lights flickered and the lift ground to a halt. There was a stunned silence for a few seconds, then Carl turned to the panel. He pressed the button to activate the lift, but there was no response. Worried now, he tried the door. It was jammed fast and the alarm button was inactive.
    Kylie gasped as the lights failed. As a child she had been afraid of the dark, and all these long buried fears surfaced. Frantically she elbowed Carl aside and started to kick and claw at the door.
    In all the turmoil they had failed to notice the change in the pin striped man. Kylie’s hysteria had a disturbing effect on him, he seethed with suppressed anger and lust. His hungry eyes lit on Kylie, her distress inflamed his unhealthy urges.
    ‘If only it wasn’t for that other man’, he thought ‘she would be totally at my mercy.’

    Driven to the point of insanity by his warped desires, his madness spilled over. Lunging at Carl, with superhuman strength the man forced him to the ground. Carl, taken by surprise, was momentarily stunned.
    Producing a length of rope from his brief case, he bound Carl’s hands and feet.
    Turning to Kylie, who by now was immobile with shock, he paused to savour the moment. So what if yesterday’s adventure had failed. Here was a replacement handed to him on a plate. With a saccharine smile, he turned to Kylie.
    “Now, my dear, you will comply with all my instructions, you will not question me, indeed, you will say nothing. Fate has brought you to me, there is no way out. You will do as I say in every respect.”
    Kylie, though shocked to the core, summoned enough courage to retaliate.

    “You lay a finger on me…”

    She got no further. He produced a nine inch long blade from his brief case.

    “You were saying…? For every threat you make, this young man will receive one slash from my knife.”

    Helpless in the corner, Carl could only fret and fume as Kylie glanced sideways at him.

    “You think that will bother me? I care more for my gerbil than him over there.”

    No sooner were the words uttered, than Kylie realised that she had made a mistake. The man’s eyes lit up as he made a grab for the gerbil’s cage. Instinctively Kylie reached out, the cage fell to the floor and Sniffy made a run for freedom. Scampering towards a tiny square of light in the ceiling, he disappeared. Sitting happily on the roof, he began to chew through the cable.
    The pin striped man moved towards Carl.

    “Just to show I mean business…”

    As Carl cowered back against the wall there was a tremendous crash and they felt a stomach churning drop as it careered down four floors. The workmen approached the lift and forced the doors. They discovered Carl, unconscious and slumped on the floor, Kylie, holding her bleeding head and babbling incoherently. The pin striped man, his neck at an impossible angle, his sightless eyes staring into space.

    Reply
    • October 23, 2017 at 2:22 am
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      Wow. Now that is some story. The gerbil was a magnificent chewer and so fast he saved Kylie and Carl and the serial killer was dead meat literally. Neatly tied up at the end. Good work.

      Reply
    • October 24, 2017 at 9:35 pm
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      You had me until the gerbil chewed through the cable. Now, if it was a nuclear test gerbil, that would be different, wouldn’t it. Great writing though, as usual.

      Reply
      • October 25, 2017 at 6:04 am
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        He was a super gerbil, Ken. he wore his boxer shorts over his trousers.

        Reply
        • October 25, 2017 at 5:47 pm
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          From Daphne and Derek to Kylie and Carl. I think a lot of couples have alliterative attraction 🙂

          Very accomplished writing. I’m not sure how you managed to get so much into the wordcount in terms of having two interlocking stories, both of which have substance and characterisation.

          I think, though, that the gerbil should have been called Chewy rather than Sniffy. Or maybe Nibbles. Either way, he’s an executor of justice. Maybe, a rodentia ex machina resolution? …

          Reply
          • October 26, 2017 at 11:18 am
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            ‘Rodenta ex machina’. Andy, that’s the cutest comment I’ve had all year ! It puts me right up there with Aristotle.

    • October 26, 2017 at 3:55 am
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      Brisk story with characters and their relationships well established. I like the cutaway to the serial killer, outlining his motives and modus operandi – that works well. The action in the lift is well described. As I said to Andy above, you have to suspend disbelief quite a bit here – SuperSniffy doing his stuff in lightning quick time. But as he said … with a prompt like this, you have to suspend disbelief for all the stories to varying degrees.

      Reply
  • October 23, 2017 at 3:42 pm
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    Stuck @ the 49th Basement level

    “Sorry Darl,B home @ 8. Working L8. Order Pizza for U and Kids. I’ll grab something on the way home 2night. Kiss,kiss love you.”
    Christie pressed send. Too easy she thought to herself. She preened her hair shoulder length curls, retouched her lippy and smoothed the little black strapless dress down over her slender hips. Then she did a twirl final inspection in the smooth clear mirror doors on the lift. The lift was taking ages. Her mobile burbled, “Love is in the air.” Blast this lift. That was Chad. Christie had all her contacts linked to songs – like work contacts “Working for the Man.” Friends had all different ones that showed her relationship with them. Dan her husband had “Dance me to the end of Love” although she had felt like changing that tune to “It ain’t me, Babe” lately. He had become such a bore since they had changed roles and he was working from home as an IT consultant. Christie had received a fabulous offer from an agency she had worked with previously. So, she had gone back into the entertainment business and was now working as an agent for several authors and an actor Chad.
    “Hi honey. When are you getting here? The champers is ready to blow and…so am I, gorgeous.” She was just about to answer him when a text flipped up from Dan.
    “What? Again. When do you expect to be home?”
    “Sorry my sweet. Just gotta answer a text. Just waiting for the lift downstairs. Be up in your suite soon. Can’t wait.” She quickly closed the phone and rang Dan.
    “Finally. It’s the third time this week. Surely…”
    “Listen Dan, I should be home by 10 or 11 tonight, ok. It’s important to keep clients on side. We are about to clinch a really big deal for this actor. We’re working with one of our authors to get film rights for his novel. This guy is going to be one of the main stars, … and direct too. Please, be patient, my love. Please. You know, I love you.”
    “Ok, Ok. But when are we going to have you home for a week straight. Lately you’re out more than you’re in. At nights, that is.” Christie rolled her eyes ceiling wards. He is such a bore, she thought.
    “Oh Dan. This is for the benefit of our family. Chill. Really take a chill pill.” She made kissing sounds into the phone. “Just wait till I get home. Ok. Then we can deal with this. Not now. Please. Love ya and I gotta clinch this deal.”
    One last turn. She felt a twinge of guilt, but only momentarily. Christie was not one given to long lasting guilt trips. She was a pretty spur of the moment woman and believed in the pleasure principle in life. If it was her pleasure, it came before everyone else. Even dear Don and their three lovely children. She knew he’d be dead to the world, asleep, if she got home at eleven o’clock. Sleeping husbands do not argue.
    “Aha” she thought as the doors to the elevator slid open. She slipped quickly inside and once the doors closed, she became aware of another presence. The light in the enclosed space was dim and he was wearing non-descript beige overcoat which blended in with the inner elevator walls. He had a fedora hat and his back was to her as he seemed to be examining the far corner of the lift. She pressed 10 for Chad’s penthouse apartment, and kept a wary eye on her fellow occupant. The lift moved slowly up. She chewed her bottom lip impatiently. The guy may just be a creep she decided.
    The light on floor 6 binged. “Oh, goody!” she thought. “He’s getting out.”
    However, when the lift stopped, through the open doors strode a familiar figure.
    “Oh, My, MY! Christine, WHAT a surprise! How are you my dear?” Christie looked at him. Shocked recognition.
    “Rodney. What on earth are you doing here?” Rodney preened in a fairly self-important manner and smiled engagingly.
    “I could ask you the same question, my darling. I have a “friend” here. And you?” Christie laughed, a little grimly.
    “Rodney, now Rodney, are you sure it is just one friend?” Rodney just laughed and Christie knew there was more to the story. They had been friends at university in Rodney’s confused days and now he was obviously just as bent as a cheese twisty. She gave up on maintaining a relationship with him because he shared himself just too freely with boys and girls alike. She thought he was just too disloyal to be honest.
    They had not noticed the man in the beige overcoat had turned around to face them. However when the lift ground to a halt mid-way between the 8th and 9th floors, he was there. He stood before them, his coat held open at the front to reveal a large intricate tattoo of a gerbil on his naked chest. He was wearing black shiny bike shorts. A cotton mask covered the lower part of his face and his eyes burned like coals above its rim.
    Rodney squealed, clearly terrified and leaned in to the wall behind him. Christie was calm. The creep she thought. He is a weirdo.
    “Nice tatt, dude. What is it you want?”
    He lifted on finger to draw down the mask. His mouth was rotten with bad teeth.
    “My little gerbil is hungry. Will you feed him?”
    “No, NO. Get away from us.” Screamed Rodney.
    “Definitely not. You weirdo. Close your coat, before I smack you one in the nuts.” The overcoat moved in closer to Christie.
    “Oh, I definitely wouldn’t do that. You will make little gerbil very cross. He’s going to hurt you, but he will make it so much worse, if….” Rodney screamed now in pure terror.
    “HELP. HELP US. SOMEONE!!”
    “SHUT UP. RODNEY! SHUT UP!” Christie edged back against the elevator wall and thought about a quick hard kick to the groin that would disable this guy. Maybe, just maybe she should thrust Rodney in his way and while he was busy with him, she could find an exit.
    The air inside the lift shimmered and suddenly before the eyes of the two horrified people, the gerbil on the man’s chest moved and writhed – it seemed to leap off the man’s chest into an over large animal more the size of a small cat rather than a rodent. It moved towards Rodney making strange squeaking sounds and pounced and attached to his neck.
    There on his neck, it sucked making a slurping liquid sound and as it did so Rodney shrank and the gerbil swelled. Christie was struck dumb watching the gerbil draw the essence out of poor Rodney. That was horrifying enough but then…as he shrank to shrivelled pieces of loose skin flaps, the overcoated man leaned down and picked them up and popped them in his mouth and crunched for a few seconds and swallowed.
    Then he turned to Christie who was a little perturbed by this time. She was pressed against the lift walls. He smiled a greedy smile.
    “Your turn now.” He said.
    She screamed and screamed, but the screams soon stopped. Once the gerbil had finished, it ran up the man’s chest and dissolved into an intricate drawing. The man closed his coat. Punched the 49th basement level and turned towards the corner again.
    “Home James, home sweet home.” He smiled. At the 49th level he stepped out into the blackness and then sent the lift up to the penthouse.
    Chad with his bottle of champagne and two glasses, had been waiting impatiently for Christie to appear, stood at the elevator doors. He was flabbergasted to see the lift doors open and see Christie’s clothes on the floor of the lift, alongside the clothing of a man.
    Annoyed he drew the obvious conclusions and threw the bottle of champagne and glasses into the lift, smashing them. As the lift doors closed and the lift descended from the penthouse, Chad thought he could hear mocking laughter. He could not be sure though.
    His testimony was later to be important in the police investigation into the interesting, but never solved disappearance of a Mrs Christine Sparkle and a Mr Rodney Bender.

    Reply
    • October 24, 2017 at 8:18 am
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      Loved it. Great imagination, especially the unexpected paranormal twist.
      Would suggest here: “Sorry my sweet. Just gotta answer a text. Just waiting for the lift downstairs. Be up in your suite soon. Can’t wait.” She quickly closed the phone and rang Dan.
      Eliminate one of the two “just”s.
      Also, my thoughts: perhaps an adjustment in the paragraph breaks around the dialog to clarify who’s who. Example:
      However, when the lift stopped, through the open doors strode a familiar figure. “Oh, My, MY! Christine, WHAT a surprise! How are you my dear?”
      Christie looked at him. Shocked recognition. “Rodney. What on earth are you doing here?”
      Rodney preened in a fairly self-important manner and smiled engagingly. “I could ask you the same question, my darling. I have a “friend” here. And you?”
      Christie laughed, a little grimly. “Rodney, now Rodney, are you sure it is just one friend?”
      Rodney just laughed and Christie knew there was more to the story. They had been friends at university in Rodney’s confused days and now he was obviously just as bent as a cheese twisty.

      Reply
      • October 24, 2017 at 3:35 pm
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        Yes, Myrtle I agree with the justs. Cut one out. Probably “Gotta answer a text.”
        And yes the other parts could use some fine tweaking, as this was an unedited first draft. You are quite right. Thank you for reading and giving feedback.

        Reply
      • October 24, 2017 at 11:50 pm
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        Ilana,
        The writing is great, I loved the first half of the story, and thought of several devious directions you could have gone, and then you went super sci-fi, or horror. Pretty wild stuff. This has the aura of a morality play. Like the promiscuous teens in a horror flick. Still good stuff, you handled it well and a very creative use of the gerbil. Is good.

        Reply
        • October 25, 2017 at 1:01 pm
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          Thanks Ken. That’s high praise from an accomplished fellow writer. Maybe I should polish it more and submit to a publication

          Reply
    • October 24, 2017 at 8:33 am
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      Wierd or what ! Your imagination went into overdrive, Iove the line ‘sleeping husbands don’t argue ‘

      Reply
      • October 25, 2017 at 5:49 pm
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        What a cast of exotic characters – loved ’em! The paranormal twist took me by surprise and is well-executed. A vampire gerbil-cat – who would have thought? There are twilighty legs in that concept.

        I did like the use of technology as a way to illustrate Christie’s character and the way she connected to relationships. We don’t often see phones in stories used like this – but this is the world now. Gives a good contemporary feel.

        Understatement of the month: “Then he turned to Christie who was a little perturbed by this time.” A little perturbed? I’d have had the screaming abdabs by now. But interestingly, she only screams when the creature comes for her, which fits her self-centred character.

        One thing – you mention polishing and submitting for publication/contest etc. If so, then maybe you’d need to think about the politically incorrect use of Bender and “twisty as a cheese straw” to describe a bi/gay person. Could have editors rushing for a safe space. If it’s in the voice of a character, that’s one thing. But as narrator, which comes across as your voice …?
        What do other folks here think?

        Reply
        • October 25, 2017 at 11:27 pm
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          Ok but to be so politically correct takes away from the story character and makes it rather bloodless and insipid. Bender is his surname. Could be
          Sender or even Tender. Now we cannot be so PC that we ruin good stories with our “correct” language. Twisty refers to Rodney who is a rather fun individual and why not. He has a twisted sense of humour, he is sharp but all and all, a bit of a scaredy cat.
          I do not think it is politically incorrect at all. People want to be precious, that is their business, but jeepers???
          Now Christie was a tough cookie who was already calculating how she could save herself. She was as self centred as anything. She believed ultimately that she deserved to be saved and was not.

          Reply
          • October 25, 2017 at 11:27 pm
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            Thanks for the lovely comments Andy sorry I did try to add that on the end of my post but something happened.

        • October 26, 2017 at 10:14 pm
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          Ilana and Andy,
          Oh thank God, an opportunity to offer an opinion.
          I think its up to the writer to decide what goes to the publisher or editor. If they have a problem with it they could let you.
          I censor myself plenty, so don’t think I’m claiming to be some kind of maverick, but I think we should try as much as possible to err on the side of creativity. I worry about what I communicate to the group in my comments and critiques. But that’s different. When it comes to writing, I worry about what works in my stories, not whether it might offend or be PC. Besides, I don’t really see those phrases as particularly demeaning. I thought they were colorful. Maybe there’s more to this than I realize.

          Reply
          • October 26, 2017 at 10:15 pm
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            Ilana and Andy, Correction: If they have a problem with it they could let you know.

    • October 26, 2017 at 4:32 am
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      Very imaginative story this, with the prompt well exploited. The way it takes off from an orthodox thriller situation to something really weird works well (I was reminded of what happens to the men in ‘Under the Skin’ with Scarlett Johansson – have you seen that?). The main character’s strong, in terms of what she wants from life and how she handles tough situations (until the final moments, that is – to maintain her strength of character, she could maybe say “Shit!” or something like that at the end, rather than scream.) I agree with Andy about the language to describe Rodney. If Christie had used it, fair enough – that would be a part of her character – but coming from the narrator … I don’t think so.

      Reply
      • October 27, 2017 at 4:10 am
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        Thank you for the feedback Phil as usual very to the point. I take on board what you are saying, but I am going to say that it adds to the story. It is what Christie is thinking. She is /was genuinely fond of Rodney because he is a sweetie, but a bit flippant and a gadabout guy. He was kind of deciding whether he was gay or bi when he became Christie’s paramour so to speak, at Uni. She has always two timed and followed her own desires and was geniunely the female Dona Juana. So poor Rodney became rather hurt and decided to give women away altogether. He basically likes women but has a domineering mother who is a lawyer and a judge for a father. Father Sir Rodney Sigfried Bender IV is very philosophical and gentle, too gentle on the criminals and his mother Deidre is the opposite. She is a prosecutor, she tears criminals’ balls out with her naked teeth, minces them up and rolls them into rollies, smokes them, and uses the blood for lipstick. She is a monster woman and criminals plead with their lawyers to allow them a guilty plea rather than come before her. Rodney is the Rodney Sigfried Bender V. Christie’s father spoilt her rotten. Mum was from the wrong side of town and a flight attendant on North West Airlines, therefore poor Christie had no moral training what so ever. Christie’s father was a businessman and into IT and travelled the world overseeing the installation security systems and body indentification software for firms all around the world. Therefore mother had boyfriends and despite having the best of everything per the father, Christie’s mother drank and self medicated herself to death when Christie was in her late teens. At that point, Christie discovers that her father is quite a weird man. He has a fetish for ears and neck napes. He has a girlfriend who he pays to tattoo a long cobra behind her ear and run it down her neck.
        How is it going? Bit of a story here. Hope I have put it into context and show rather than tell those events. You could use flashbacks to convey the sense of angst as Christie navigates her lovelife always looking for that extra bit of excitement and trying to fill a fairly empty existence.
        So that is only a minor part of the story. Don’t me wrong, Phil when I say this, I do not want you to go into publishing. Stick to writing your own stories. A publisher has to be adventueous and not so politically correct. I had PC. I do like MILO Younglopolus I do know that is not how you spell it. Milo Yiannopoulpos! Just because he is NOT so PC.

        Reply
        • October 27, 2017 at 10:32 am
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          I think you need to be a bit more thorough with shading in the background of your characters, Ilana! (*)

          “So that is only a minor part of the story.” And it was only a minor part of my brief critique. I think you (and Ken) have us (Andy and me) wrong – we (please correct me if you don’t share my opinion, Andy) are not saying that un-p.c. stuff doesn’t have a place in stories, just that you need to choose carefully where it comes from. As far as I understand it, formally, it shouldn’t be in the voice of the omniscient narrator (which is what you use in your story) because the o.n. should be neutral. He/She can comment on people’s sexuality, for example, only through what the characters think and say, unless the narrator is a character him/herself (like in Ken’s story). “…he was obviously just as bent as a cheese twisty” sounds like the narrator’s opinion. If you had Christie saying or thinking that, then it would be a different matter because then that would reflect a facet of her character. As it’s written at the moment, it doesn’t.

          (*) Joking!

          Reply
  • October 24, 2017 at 12:52 am
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    Filed Under Gerbil Knowledge. (1483 words.)
    By Kenneth Cartisano ©2017

    Chapter One

    “Janie!” I huffed. “What’re you doing here?”

    Something in her eyes made me turn around.

    There was a man standing opposite us, holding a gerbil in a cage. He stared at the wall, waiting for the doors to close. Seemed normal enough.

    I pushed the ‘first floor’ button and turned to my ex-wife. We’d been divorced so long, I forgot she was ten years younger than me. She wore a dark knee length skirt, and a shear white blouse that revealed tantalizing vistas of playtex. It was her signature look. Alluring. “How’ve you been?” I said as the doors closed behind me.

    She seemed nervous. “Can’t complain. How ‘bout you?”

    The elevator began moving up, instead of down.

    “Meh, I’d say my sex life sucks but I don’t actually have one.” I think that made her blush, but I was just trying to be funny. “No seriously,” I quickly changed tack. “I thought you and Jeff were moving to the west coast.”

    “We are, it’s just—complicated: the job change, finding a house, child-care. Thank God he handles most of the details. I’d be lost without him.”

    I didn’t feel like that needed a response, and I couldn’t think of one anyway, when we arrived at the fifth floor.

    Chapter Two

    …The doors opened, there was no one there, none of us wanted to get off, so it was a bit awkward as we stood there waiting for the doors to close. The elevator descended several floors before coming to a slow and gentle halt. The floor indicator light remained blank.

    My ex was the first to figure it out. “Oh my God, we’re stuck between floors.”

    The man with the gerbil remained silent. I was tempted to ask, ‘Does this happen to you often?’ But thought better of it.

    Janie and I pulled out our cell phones simultaneously, searched for a signal, failed to find one, and tried to make a call anyway. My ex-wife turned and faced the door, as if that would give her some privacy. Me? I found myself looking at an ass that was once dear to me. I may have sighed. I shifted my gaze to the multi-colored gerbil and wondered whether it was a boy or a girl.

    The phones didn’t work.

    Chapter Three

    I guess it’s impractical to put air conditioning in elevators, because we’d only been stuck for a minute or two and it was already beginning to feel hot and stuffy.

    All elevators come equipped with a small compartment that usually contains a phone for emergencies. This one was inconveniently close to the floor, beneath the buttons. Janie squatted next to me while I went to one knee to access it. Her modest skirt rode up her thigh a little and she made a point of pulling the hem toward her knees once or twice. I don’t remember her being that modest.

    The emergency phone turned out to be more like an intercom. She pushed a red button and we could hear a phone ringing through the speaker. A courteous woman with a pleasant voice came on the line. “Yesss? May I help you?”

    “We’re stuck in an elevator. We need assistance.”

    Janie provided our location, thank goodness, after which we were politely informed that help should arrive within five minutes. I grunted as I stood up straight.

    The man with the caged gerbil maintained his aloof manner. I gazed at him even more impassively than he appeared to contemplate the wall. Faded plaid shirt, non-descript beige pants: His attire coerced you into looking away. Ordinarily I would, but under the circumstances, his behavior almost annoyed me.

    “Is that a gerbil?” Janie asked him, trying to break the ice.

    “It’s a rat, not a gerbil,” he said gruffly.

    “Looks like a gerbil to me,” I mumbled, developing a sudden interest in the ceiling, instinctively searching for an escape hatch.

    Janie nudged me. She was wearing her favorite perfume. “What are you, a rodent expert?” She hissed. “I would think the man knows whether his pet is a rat or a gerbil. Wouldn’t you?”

    Come to think of it, it was MY favorite perfume, not hers.

    I was more interested in getting out of the elevator than arguing the point, but if the elevator had an escape hatch, I couldn’t see it, and it was too high to reach without a ladder anyway. There was nothing to do but wait.

    And it was a gerbil, not a rat. The man lied for no apparent reason.

    Chapter Four

    Janie and I passed the time exchanging bits of small talk. ‘Ever been stuck in an elevator before? No? Me either. How’s your mom? Dad? Your older sister? The younger one? What about the cute one? Then she told me she was pregnant, again.’

    I looked at my watch. It’d been more than ten minutes. No comments from the man or his gerbil. I squatted by the intercom and pushed the button again.

    “Jyesss? How can I help you?”

    “This is one of the people stuck in the elevator again.”

    “Ah jess, help is on the way, sir. I already call them.”

    “Right. Is this the maintenance crew we’re waiting on, or what?”

    “Oh no, sir. I call the fire department. Always the fire department.”

    “Are you here on the property?”

    After a brief pause, “No sir. I’m in Windermere.”

    “Windermere? Where’s Windermere?”

    “It’s in Florida, sir.”

    “Oh, okay.” I was mindful of my attitude, since she was our only link to the outside world. “So you wouldn’t actually know when the fire trucks arrive.”

    “Oh no, sir. I’m in a different city. I get calls from all over.”

    “Okay,” I sighed. “Did I mention which building we’re in?”

    “Yes sir, I have jour address.”

    “We’re in Building 14.”

    “Yes sir, I’ve already called it in. They should be arriving soon. Thank you sir.” Then we got a dial tone.

    I looked up at Janie. “I don’t think she understood.”

    She gave me that, ‘maybe you should do something,’ look.

    Sure, but what? Just above the intercom was a button labeled, ‘Alarm.’ I pointed to it. “What d’ya think?” I said.

    It looked like she thought I was really asking. “What if it’s loud,” she said, “and we can’t shut it off?”

    I pushed the button and…

    Chapter Five

    …Somewhere outside a bell started clanging. When I released the button it stopped. I started using it to send out an S.O.S: Long, short, long, pause: Clangangangangangang, clang, clangangangangangang. Clever, no? A minute later we heard voices. “We’re going to get you out. Just hang on.”

    “Thank you.” We shouted back.

    Within minutes the elevator resumed its descent, came to a stop, and opened its doors. Two firefighters were waiting and told us it was a good thing that we rang the bell because there were 15 buildings in the complex and the operator never told them which building we were in. We thanked the firefighters again, whereupon they left for another call.

    “It was nice seeing you again, Janie.” I made it sound like I meant it.

    Her reply was noncommittal “Yeah. Take it easy.”

    I watched wistfully as she walked to her car and got in. She didn’t look back.

    The man with the gerbil had slipped away, unnoticed.

    Epilogue

    A few days later, I happened to catch a bulletin about a series of unsolved murders committed in the vicinity. The police suspected it was the work of a serial killer and divulged scant details for obvious reasons, but they did reveal one significant similarity in all the murders. Every one of them had been committed in or near an elevator.

    As a precaution, I reported my experience to the police. A detective arrived within the hour. As soon as I let him in, it dawned on me that I couldn’t remember anything about the stranger other than his ugly clothes and multi-colored gerbil.

    “Nobody knows about the gerbil,” the detective said, “except us. We got traces of its hair at every crime scene.”

    “So who is he?” I asked. “The killer, I mean.”

    “We don’t know, but we’re pretty sure he’s killed eight people—that we know of.”

    Then he asked me if my ex and I were on good terms.

    “We don’t talk,” I admitted.

    “Did she remarry?”

    “Yeah.”

    “What’s her last name?”

    I told him.

    His eyes narrowed as he stood up. “We’ll be in touch.”

    He contacted me a few days later by phone. “Thought you’d like to know your ex-wife is okay, Mr. Jones.”

    “That’s good.”

    “I wasn’t required to divulge the exact nature of my investigation,” he added. “So I didn’t. When I questioned her, she assumed I was investigating you. I hope that’s not too inconvenient for you.”

    “You didn’t tell her about the serial killer?”

    “No sir.”

    “Well—I think you did the right thing, Detective.”

    Reply
    • October 24, 2017 at 8:53 am
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      I wonder if the man said the gerbil was a rat because he knew the police were looking for a gerbil .

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      • October 24, 2017 at 10:55 pm
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        Maud,
        regarding: ‘he knew the police were looking for a gerbil.’
        I didn’t even think of that. It’s a good excuse for his anti-social behavior which is not typical for a serial killer. (Although it’s not out of the question, but) a lot of serial murderers appear pretty normal. I read a book (one book only) about serial killers once. There’s no specific pattern (if only there was) and some, of course, can be downright charming, charismatic and gregarious.
        Now that I think of it, my killer should’ve claimed his gerbil was a hamster. Don’t they look similar? More similar than a rat, at least.

        Reply
    • October 26, 2017 at 4:58 am
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      Liked this story, Ken. I’m in the slipstream of Ilana and Andy so don’t need to say much because I agree with them. liana says she wanted more at the end – me too. I re-read the ending a couple of times to see if I was missing a subtle twist, but no. And I agree with Andy about the tension, great dialogue (as always) and lust. Speaking of which … it’s sexist but okay (I think) because it’s one of the characters (in this case the narrator) talking (c.f. Ilana’s story, where the narrator is omniscient) … I thought the ‘chapter’ idea was unnecessary and a little distracting.

      Reply
      • October 26, 2017 at 9:16 pm
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        Thanks for the feedback Philip, Ix-nay on the apter-chay.
        Note to self: Don’t put chapters in a short story. Not even short ones. I don’t know why I did it. I have no excuse. Maybe I just wanted attention. It was a desperate plea for help. (Okay, now I’m getting carried away.) I mean, I’ve written a lot of stories, as you know, and I have never put a chapter in even one of them before. Pretty strange behavior, even for a writer. Seriously though, thanks. That’s 1 vote against, and 0 votes for. It’s a unanimous landslide. (It’s possible no one else noticed, so it would be good if we didn’t mention it anymore. We’ll just put it behind us, as it were.)
        We’ll shake it off and move on.

        You know, I might, just, try it one more time.

        Reply
  • October 24, 2017 at 4:41 am
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    Blown away with that one Ken. Nice writing. Although I wanted something more in the ending. It was a bit of anti climax at the end. So they serial killer was not caught then?

    Reply
    • October 24, 2017 at 11:25 pm
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      Thanks for the feedback, Ilana. I wasn’t thrilled with the story. It had a lot of crap attached that, for some reason, required a chisel to remove. It was not fun to write. I spent way too much time on it and it doesn’t feel like it was worth it. I feel like I have ‘write-arrhea’. Lots of words, none of them good. Maybe I was more faithful to the image of my ex than I was to the story I wanted to write.

      Sorry to hear about your goats and your crappy friends. With all the shit that happens to us, you’d think most people wouldn’t fight so hard to survive. But we do. I think that is one of the most redeeming traits of humanity, we don’t ‘go quietly’ into that good freaking night.

      Reply
      • October 25, 2017 at 1:04 pm
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        Yes totally.

        Reply
  • October 24, 2017 at 4:41 am
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    Blown away with that one Ken. Nice writing. Although I wanted something more in the ending. It was a bit of anti climax at the end. So they serial killer was not caught then?

    Reply
    • October 25, 2017 at 5:51 pm
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      A story with tension, good natural dialogue revealing a man’s residual affection/lust for his ex. Or maybe for any attractive woman, who knows? And I like the way the tension and growing urgency in the lift contrasts with the prosaic and haphazard way their emergency is handled from outside. Modern life, eh?

      In the end it comes across a bit like an art-house film, probably a French one. One of those ones with an awkward relationship and interesting characters, a mysterious moment and an unresolved ending. One for Cannes more than Hollywood.

      Wasn’t sure how his old donkey got into the lift, though, guess it just adds quirkiness …. (“I found myself looking at an ass that was once dear to me.”)

      I think it would actually work as a longer short story, like a Chekhov one that reflects on a relationship. I really like the idea of an unwitting brush with death as the setting for that.

      Reply
      • October 26, 2017 at 7:05 pm
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        First off, I love your critiques Andy. It’s like seeing the stories under ultra-violet light.
        As for my story, I guessed that the standard approach to the prompt would include violence, (serial killer + ex-wife + gerbil = violence.) My intent was to create a story that had a different outcome. (Considering the prompt, it wasn’t that easy to do.) I think it was a good idea, but not so well executed. I wanted to portray the ex-husband in a much less accommodating light. (Still angry, cold, or completely ambivalent.) And perhaps, in a further revision, he could suggest keeping the truth from his ex, rather than having the detective do it. (?) I didn’t intend for him to appear attracted to her, but at the same time, I wanted her to BE attractive. It was a sticky wicket.

        Reply
        • October 27, 2017 at 5:07 am
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          “As for my story, I guessed that the standard approach to the prompt would include violence, (serial killer + ex-wife + gerbil = violence.) My intent was to create a story that had a different outcome”
          – That originality was indeed one of the many things I liked about your story, Ken.
          And the potential of what could be done with the ‘sliding doors’ (elevator doors) moment when things could have been different ..

          Reply
  • October 24, 2017 at 5:18 pm
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    Hello you all 🙂

    Phil told me about this very interesting group and I’ve been following these posts for a few weeks, but I never finish a story in time! Today I had a story for this prompt, but it’s too big, and I didn’t follow the prompt with precision (I was writing away from mt computer)…

    Are the next prompts available already? Or is the short time period to think about it part of the challenge?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • October 24, 2017 at 5:45 pm
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      Hi Fernando, sorry you won’t be able to get your story in this week. The contest concludes tomorrow, and voting will begin. Then Thursday afternoon, the results will be posted along with the new prompt.

      You can still vote for your favorite story tomorrow if you’d like. Looking forward to seeing your story soon.

      Reply
    • October 24, 2017 at 10:10 pm
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      Hi Fernando,
      Welcome to ‘Le Groupe.’ Alice won’t admit it but yes, the deadline is part of the challenge. And seeing how many different ways a prompt can be dealt with is part of the fun.

      Reply
      • October 25, 2017 at 2:50 pm
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        Thanks for the welcome. Maybe I’ll wait for more quieter times 🙂

        Reply
        • October 26, 2017 at 5:00 am
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          Nah! Get stuck into the next prompt, Fernando!

          Reply
  • October 24, 2017 at 10:36 pm
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    Going Down (1,254 words)
    Written by Christopher Smith
    © 2017

    She was waiting for him on the elevator. He hadn’t been expecting her but was pleased that she was there, tall and slim and beautiful, but somehow dull and sullen…except for her eyes, which were wide and wet and wondering, pleading. Her gaze then turned to her bare feet, and he had only a moment to wonder where her shoes had gone when the doors began to close. Startled, he stuck out a foot and stopped them from closing completely; although there was a moment when he thought they would do just that, shut despite the work of his size-eleven Adidas. The doors sprung back, allowing him another chance, and this time he took it.

    In one hand he held his phone. He had been checking something but couldn’t remember what; it felt distant and unimportant now, and he slipped the phone into his back pocket.

    In his other hand was a carrying case—more of a cage—and in it was Sam, his gerbil. He had left the apartment quickly and hadn’t been thinking clearly. He supposed that a suitcase filled with clothes and a few other essentials would have been a more logical choice but he had been under a large amount of pressure and that little voice inside had been telling him to leave, to get the fuck out of there and worry about his stuff later. He could stop somewhere and pick up a few things if needed. But Sam had called to him (not literally; he wasn’t that crazy), and so after washing his hands he had scooped Sam’s handled cage off of the low bookcase by the fireplace and bolted for the door, for the elevator.

    And now here she was, there but somehow not there, and he felt as though he had better get to talking, better explain his side of things before this thing really went south.

    He tried to speak and when nothing came out he rubbed his temples with one hand, wiped his eyes, pinched his nose, and regrouped. He set Sam down on the elevator’s floor and, in realizing he hadn’t selected a floor, that the elevator doors had slid closed and was only sitting there, reached past her and pushed the button marked *L. The elevator began its decent, and it felt good to be moving; it was a good way to get their conversation started, he felt, and so he tried, and once again failed.

    At his failure she glanced up, her eyes now seeming to float in water, and he expected the tears to spill down her cheeks but they didn’t, and he was at a loss. She stared at him, struggling for a way to start herself, and in seeing her struggle his mouth was jump-started.

    “I’m sorry.” It was a good place to begin, a noble way, but in the enclosed space (that was feeling tighter and tighter the lower they travelled) it sounded dead and weak and meaningless.

    It shouldn’t be this difficult, he thought, and in his frustration he once again reached past her, this time pulling the knobbed emergency stop button. They jolted to a halt. He reached out at hand as if to support her but thought better of it and retracted his hand. She may not want to be touched, he guessed. Instead, he knelt and placed a hand gently on Sam’s cage and checked on him. The rodent was fine.

    He stood, glad that he now had the time to express himself properly, happy that he could take a minute to compose himself and make it all right. Of course his intentions were good, and having it play out like that would be harder than hoping they would. But he would try; it was the least he could do.

    “There was another girl—”

    Her eyes locked on his, blazing yet cold. In them he saw a sad mixture of pain and anger, and he swallowed and started again.

    “Okay—other girls—and it wasn’t right how I treated you.” But I was angry, he had meant to say, but stopped himself because that would only make things worse. “There is no excuse for it. It was wrong and I will never be able to take it back and all I wish is that you could forgive me, that we could forget anything bad that happened and things could go back to how they were not long ago.” He was rolling now, a near blubber, but he didn’t mind because he was talking, and he hoped that she wouldn’t mind because somewhere deep down she would see that he was trying and if trying meant that he could perhaps get her back then he would put all of everything he had into it.

    “When the anger comes,” he continued, “it is a pressure that you can’t imagine. It is because I love you that I get that way, you must understand that.” She didn’t understand—not even close; he could tell be the way those eyes, now filled with not anger but pain and confusion, were gazing at him, questioning.

    As a last-ditch effort he pleaded, near whined: “You’re my girlfriend, for Christ’s sake!” His words echoed in the small space, and at them she shrunk away, and he knew he had lost her for good.

    Not my girlfriend, he amended, but my ex-girlfriend. She is your ex-girlfriend now, friend. It was a realization with such weight that he turned away from her for fear that she would see him crying.

    He knew that she had so many questions—too many—and also knew that even if they stayed here the entire evening trying to answer them he would only come up short and she would be further disappointed and it would get them nowhere.

    And this is when he thought that her seeing him cry may work. If she could see how sensitive and vulnerable he really was, how much she meant to him, then this may work out in his favour after all. When he turned back toward her she was gone. He was alone, save for Sam, and somewhere deep inside, he knew this would happen, if only because he had lived it before.

    He walked to her side of the elevator and touched the sleek wall, as if doing this would bring her back. After a moment he disengaged the emergency stop button and, just as suddenly as they had stopped, he began to descend. He bent to pick up Sam’s cage, and cradled it in his arms, close to his chest.

    When the elevator stopped and the doors slid open he was fine again, all better. There would be someone else eventually, and when he met her he would make sure to treat her properly.

    **********

    The police showed up not long after he had buckled the cage into the passenger-side seat and began his journey to somewhere new. They pulled him over only two hours after he had hit the highway, heading south for Miami.

    When they searched the apartment they found her dressed and dead on the kitchen floor, her tongue missing. In searching the apartment more thoroughly, a young officer by the name of Stanton noticed a darkened version of it in the frying pan mixed in with the noodles and butter and pesto, exactly like the other three girls. Stanton thought, however, that this one looked glazed, and guessed that the killer had probably cared for her if only slightly more than the others.

    Reply
    • October 26, 2017 at 5:19 am
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      Terrific story, taking a standard scenario (serial killer fleeing from scene) and giving it and the killer himself real depth. I like stories where we’re fed information without a lot of explanation and we’re required to fit the pieces together, and this is what happens here, leading to some really fantastic reveals that are all the more satisfying because so tantalizing. There are a lot of great lines, but (I don’t know why) I love “a young officer by the name of Stanton” – the fact you gave such an incidental character a name … it just works for me. Great stuff!

      Reply
      • October 26, 2017 at 1:46 pm
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        Thank you, Phil.
        I wish I could take credit for planning the story out this way. I simply sat down and started banging the keys. An hour and a half later the story was written. It doesn’t often happen this way, but it is nice when it does.
        As for Officer Stanton, once I switched from the killer’s attempted escape to the very brief scene in the apartment I thought, “This is where a new story begins,” and if I had to write that one (which I just may) I pictured the police officer to be the main character, hence the name; all main characters should have one. (Although I guess I didn’t name the killer in this story, did I? However, the gerbil got one!)

        Reply
    • October 26, 2017 at 7:31 pm
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      When people say to me, ‘This has been done before.’ I usually reply, “Not by Me, it hasn’t.” Which, as you can see, is a terrible sentence. But its alllll mine, baby.
      That having been said, I thought it was a great story, your writing is superb. It’s so easy to read, digest and comprehend.
      I had no problem with the gerbil. I especially noticed how considerate and gentle he was with it. You were leading us down the primrose path. I felt like the gerbil was a bit of normalcy in an otherwise bizarre life. This is a good way to give an malevolent character depth. (If only I could remember that!) Great story Christopher.

      Reply
      • October 27, 2017 at 7:13 am
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        Thanks, Ken!

        Reply
  • October 25, 2017 at 6:37 am
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    Brilliant story. I suspect that his guilt was making him hallucinate? A creepy cannibal story.

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    • October 25, 2017 at 5:52 pm
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      Excellent story going deep into the soul of a serial killer – and his narcissistic worldview. Very good characterisation – the killer seeking understanding from his victim.

      Not quite sure how the gerbil fits in – just a little something to humanise him? Or is it the voice he hears from Sam that impels him to do what he does?

      Lots of good lines. I like the sinister edge to this one: “There would be someone else eventually, and when he met her he would make sure to treat her properly.”

      Reply
      • October 25, 2017 at 7:48 pm
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        Thanks, Andy. I appreciate it.
        To be honest, I’m not so sure how the gerbil fits in, either. When writing the story it I felt like he needed something to ground him, something that was real and his, because so many other things around him felt fabricated and untouchable. I also liked how it seemed this gerbil probably held a bigger place in his heart than any of the other victims did, despite his claim of how much he loved this girl.

        Reply
        • October 26, 2017 at 8:42 pm
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          Also loved this story and hopefully I voted for it. I cannot remember now. Too stressed out of my mind about what is happening in my life lately. All that I would have said has been said.
          Very tight story line and it works and is focussed. You carried that off well. The tongue being cut out explains why she did not talk.
          Sad.

          Reply
    • October 25, 2017 at 7:42 pm
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      Thank you, Maud! And that was it exactly. Guilt can be a powerful thing.
      But this guy just doesn’t seem to learn. He’d done it before, he did it again, and chances were he would have killed other girls had the police not tracked him down.

      Reply
  • October 25, 2017 at 8:12 am
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    Dammit, I had such a great idea for a stuck in an elevator story but I just ran out of time.

    I’ve been reading through the stories posted and they are all friggin amazing!

    Reply
  • October 25, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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    Hello: would someone please be so kind as to tell me where to click to cast a vote: don’t see it on this page (maybe need new glasses? [smile]).
    Thank you so much!

    Reply
  • October 25, 2017 at 12:44 pm
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    Hi Myrtle.
    Carrie will publish the link here as soon as all the comments are in .

    Reply
  • October 25, 2017 at 1:26 pm
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    Holy hells – we had a pot luck at work and I think I’ve been in a food coma for the last 2 hours!!

    Hang tight peeps – the voting page will be up in a jiffy!

    Reply
  • October 25, 2017 at 1:30 pm
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    Okey dokey you fabulous gaggle of writers!
    The voting link is up!

    Click here to vote for your top 5 favorite stories: http://fiction.wwocz.net/blog/voting-2017elevator/

    REMEMBER – you can only vote once and you CAN NOT vote for yourself upon penalty of injury facilitated by nitrogen charged midget ninjas.

    Trust me…it’s not a pleasant experience… Good luck!

    Reply
    • October 25, 2017 at 3:54 pm
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      Ha! Those midget ninjas are expensive, but oh so worth it. Good luck ladies and gents.

      Reply
  • October 25, 2017 at 4:01 pm
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    Oh and Welcome back Randall!!!! Hope this means we’ll be seeing you regularly again.

    And welcome aboard Myrtle, glad to have you here.

    I had several ideas for a story and they all sucked, so I sat this one out. But shoot, tons of great stories, guys!

    Reply
  • October 26, 2017 at 3:01 pm
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    Vote sent.

    Reply
  • October 27, 2017 at 4:13 am
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    I voted and revoted…

    Reply
  • October 27, 2017 at 4:13 am
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    Next prompt???

    Reply
    • October 27, 2017 at 7:21 am
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      My votes are in!

      Reply
  • October 31, 2017 at 12:10 pm
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    I really enjoy reading the stories! Maybe someday I will be able to start writing and participating again. I miss the group! This doctoral journey is killing me. It’s not about intelligence and quality research, it is about playing the sick mind games that the doctoral committee plays by chewing up your work, making you make changes and multiple re-writes and then change their minds again. I am convinced I will never get out of the proposal stage and finish this degree! I am also trying to determine if I was delusional when I started this 4 years ago. Who did I think I was, assuming that I would be able to get a doctorate? Bah! I’m sick of “scholarly” writing.

    As for the stories, they are as great as ever. I’m still reeling over the story written a few weeks ago about the child being hit by a car. It was far, far to real and true for me. It was 1983. Her name was Kelly and she was 4 years old. She was my oldest daughter’s best friend. That was the hardest funeral I have ever attended. She was riding a “Big Wheel” and rolled out of her driveway into the path of a car. Because she was so low to the ground, the driver didn’t see her and the car hit her in the head. Her parents donated her organs before turning off the life support. That was a truly powerful story.

    Keep writing, friends. I’m watching and reading. I will participate again!

    Adi

    Reply
  • October 31, 2017 at 5:23 pm
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    Don’t give up Adi. Stick with it, take the shit and we’ll see you back here when your doctorate is complete. xx

    Reply

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