Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Saved! A very short story by Cathy Ace

You claim to be a writer - so write me something. Write a short story - no more than a thousand words - featuring some or all of your Criminal Minds colleagues.

Castel Coch, in Wales, via Canva
It was a dark and stormy night – appropriate, considering it was the annual gathering of the bloggers who called themselves The Criminal Minds.
        “I can’t do it.” Cathy’s voice betrayed her terror.

“But you must.” Abir’s usually-jocular demeanor had evaporated. “You have to do as I say.”

Cathy’s chin quivered. “I hadn’t expected this of you,” was all she could muster. She was afraid that saying more would enrage Abir…make things worse.

“It’s just a thousand words.” A rumble of thunder accompanied his treacly tone.

Cathy considered the man she’d always thought of as rapier-witted, rather than tyrannical; his laptop sat on the antique desk, and glowed in the darkened room. The empty Word document represented a chasm she knew could swallow her whole.

As she considered her predicament, she wondered why on earth she’d chosen this ominous place to host the annual meeting; a castle on a clifftop in Wales had seemed like the ideal place to invite everyone, and – since her lottery win – she’d been able to plan similar events for family and friends with the carefree abandon that comes from knowing you’re a millionaire many times over.

All The Criminal Minds had agreed they’d continue with their blogging schedule despite their luxury break, little realizing what that would mean. Each month, one of The Minds had the task of setting four questions, which would then be answered by the bloggers. It had become something the bloggers – and those who followed the blog – expected, and the system had worked well for more than five years.

But now…this challenge…

It had seemed a small task to Cathy when she’d read the questions, set by Abir, for September, but now she realized there wasn’t a one-thousand-word story in her. She’d never written flash fiction, nor tackled the challenge of truly short-short stories; her briefest to date had run to almost four thousand words, and she believed in her heart she wasn’t capable of writing anything worth reading in fewer.

Desperately, she dared, “How do people do it? Create mood, a sense of place, characters we can root for, or be glad to see bested, in such a short format?” Maybe begging Abir for advice might allow him to retain his superiority, an even offer her at least a glimmer of understanding.

“Hardest job there is, as a writer,” he replied, his eyes glittering in the white glare of the screen. “Spare vocabulary, laden with meaning. A strong storyline, with a great twist, and a punch at the end. Editing, of course, and polishing…merciless cutting and rewriting. It’s a unique skill set. Takes time.”

Time? That was what Cathy knew she didn’t have; as always, she’d procrastinated, waiting until there were only hours left to post her blog. She’d hoped inspiration would materialize during her flight to Wales, or even as she waited for her guests to arrive and unpack in their sumptuous suites. But inspiration had evaded her as surely as a cat burglar with a pocket full of purloined pearls…and now Abir was beside her, whispering.

“The four others have all posted theirs. Come on, get typing. I brought my own laptop, so I can even post it for you. There must be something you can get on that screen. Look around…you’ve brought us all to Wales, where you, a Welshwoman, should certainly feel at home. There’s a storm setting the mood, and nothing for you to do for the next hour before we’re all due to meet for pre-dinner drinks here, in the library. Besides, it’s only a bit of fun…it’s just for the blog.”

Cathy’s tummy turned. “But I want everything I write to be the best possible piece I can make it. I haven’t the time to write it, hone it, and make it as good as it can be.” She cursed silently, knowing she’d let herself down, and now she was about to let her fellow bloggers down too.

She allowed her mind to seize on a crazy idea…a reason for it to be acceptable for her post to not appear at all…

She grabbed the heavy antique-brass table lamp and swung, catching Abir completely by surprise as the makeshift weapon smashed into his left temple.

He staggered backwards, his arms windmilling.

He grabbed a chair to steady himself, but Cathy was beside him.

She swung again, battering him with repeated blows, until his body lay, crumpled, on the floor. He didn’t move. Didn’t breathe.

She wiped the lamp to remove her fingerprints, then dumped it onto the floor beside Abir’s corpse. Stuffing her hand into the plastic carrier bag she always had in her purse (at last, a “You’ll never know when you might need it moment” had arrived!) she opened one of the leaded casement windows. The rain bounced off the plastic as she reached around and smashed the adjacent window inward, then she strode across the room, shaking the drops off the bag as she went.

She grabbed Abir’s laptop, and threw it onto the wide-planked, ancient floor, where the screen smashed.

Spattered with blood, Cathy raced to her room, avoiding the creaky stair tread she’d noticed upon her arrival earlier in the day. A change of clothing, a cold soak for her blouse with some bleach-laden toilet-bowl cleanser, a wipe of her face and hands – checking in the mirror for any suggestion of blood smudges – and she was ready.

If she got to the library first, she could be the one to raise the alarm…suggest that an intruder had been trying to get their hands on Abir’s secret – yet much whispered about – work in progress, which was bound to be a bestseller…for someone.

No one would expect next week’s blog posts to appear after such a tragedy.



Josh Stallings said...

Devilishly brutal. Hell of a fun ride and you only had to kill one mind. Well done!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

That's very imaginative, Cathy. By the way, has anybody heard from Abir lately?

Gabriel Valjan said...

If you're invited to provide Ace advice, and see the room is empty, run. Poor Abir, Jim Ziskin had already poured him some Dewar's. Abir did love a fine blended whisky. Great story, with a sinister twist.

James W. Ziskin said...

Remind me not to give Cathy a deadline.


Cathy Ace said...

I have every expectation that Abir is just fine ;-) none of you can say you weren't warned about how far I'm prepared to go when asked to do something I really don't want to do...LOL!

Catriona McPherson said...

It was only a matter of time before Cathy started picking us off one by one,

Brenda Chapman said...

I'm going to take more care when it's my turn to come up with the questions ...
Freakishly good, Cathy!

Terry said...

Goodness, who know our affable Cathy could be so, so noir!