I'm at ThrillerFest 16 today! Time for a writing contest to celebrate the fun, and give y'all some revenge for your writerly colleagues being subjected to my evil critiques! I hope to pick up a couple books that will be prizes for the contest. I've made some great finds amongst the panels in years past
The usual rules apply:
1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.
2. Use these words in the story:
(I thought about IV pole with vodka as the prompt, but honestly there's nothing to say after that except "Barbara Poelle" so I discarded that idea.
3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: gin/origin is ok but gin/going is not
4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.
5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.
6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.
7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)
8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.
8a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)
9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"
10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")
11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.
12. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.
Contest opens: 9am Saturday, 7/9/16 (Eastern Daylight Time)
Contest closes: 9am Sunday, 7/10/16 (EDT)
If you're wondering how much time you have before the contest closes: click here.
If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's
an .xls spread sheet here http://www.colindsmith.com/TreasureChest/
(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)
Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Oh no! Too late. Contest closed!
She smells different today. She smells like earthquakes, train wrecks and pain.
She stares up at the churning sky; it mirrors the storm in her gut.
She feels a thrill of sound; frenzied by the noise's pitch, she strains to turn her head. But it's stuck.
A chaotic hunger consumes her.
She rips her jaws free of the makeshift spear: the Church's grand gates now a burst of scattered weapons.
Up. She is energy; pulsing towards what, yesterday, belonged to the neighbours at No.16: a plump bundle of screaming flesh, wrapped tight in a gingham blanket.
I missed the thrill of being 16.
From the juvenile stuff like egging houses or ringing a doorbell and running, to more life-altering adolescent lapses like waking up, stinking of gin, and finding random bruises in awkward places. While my friends’ paths criss-crossed and careened toward adulthood, I was forced onto the straight road of responsibility.
Speaking of ringing and running, I hope the Hendersons -- so says the name on the mailbox -- will let her have some fun. Just not too much. Like her mother did.
“To 17!” I said to nobody, pitching back another shot to celebrate bittersweet freedom.
There once was a boy who had no voice. His mother said it was because they were poor. His grandfather said it was because of bad paternal genes. When they wouldn’t stop arguing to listen, he figured it was because of his age.
By 16, he learned fists were easier to raise than the pitch of his words. But the thrill of fighting turned to terror one night when a rival’s gun spoke louder, leaving him paralyzed.
Six months into rehab, a nurse gave him a blank journal. “Imagine,” she said. So he did. A Pulitzer later, everyone heard him.
“You couldn’t ask for better weather for a B.B.Q., huh Winslow?”
“It’s certainly a thrilling time when the Circus rolls through town.”
“The guy with the big hat, what was his job again?”
“He’s the Grand Master of the big top, Stanley.”
“And those girls hanging from the ropes?”
“The fellas with the make-up?”
“They’re clowns, they do funny things to make children under 16 laugh, they pitch buckets of confetti, and other hi-jinx.”
“I think my guy’s a clown.”
“Just a gut feeling.”
“Spit it out, Stanley.”
“Well, he tastes funny, I prefer Safari’s.”
Ginger’s Sweet 16 party concludes. Nostalgia blooms.
I’ve watched her blossom, from an awkward tomboy pitching apples in the backyard, to a fellow shut-in logging uncountable hours on Grand Theft Auto, to the delicate flower facing her mirror now.
The benefits of semi-confinement.
Her beauty clearly descends from her exquisite mother.
I’d hoped we’d be a formal family by now. Yet, rejected advances after a few non-thrilling dates, three … no, four-years ago, have forced me into this non-traditional husband/father role.
The mirror betrayed my untimely glimpse.
My family seems irrationally horrified as the officer extracts me from our attic.
“The sweet thrill of life?”
“Actually, I…” Thwack. “Ouch! Hey stop it.”
“Grandpa, Grandpa, Grandpa!”
Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
“One time! Not 3 or 16!”
I spun around as fast as I could in assless chaps and grabbed her wrist.
“That’s enough now, Sharon.” My voice pitched low.
“How dare you use my real-“ I squeezed her wrist, grinding the light bones of the forearm against each other. She gasped.
“Yes, Master. More please.”
“No, I think I’ve got what I need.” I walked over and removed the hidden camera.
The things I do for a paycheck…
I wake up naked in a linen closet, last night's thrill lingering in my head. I don't remember anything. I wrap a sheet around me, and find the Men's to wash the morning dregs away. I need to get to my room, but a commotion downstairs distracts me.
A crowd has gathered at Room 16. There's yellow police tape and the Grand Hotel manager. I see the battered remains of the door, a body under a bloody sheet. They say it's Gillian Jaznowski, literary agent.
She cut me off yesterday as I was beginning my pitch.
"Werewolves? Dead," she said.
“You know the code. Leave it alone. Fuggit about it.”
“I'll give you a hundred grand. I'll send your kids to Harvard. Just tell me.”
“Not on your life!”
“What would it take then? That joker’s gotta pay for his thrills.”
“Take your gin-soaked carcass back to your own Burrough before I pitch your ass under an 18-wheeler.”
“Just tell me already. How much? My baby girl was only 16. Somebody’s gotta get hurt.”
“A thrillion dollars ain't gonna make me rat that one out.”
“I tried to ask all nice like.”
"Halloween party at the frat house!" my roommate announced.
"Parties don't thrill me," I said.
"Luke does. I promised him you'd be there."
Barbie threw a sheet around me, slapped a wreath on my head, called me a goddess.
Barbie's brother Luke and I sang at the grand piano.
One glass of bad wine.
"You sure she's a virgin?"
Barbie and Luke disappeared - family emergency.
Christmas. "Not the flu. You're pregnant."
Easter. Radio plays 16 Tons. I look it.
DVD under Barbie's bed.
It wasn't Luke.
It was his father.
I can't -
They checked her waist, her breasts, her teeth. Joked about pitch-dark skin hiding imperfections. Sent her to the auction block.
Her blood spilled through six generations and 160 years, watering every battle between Savannah and Sicily, Da Nang and Afghanistan. Her precious water pooled into a girl standing high on her ancestors’ bones.
They offered her a sash and a chance to win the most prestigious women’s scholarship in America. Saw her like a thrilling integrand, slipping in like an exotic puzzle piece. They checked her waist, her breasts, her teeth. Joked about perfect skin. Sent her to the…
She trembled, sighed. Filled the pitcher with tonic. A tablespoon of sugar. Ice cubes.
The gin was in the freezer. Grand, she thought, it's just enough. Time soon to get to the store for another bottle, replace that wretched not-Bailey's Irish cream.
The forgotten thrill – down her throat, under her ears – strong, cold alcohol. She sat on the back porch and watched traffic at the intersection. The light changed, the cars surged. Coming, going, gone. But always more.
It took 16 surges, 16 cycles of the light. The phone rang.
He was coming in October.
“H-hi. I’m… not sure this works. First time caller.”
“Don’t worry, baby. I’ll be gentle.”
“Th-thank you. It’s just… so lonely up here…”
“You got me now. How can I… help?”
“It’s been so hard for so long.”
“Ooh, what should we do about it?”
“Well, I was thinking of jumping in head first.”
“But it looks so deep and so wet.”
“Mmm… dive right in, baby!”
“Wow, shouldn’t you tell me to stop it?”
“Cheri, for $16 a minute, I’ll tell you anything. Now thrill me, you big, randy stud!”
“Wait, what? Isn’t this the suicide hotline?”
From A Devil’s Disaster Cookbook:
1. Begin with liberal amounts of anger, fear, and hatred, aged for centuries in a closet we pretend doesn’t exist. Mix, and bring to a boil.
2. Let simmer long enough for hashtags to emerge, stirring vigorously at random intervals.
3. Add a pinch of concentrated fear.
4. Give him a gun, and a taste for the thrill of action.
5. If tensions aren’t high enough, add more of the ingredients in 1.
6. If the resulting mess isn’t so grand people want to pitch it and start fresh, repeat.
Just after sunrise, I found my grandmother shelling peas into an old tin pail on the front porch, her thumb nail caked with green. She nodded at my presence, but I knew better than to interrupt her daily meditation. The thick morning fog made the row of 16 pitch pines—one planted for each of my birthdays—barely visible across the yard. I heard the drawn-out call of a mourning dove begin above and imagined him lamenting a lost love—the opposite of the thrill I felt inside after my first kiss last night behind the barn.
Gina was beyond thrilled. It was her first pitch season with a NYC Literary Agent. Her dream of being a published author was one step closer.
Her nerves came alive as the elevator DING’D and announced “16TH FLOOR”.
She took a deep breath and stepped of the elevator into the Grand Ballroom where her future awaits.
Natalie is a high priestess of OCD. When she enters her temple, the grand ritual begins.
Blink 16 times.
Wink 16 times.
The house should be empty, but someone’s creeping down the stairs.
Clap 16 times.
Tap 16 times.
She reaches into her purse.
Click 16 times.
Flick 16 times.
Her ex-husband emerges from the shadows.
“I have a restraining order—”
“Not thrilled to see me? C’mon, you rented 16 Honeysuckle Lane—”
Her finger twitches. The first explosion pitches him to the floor. The next five keep him there.
The ten soft clicks are for Natalie’s cruel god.
The puppy stared at Carol from inside the box.
The lady took a swig of gin. “My, aren’t we grand?” she sneered, tipping the pooch onto the grass.
Carol clutched the scrap of fur to her chest, pitched the key, and fled. She didn’t care what the lady thought of her stupid new car. Hadn’t wanted it; hadn’t asked for it. Just like her loser stepfather. Always playing the blues - in his Porsche!
“Yours, someday,” he’d said.
Well, this dog made 16 plenty sweet. She smiled as the car screeched past.
And just like that, The Thrill Was Gone.
I can hear Andy and his friends talking in his room: “I roll 16 with my mithril longsword.”
I understand them. How can I understand? It hurts.
“Jesus, that whining. Stop it, Champ!”
I try to stop. Andy is boss.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Month ago he went missing, ran down something, got bit up. Stupid mutt.”
I feel my face flattening. My nose is almost gone, smells vanish. My legs bend backward, claws lengthen to fingers. I don’t howl at the moon. I sing.
I stand on two feet. Tall. Apex predator.
I’ll show Andy who’s boss.
Mikey was as thrilled as a cat during flea-bath season.
His brother, Tom, whispered. “Wasn't this a grand idea?”
They passed under a banner: 2016 Fair - “Captivating Clowns”
“Let's go,” Tom pointed to a gondola. Mikey watched but he felt a non-stop itch growing behind his throat.
“You go ahead,” Mikey walked to a dark tent, the safest place he could imagine.
“Oh, dear --” The psychic crooned.
“Am I going to die here!?” Mikey spat.
“The clowns aren't dangerous,” she said.
Mikey sighed. “I'm not gonna die.”
“I never said that,” the crone flashed a villainous smile.
The world awaits the unputdownable tale of my crazy life, UNJUST CONVICTION -- three kids, one horse, one rat-bastard ex, thirty years (concurrent plus good behavior) in the making -- a memoir/thriller of 256,387 words, “Kari Lynn Dell meets Laird Barron”. It's been on Amazon since 2011 and earned $16.37 so far.
I'm convinced it has a future with you, despite your multiple rejections.
Sorry I can't pitch you at RodentWheel Writer's Conference. Parole denied. I'll accept fifty grand. Graves need flowers.
I do miss them. The horse anyway. Maybe the kids.
Have a gin for me.
I hopscotch the creek, loafers skidding on moss. I imagine stone steps.
“He’s a terrible businessman,” my brother had said, stunned when Gran left me the farm at 16.
I huff as I hike, raking in that sweet evening fragrance, long grass and honeysuckle. I imagine trimmed yards.
Gran’s last words: “My choice.”
Forty years later, I realize Gran hadn’t misjudged: the offer’s unbelievable. I retrieve my phone, fingers sticky with pine pitch. I imagine mulch.
“Jane” –adrenaline thrill– “cancel the subdivision deal.”
I sit, peepers serenading me. How Gran did love this place.
Stars appear overhead.
I just sit.
“Happy Birthday, Grandma!”
And so it begins. Her eyes go round and she claps her bony hands, thrilled to be the center of attention. “You remembered!”
She swallows her meal without complaint, eager to blow out the candle on the pink-frosted cherry cupcake. She tells the story of her surprise Sweet 16, when she was so startled she spit chocolate milk all over her boyfriend’s shirt. We laugh on cue.
As he pushes the wheelchair away, the aid gives me a thumbs-up. It’s working. Five pounds so far. Doc’s pleased.
I think tomorrow, I’ll make it a red velvet cupcake.
It’s dark, with small lights in the distance.
The cold air was a horrible thrill that went through me.
I was walking down a grand staircase of a tunnel.
The walls sweat, the smell is of a gin and tonic.
I heard voices making a sales pitch for some kitchen gadget.
In the distance, I hear a voice singing, “You load 16 tons, whattya get…”.
I think of my grandfather, and my fingers start to hurt.
I taste blood. Something opens my eyes.
It’s light out. It’s Friday, the day of the funeral.
I miss you, grandpa.
It’s the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, and Sissy’s gin and tonic sloshes over her red solo cup. She sips to calm the buzz inside her. Still, the thrill shows on her baby-face as she steps up to the plate. Her lip curls. Her fingers lace themselves around an aluminum slugger.
There’s the wind up, the pitch, and Sissy swings away. The bat makes contact with a sickening crack.
Grand slam! The crowd goes wild. Ahhh! Sissy hits a Homer at 16 and Daddy bleeds.
“Run Joey!” Sissy shouts.
I’m the pinch runner it seems.
I run for help.
Our second date you drive the Grand Prix down Route 16, a dead end road outside of town.
I sip the gin and tonic you brought.
To ease my nerves, you say.
Rounding the last curve, off go the headlights, everything is pitch black.
I laugh, thrilled.
You’re crazy, I squeal.
Your smile flashes in the moonlight.
You always check on me, sitting close, making sure everything’s just so.
Sometimes you talk, other times you don’t.
One day you come by, but don’t stop.
I think I know why.
Is it the yellow tape?
Maybe it’s the blue lights.
"Nice party? Wait. What’s wrong?”
"Girls are so strange."
"Indeed. What do you mean?""
"Spill the beans. …Well?"
"I...sorta kissed her. Shit! You just snorted wine out your nose."
"Ouch. Don't swear."
“So not funny."
“Sooo funny. Yup. It changes everything. Sorta?! You've been friends since preschool. No one's gonna be surprised. Except maybe you. It’s your 16’th birthday. You kissed. A grand gift. She’s probably thrilled.”
"She...didn't like it. Grunted. Ran away."
"Just now? Here? How long…? Wait, never mind. You're fine. Look, here she comes, looking...worried. I’m getting more wine, no, maybe gin."
The moon shudders, hides from the eye opening in a face of pitch-black scales, in a predator of even darker soul. The creature slithers toward the Grand Hall.
Inside, 15 of the elders gather.
Reptilian skin rasps against stone. Slaver slicks the steps.
Oblivious, the group huddles, plans. They must kill the mysterious monster before more villagers . . .
Lorena closes the door behind her. The others smile, nod, relieved. Now that all 16 elders are present they can vote on the plan.
With a sharp thrill and an even sharper talon, Lorena slides the bolt home.
We split up, like always.
I like the food court, she likes Macy’s.
We both like crowds.
She tries on one outfit at a time.
Back and forth to the dressing room.
Bumps a ginger-haired woman with her cane.
Armloads of clothes fall, purse spills.
I sit near a Mom with a kid pitching a fit.
Eat my fries.
Watch the Mom juggle the tray, push the stroller.
Brush against her at the trashcan.
16 bucks short.
Sends me out again.
Not thrilled, but we gotta make rent.
I fix my ponytail.
The goat stared at them through the wooden fence. Jarrid took a hit off his joint and passed it to Marcellus. “There’s no such thing as goat-tipping. He probably wants a carrot or something.”
Marcellus used the hit to chase his 16th gin. “Goats don’t want anything. They’re animals.”
In answer, the goat stared harder, and pawed the grass pitch. Marcellus dropped his empty bottle and shook the fence.
The goat charged, splintered the wood, and trapped Marcellus beneath it before rubbing himself all over Marcellus’s face.
“The grandstand of human tipping, though,” Jarrid said. “That’s a thrill.”
Ah yes, my Oscar. My grand debut. An acting virgin, I arrived on set 16 minutes early, thrilled to see my name on the door.
My co-star was swoon-worthy, years my senior but playing a teenager. Industry standard.
Our love scene was a disaster. He was too handsome and I was too nervous. Later, when he suggested we practice, I pitched myself into his arms and lost another virginity.
His love faded after we nailed the scene. He was a better actor than I’d realized.
Oscar would be a cute baby name, for someone who didn’t choose career over motherhood.
Verner von Heidenstam sat back from his desk, stroked his mustache.
1916. War rages to the south like the slow burn of cheap gin. Writers flock to its savage allure. Why war, when the wonders of life spring around us? But those with the grandiose ideas and thrilling rhetoric, to them go the spoils.
Verner tipped the pitcher of water into his glass, took a drink, and swished the contents in his mouth.
Enough lamenting, back to work, pen to paper. The Nobel Prize doesn’t come easy. It’s as difficult to maintain as Sweden’s neutrality.
Poetry must prevail.
“Right thrill a minute in here, innit?”
The detective watched as all 16 stone of Frankie “Butcher” McVay squeezed himself into the booth and placed a bottle of gin on the table.
“Peace offering, Jim. Sal told me this stuff’s your poison, sends her love by the way. Grand woman, that.”
Jim smiled. “Still after a divorce?”
“Nah, we’ve decided to let you be.” Frankie poured them a shot each and raised his glass in salute.
Why not, thought Jim, knocking back the drink, feeling himself pitch forward into the darkness. He had always known it would come to this.
Zigzagging across the fourth rill, her phone chirped.
Reacher said, “Let it ring.”
“They’ll think –”
He shook his head, counted. 16 rings. “A message.”
“Sixteenth house ahead?” Karla asked.
“You’re fourth most powerful in our group. Sixteen is the fourth power of two.”
“So … second house.”
“See the mailbox?”
Reacher nodded. “Serena Williams’ last grand slam loss was the French Open. We enter through the French doors.”
Karla pitched her sunglasses. “Hope for the best.”
Reacher didn’t wear sunglasses. The sun feared him. “Plan for the worst.”
They entered. Busted the meth lab. Reacher caught the next bus.
“When I was 16 I posed nude. For the first time. Daguerre called out my name. I got a thrill. Grande emotion. He drank a ginger cocktail. Don’t know where he got it from. Didn’t matter. He spit chunks of ginger root. No one knew, just me. He was relaxed in my presence.”
She leaned back and squinted at me. It was a challenge pose.
“What else do you want to know?”
I needed to be cool so she would trust me, I had to talk.
“I want you to keep in one hundred with me.”
She sucked her teeth.
Stepgranny Annie showed up when I was 16. Her line was that she wanted to help me recover. The bottom line was the grand a month she got for my care and feeding.
The accident took my parents and mangled my leg. I am back up to strength now and can not gin up enthusiasm for granny’s shit anymore. I felt a thrill when I told her to eat it.
I felt a bigger thrill as she rolled into the swamp and I pitched the knife she ate in behind her.
The pitch and yaw of the plane unsettled his stomach and mind. The flight to Corregidor Island for their grand adventure wasn’t going smoothly. He was in severe need of a gin and tonic to settle all of his 16 billion nerve endings.
“No dear, humans have approximately 100 billion neurons,” said Clarice.
“I hate when you do that, especially in public,” he mumbled and gazed out the small window.
“It’s thrilling that I still have it after everything...”
“After a night in the island’s tunnel? You’ll wish it disappeared.”
And, then the plane lights went out.
I lost my faith when I was seven and my grandmother took me to the church. I was so excited to see God’s house and I remember looking thrilled at the scenes on the wall until I see a strange scene, painted at 1628, with reddish figures poking crying peoples with pitchforks. It was bizarre so I asked about its origin and she tells me about Hell while I’m still looking at demons beating, boiling in cauldrons, biting, abusing men and women and laughing. And I didn’t understand why God lets people in the devil’s hands. To rape them.
I have perfect pitch, you know. The slightest dissonance sets my teeth on edge.
The teenage boy next door has learned to whistle. With a 16-note range, you’d think he could find the right one now and then. But no, he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. There isn’t enough gin in ten bottles to dampen that gawdawful racket, but I have an idea.
Ugh - even their telephone rings off-key.
“Mrs. Stevens? We’re headed to the Grand Canyon on vacation next week. Would Jeff like to go with us? I hear the view from the rim is thrilling.”
Aging ain't easy.
Grandad always said it.
16 — My girl dumps me. Breaks my heart. Dumps me again three weeks later.
20 — Thrilled to marry my girl. She cheats on me. I pitch the guy into traffic.
22 — My son is born.
24 — He don't talk.
26 — I love him anyways.
37 — My girl cheats again. With a lady. Can't pitch her into traffic.
45 — My girl's got cancer.
47 — I hate that she never loved me. I hate that she's gone. I hate that my boy ain't got the words to say his grief.
Now I get it.
To anyone watching, it would seem the thick woods swallowed me up. But, unlike Jonah and the whale, I didn’t want them to spit me back out. Nope, I was quite content in the belly of this whale. Well, hollow.
Laughter bubbled up as a familiar frisson strummed along each nerve ending. Ah, the forbidden. Ain’t it grand?
I busied myself checking the still. Had to be careful with my special, infused gin, wouldn’t want to accidently sample it myself, would I?
A crunch of leaves and 16 shots later, I pitched, face-first, to the ground.
The thrill was gone.
Beca leafed through 16 Magazine, 1964, Luke Halpin with a pitcher of lemonade on the cover. Redolent of ancient ink, there were scores of old issues, kept by her mother to document a certain passage of years. Soft as powder the pages leafed.
She’d met the dreamboat that summer, when he came to Hillview Grande shopping center with a live dolphin. Wasn’t the real Flipper, but seeing Luke had thrilled her, the beginning of true desire, and her face reddened even now in dark attic.
She’d spent a lifetime chasing perfection, Luke, but had ended up with mostly Flippers.
Ain't it grand to pitch some woo?
If only my darling would respond. What a thrill that would be.
I gingerly plied her with sweet words, then bent my ear low to her in hopes of a whisper.
It's only been 16 years. Flesh still stuck to her bones. Maybe she needs to mature longer.
Think a new coffin might help speed things along?
"Betcha you can't." He sat next to me at the writing conference, blinged-out in pens and bookmarks splashed with the name of his soon-to-be bestseller.
"Betcha I can."
"If you can use all 5 in 1 coherent, grammatically correct sentence, I'll buy you a drink - 2 if you do it in less than 25 words."
I accept his challenge. "Begin the Beguine was a grand, musical experiment which pitched convention aside by utilizing 16 measure phrases to thrilling effect."
I love the smell of whiskey in the morning.
The screaming stopped. She opened the door slowly, imagining the worst.
Light poured onto a body covered in a sheet, then...
"Grandma! Monsters. Under the bed!" a face emerged.
"There are no monsters, dinosaurs, pirates, or sharknados anymore, not under the bed, in the closet or in Carkoon. They only exist in thrilling stories."
"Are you cross-your-heart sure?"
"Yes. So when you think about them in the pitch dark, remember the sunlight and they will vanish. OK? Light on?"
She shut the door.
In contradiction, the TV blared, "...16 killed in attack on peaceful rally in broad daylight..."
16 candles on my birthday cake
15 texts from a ginger-haired boy
14 well-meaning relatives to evade
13 blocks to his house
12 sips of Rohypnol-laced drink
11 cheap thrills
10 viral videos
9 days of pitch-black despair
8 bullets in granddad’s army pistol
7 fired at the ginger-haired boy and his sleazy friend
6 hours of police interrogation
5 hundred thousand in legal fees
4 billion tears
3 families destroyed
2 life sentences
1 noose, fashioned from prison sheets
I was thrilled to spot the stunning woman in the crowd. After a drink — virgin cocktails, at her request — we began to dance. A low-pitched voice crooned as I pressed my body to hers.
Not willing to end things at closing time, I suggested her place. She nodded with a smile.
I was grinning myself as I walked out the next day.
Six months later, I stepped into a new bar, The Grand, only to see the woman again.
I quickly left.
The drug in my pocket offered 16 hours of complete control, but I required a fresh target.
"Cheyenne's how old, ma'am?"
"Has she run off before?"
"Never. But she's not herself. Skipping school, picking fights--"
"No. She said something's coming, and only she has the power to stop it. Cheyenne has--"
"Delusions of grandeur."
"What? No. You're twisting my--"
"Has she mentioned threats, either real or imagined?"
"Just that the governor's covering up a--"
"Damn. I wish you hadn't said that."
"Why? What's going on? Where's Cheyenne?!"
"She'll be fine, ma'am. It's us I'm worried about now."
"You don't mean..."
"Yep. She's pulled us into a dystopian YA trilogy."
“My daddy, that’d a been your great-GREAT-grandaddy, warned me ’bout your great-grandma. Prob’ly on account a all her red hair. Ha! That man never trusted no gingers. ‘Trouble they was,’ he’d say.
We’d met at some backwater shit-pit church picnic. She knew I had a few summers on ’er, so she lied n said she was 16. And she was the preacher’s daughter. Ha! Figger that one. Son, lemme tell you, that man was none too thrilled about yours truly bein’ keen on his little girl.”
“You miss her, gumpa?”
“Ay. She’d a been 89 today.”
I’m 16, and I’ve never taken a shower, or soaked in a tub, or swam in a pool, or waded in the ocean.
I can’t begin to describe the pain when water touches my skin. An allergic reaction, doctors say. Deadly. Incurable.
I can drink it, if I use a straw.
I bathe with hand sanitizer.
Early morning fog hovers over the grand lake. Deep-purple, like a pitcher of grape Kool-aide.
I stand alone on the dock, toes over the edge. What a thrill it would be to jump in. Just once.
I look toward heaven, and smile.
HIGH WALLS, WOODEN FLOORS
Grand mansion. High walls, wooden floors. Teenagers, missing, we’ll find them. Torches on, mine’s sticky. Stop. It chokes, flickers. Busted.
He’s on the floor, pitched forward, hands cuffed. Gingerly check. Back of his head feels like a bag of dropped ice. Someone hit him. Something heavy.
Crowbar. Warrant. My partner comes in. Blood on the crowbar.
“They’re in the walls, some. What happened?”
Chief arrives. “Pieces in the floors. What happened?”
“16. Hard to count.”
“Resisted,” Partner says. Thrill of police work never dies, suspects sometimes do.
My torch flickers. Heavy, sticky.
August 19, 1646
An era ends today: I surrendered Castell Raglan. It took an eleven-week siege, but now the Parliamentarians have her.
How thrilled Fairfax and Cromwell must be! By now they’re celebrating their victory – the final Welsh castle to fall – imbibing my gin in my Grand Hall, probably.
I believe Cromwell desired my library most of all. My family’s collection, gathered over hundreds of years. But I’m not letting Welsh history, Welsh treasures, fall into English hands. My son coated the library floor with pitch this morning. By now, his slow-release contraption will have filled the rooms with fire.
“Go ahead.” Sweat slicked my pen.
“From the beGINning?”
“One and 2 were a process. Three was easier.”
“Then you waited a year.”
“True. But, 4 was unsatisfying.”
“Is that why 5 came right after?”
I fought a shiver. “But something changed.”
“My plans grew GRANDiose. Six through 10 were a blur. Eleven and 12, my double-header.” He shrugged. “A PITCHing sea and quiet well served me next. Then I got fancy. Fifteen was wine wiTH RILLettes. Cooked her goose just right.”
“What made you decide to share your story before turning yourself in?”
“You, Sweet 16.”
The trees bowed before the storm. An electric thrill flashed through me as the raging beast stretched and clawed to claim its prey.
I refused to huddle in the basement, praying for escape. I dared God to kill me.
As the wind roared in anger, I screamed my reply, my voice lost in the low-pitched thrum of devastation.
When the sky cleared I stood alone, flexed to fight, taut with disappointment.
God dared me to live.
Sirens wailed. The 16-year-old boy next door cried for help, his visiting grandmother bleeding and shaking, barely able to walk.
I took the dare.
Age: 16. Sneak two beers, drink them on his car. The thrill of Guinness kisses under stars.
Age: 21. Pitcher of margaritas on the beach. Lying on a blanket, watching stars fade into morning.
Age: 25. Champagne in flutes. My grand wedding dress reflects the stars we dance under.
Age: 28. Cards with friends. Distraction while he’s overseas. Gin while we play rummy. Rum while we play gin. Hoping he sees the same stars.
Age: 30. IV pole with vodka: they say it’ll kill me. Maybe that’s my plan. Fingers tremble on the folded flag. The stars have gone out.
I watch the old man toss back watered down gin, grimace, motion for the other half of his ration.
"Those were grand days, indeed. Back in '16, when news was what we said it was."
"The thrill of making stuff up."
"Hell yes. Didn't even need to pitch a story, except to say how it'd incite fear and anger. Site hits were everything."
I nod. "Profit before truth."
"What, you some Murrow/Cronkite purist?"
"Just researching early 21st century journalism."
"Glory days, they were. Paid well."
And still paying, I reckoned, in spades. Yes, still paying, decades on.
After 16 agonizing months meeting with a marriage counselor, I gingerly pitched the idea of a separation. We live in this grand house and pretend we make a difference to each other. Isn’t it time to recognize the thrill is gone for us as a couple and begin anew as two good people who need to find meaning flying solo? Starting over at 50 is tough but living life like an emotional zombie is unthinkable.
“I can’t begin to imagine why you thought it would be a good idea to get me a stripper for my 16th birthday.”
Oh wait, yes I can. Embarrassing people is how Grandpa Shay gets his thrills. I’m still not over when I turned 13 and he insisted I unwrap his gift first. It was a pregnancy test.
His 60th is coming up. I’m saving up my babysitting money for pole-dancing lessons.
She gives a surprise party performance. I do expect Grandpa Shay to hate it; I don’t expect him to pitch face-forward into his birthday cake. Permanently.
I have two bottles of gin and some jungle juice. It’s not enough. The thrill is gone. My grand scheme to starve off the wolves with dog treats has failed me. My hands shake with shameful anticipation as I pull open the desk drawer. There are sixteen bottles of codeine. My anticipation swallows my shame.
A knock on the door. Fear stimulates self awareness, like sparks of electricity awakening a shutdown machine. My heart beats fast. I jolt to life, shoving the desk drawer shut.
I prepare myself to pitch a story to my husband how I’ve been drinking again.
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