Flashwords Winners

Home » HOME » Flashwords Winners

The winners and all the entered stories of our 2019 Flashwords contest are here!

We challenged the folks attending the 2019 New England Crime Bake to write a compelling crime story in 150 words or less, using at least ten of twenty title words from novels by our Guest of Honor, Ann Cleeves.

Title Words: bird, bones, burial, death, depths, fire, glass, healer, hidden, killjoy, lesson, lightning, paradise, prey, silent, tales, trap, true, voices, wild

We received 53 official entries displaying a wide variety of styles and depths of talent and creativity. The three winning stories were selected with great difficulty in blind judging. In no particular order, they are:

The Heistby D.M. Barr

“Corpse with Gannets”by Susan B. Iwanisziw

“Heirloom” by Julia C. Hoover

Congratulations and thank you to everyone who participated with such enthusiasm. Enjoy all the entered stories here!

The Heist

By D. M. Barr

     I gathered my posse and gestured for them to keep their voices down. We were hidden away in a corner, far from prying eyes. “This is the heist of a lifetime; I feel it in my bones. Just behind the glass, all the drugs we’ll ever need.  We can take ’em, sell ’em, whatever. Penny, you yell, ‘Fire!’ and in the hubbub, we make our move.”

     “Wasn’t last time enough of a lesson for you? Does lightning have to strike you twice?” asked Evelyn, a pessimistic old bird if ever there was one. Wonder we’d ever gotten any jobs done with a killjoy like her around.

     “You’ll get the chair for wild ideas like that one,” said Penny, shaking her head in dismay.

     “Any chair’s better than this one,” I mumbled as I wheeled off. It was 4:45 p.m. after all, dinnertime at the Paradise Home for the Aged.

Corpse with Gannets

By Susan B. Iwanisziw

     Cigarette hidden in the curl of his palm, Joe tosses the match. He shivers in his flapping poncho that takes the brunt of salt spray while his ears ring with the screams of a thousand birds making a paradise of this wild* stretch of limestone cliff.

     He barely makes out the details of the girl spread-eagled on the rock below, her hair combed by incoming waves, her jagged leg bones teased by foam. Torches gleam as the lifeguards’ orange dinghies stutter in the shallows.

     No chance the tide will bury her corpse in the North Sea’s silent depths now.

     Lesson to be learned—nature’s clock.

     He’d like to see his handiwork clearer, and, one-handed, taps his jacket pockets for his glasses.

     No question there’ll be a murder inquiry, but forensics won’t tell any tales.

     Where did his glasses get to?

     He catches a flash from the girl’s clawed hand.

Ω

Heirloom

By Julia C. Hoover

     “Come here, my lovely.” The crone’s voice was as soft and smoky as the sage she burnt.

     I hesitated, still unsure. Mam said the old woman was a healer, but Da knew as Nan was a witch what couldn’t be trusted. Folk in the village whispered tales of rituals involving dead birds and hidden burials, but Mam said as folk would say anything, and anyway, wasn’t it true that she’d set baby Abigail’s broken arm for her and cured old Nath’n of the grippe? Surely God wouldn’t suffer little children to have bones set by a witch who dealt in death.

     “Go on!” Mam was impatient, but I remained silent and frightened until her palm scuttled me forward towards Nan and her books, glassware, and fire.

     The largest book, a great, worn, leather-bound tome, was open before Nan to a page titled: “Lesson: Family Sacrifice.”

Your Friendly Local

Mystery Book Club

By Richard Goutal

     Four members of the Gloucester Mystery Book Club ate lunch on the harbor-side deck of The Lobster Trap after their monthly meeting. As always while eating, the foursome commiserated about the despised cozy-lovers in their club and grew in their hatred toward them in the barely hidden depths of their souls.  This was especially true of Ginny Dinsmore, the daffiest killjoy in the group. Just today, she praised the tales of kittens and knitters set in the paradise of quaint villages, even as her cronies, hardly silent voices, trashed thrillers of every variety. So the foursome angrily ate and plotted the expulsion of Ginny’s bunch, paying little attention to the beautiful harbor of fishing boats.

     Nor did they notice the seagull drone with a high explosive that Ginny guided to the railing near their table. Nor how she delighted in the wild fire and deaths that resulted.

Lakani’s Secret

By Joseph Savage

     That night, true tales of death, the lessons of bones and burial, were sung in the wild voices of the village women.

Their faces danced in the light of the fire, as they stood around the pyre of the healer who had finally fallen prey to Kahutu, our god of the underworld.

     I, still a young woman, stood trapped and hidden in their depths, my pulse hummed dry in my silent throat.

     A branch of lightning scraped the night. The high priest of the Jaguar raised his glass vial of cinnamon and myrrh, proclaiming the healer’s spirit had ascended like a bird to the paradise of the Three Stars. But the priest was a killjoy.

     I had been happy the healer was dead, his body sizzling in the red-tipped flames. For I, and only I, knew that I had murdered him, and why.

Ruins

By Dale T. Phillips

     The jumble of overgrown weeds and rotted, charred timbers had once been a stately mansion. Tales differed on whether lightning or a deliberately set fire had brought it down, but it was taken as true that the ruins were haunted by some hidden evil. It had the feel of unjust and early death, and the silent, eerie landscape was disturbed by voices at night.

     Perhaps the site truly was evil, for it attracted a human predator, who buried the bones of his prey in the wild depths of the wreckage. But his makeshift cemetery became his own trap one night when the ground beneath him gave way, and he tumbled into a cellar from which he could not escape with his now-broken leg. His cries for help went unheard, and he spent his last few hours in agony. Some might call it a lesson in hubris or karma.

Ω

Hunter and Prey

By Matty Dalrymple

     She huddled in the thicket, hoping this hidden space wouldn’t become a trap, and she the prey. The cold gripped her bones, and the birds that had provided symphonic lessons just a few hours before were silent now, their sound replaced by the reverberations of the storm that raged overhead. Between peals of thunder, she could hear the voices of the men who pursued her.

     She wanted to be the healer, not the hunter, but the men had left her no choice with the tales they told by the fire of their true intent—of what they would do to her. Death would be better.

     The depths of her soul cried out against the outcome, but she knew it was inevitable as their grinning faces appeared in a flash of wild lightning. Would they never learn their lesson?

     She reached out with her mind, found their brains, and squeezed …

Sky Burial

By Beth Kanell

     Death neared and, skin and bones and stubbornness, village chef Geneva insisted on a sky burial: “Let the birds pick my eyes so my spirit winds toward paradise.” No healer allowed—just a platform of logs to rest on, to trap the wild glory of the night in her soul, see through the dark glass of illness into the lightning-vivid hereafter. When the village zoning board said no, we helped prepare her final wine pairing. At last Geneva passed out. We carried her to the mountaintop, let the chill night slow her heart, waited till she fell silent. Diana, in feathered cape, disjointed the carcass with her mother’s own blades, sent the parts aloft by balloon, claimed the estate. We vouched for her: “She met the conditions of the will.” Only a true killjoy, or someone prepared to meet those blades, would deny it. But it really took a village.

The Extra

By Jeanne Debois

     I brought the Braucher, who resembled a grizzled bird of prey, over the hills in a sleigh. Like the dawn, we arrived silently.

     The barn door was ajar. Fran’s husband rode out weeks ago, the same day Influenza rode in, but hidden in the barn’s depths were five nieces and nephews, wrapped in death shrouds, awaiting burial. So I fought with the snowdrift blocking the door while the healer went to find my sister. When I uncovered a bundle containing Fran’s silver candlesticks, which I first took to be bones, I rushed it into the house.

     Fran was wild-eyed, and who could blame her? Her children gone, all but one? I handed the Braucher a candlestick for her display beside the crib, and bear-hugged Fran.

     In the spring, I buried six. Not the baby; she survived. The extra was the thief, caught and killed that night by Fran, his wife.

The Mysterious

By Dru Ann Love

     Paradise. Or so we thought when we arrived. Why had we promised to come to this village of bones? The wild thunderstorm preyed on our minds as lightning bolts appeared, ominous against the blackened sky. Finally we made it to our destination and the sight of our home away from home gave us pause. As we sat around the campfire, the village healer told tales and I wondered if what she was saying was true. I wished her silent as voices and footsteps lurked in the depths of the mountain. Were they simple traps or would death find us in darker, hidden ways?

Macavity

By Katherine Fast

     All is silent below. I sit before the fire in the dark fortifying myself with another glass of wine, waiting. My hand trembles and voices in my head scream for me to stop the certain carnage I know is about to take place in the depths of the cellar, but I’ve learned my lesson. I watched once and was helpless to intervene. Hideous. Best to wait and collect what remains for burial.

     The pattern is always the same. The monster remains hidden watching as his unsuspecting prey enters his death trap. He corners his victim and then mercilessly taunts and tortures him until he becomes bored, at which point he dispatches him with a lightning strike of nails and teeth. Finally, like some wild thing, he gorges on bones and brains.

     At night, my sweet, cuddly kitty Macavity becomes a true master of depravity.

The General Dies at Marblehead

By Max Folsom

     Minutes ago, the now silent radio had erupted with voices ordering detectives Morris and Killjoy to rush to Marblehead Mansion. The Winsops had taken guests shooting in the wilds. The prey had escaped, but the General had been shot to death.

     They sped across the Midlands, blues flashing on the response car. Mrs. Winsop opened the door.

     “I don’t understand how it happened. George would never have fired if he’d seen the General. It’s a terrible accident.”

     “We’re sorry for your loss, ma’am, but we need to see the body.”

     She led them to the conservatory where a glass box sat on a long table. After staring into the box for a moment, the officers departed.

     Back in the car, Morris held back a grin. “The inspector won’t believe this one.”

     “I don’t know,” said Killjoy. “Those birds talk. Maybe it squawked a hidden secret. This might have been murder”–

Tables Turned

By Donna Walo Clancy

     The silent darkness was interrupted by the sounds of someone digging. Amy awoke, her hands and ankles bound, her temple on fire from the blow of the hammer. Lightning flashed revealing the cemetery where she was trapped.

     Amy was his prey and he was her Angel of Death. Her stomach churned as she realized the grave was being dug for her own burial. He rose up out of the depths of the hole and placed his flashlight and gun above her on the nearby gravestone.

     “Now, to send you to paradise,” he whispered as he hoisted her to his shoulder.

     She kicked wildly, fighting for her life. Striking the gun with her feet, it fell to the ground and discharged. Hit, he dropped her and stumbled forward into his own, freshly dug grave.

     “Tonight, I will be going to paradise,” he proclaimed.

     The silent darkness returned.

Caw of the Wild

By Carol Kaufman

     A sudden flash of lightning bright as fire exposed the murder of crows poised silently on the ancient oak’s bare branches, rendering them into so many Gothic ornaments. The ebony birds focused on their prey below, watching the healer whose fantastic tales of paradise had trapped yet another victim. They cawed in wild voices “Stop the burial!  Let us pick the bones dry! Haven’t you learned the lesson yet? Death is our life.”

A Useful Darkness

By Diane Annunziato

     The big bird stared right through me, then focused. A chill hit my spine and spread into my bones. The American Eagle perched on a branch in the old-growth pine, a favorite of raptors hunting prey in the depths of Winnipesaukee’s waters. Woodsmoke from a dozen fires scented the air. Thunder rumbled and lightning split the darkening sky. The wind picked up. As the eagle rose on nearly silent wings, wild loon voices exploded and something fell from the tree. 

     The human hand rested where it had landed almost hidden in the wet pine needles. Close by sat a deconstructed head flanked by two pyramids of neatly severed ears, lips, fingers and toes. Death was stalking the lakeside paradise where I had planned to rest and heal my spirit. But plans change . . .and a little darkness in one’s soul can be useful when tracking evil.

Death Changes You

By Janet Catherine Johnston

     Lightning shatters the wild night sky. Tourists marvel at the dark Romanesque mansion. They’ve no sense of what festers in its depths, hidden. Except, perhaps, for a hint of voices carried on the wind. There could be no burial without a body. No resolution to the crime. No one knows the true story, the nightmare. How Marisa Victoria Kelly, a shy young girl, fragile as a bird, was stalked and fell prey to a monster that terrible night. Why did that trap have to be her last life’s lesson?

     Visitors come and go in the old mansion. Would they if they knew within its depths lie the cold, silent bones of that no-longer-innocent victim? Tales are told of the disappearance–naive speculations.

     Death changes you.

     Police come and go. No one searches beneath. But I know the bones are there.

     I know because the bones are mine.

Cold Case Closure

By Donnarae Menard

     The slender, sensuous sprig of Bird of Paradise bloomed on my shoulder crossing my belly before dripping to the floor. Silk against black velvet. I gasped at the effect the dress and artfully applied make-up created. Who was this woman in the mirror’s glass? My cheek bones, eyes showed depths never before exposed telling tales of a silent, wild beast set out to trap unwary prey.

     In my youth a string of voices, one killjoy after another hidden among their friends led me to contemplate my own death. Now I was older, wiser, burial of spirit a faded memory. Life was my healer. Fire burned in my heart. Daily I traveled with lightning speed pulling others from the edge.

     I had never returned to that place of torment. But tomorrow, at the fiftieth reunion, I would walk among those gray, withered souls, and dance with pride as my partner.

The Backpack

By Claire A. Murray

     I awoke in a sweat. Low voices chanted my name. I lit a match; they receded into the depths of the wall. Match flickered out; the voices resumed. Henry was such a killjoy.

     His cabin grew silent again when I lit the lantern, opened the trap door in the floor, and dragged him outside beside a tree. Birds were chirping by the time I covered his burial spot with mulch. I grabbed the backpack, Henry stitched on the outer flap. Inside were a sandwich, book—Tales of the Wild Plains—and the bank loot.

     Hoisting the backpack, I walked out into the thunderstorm, heading west New voices came that night as I slept under the stars. Voices that arrested me for robbery and Henry’s murder after lightning had set fire to the tree, which toppled and revealed his body. Should’ve buried that backpack.

The Killjoy

By Tara Watson

     The aging healer walked into the forest one last time. While dark there was no storm, no lightning to end the day.

     It was true then, those tales of horror where the voices of the damned return to haunt. No would have ever learned of his past each time he waited for the burials to end, for the bones to be placed into the ground.

     Silent for all time, no longer the prey to a man’s wild hunger.

     The healer reached the cliffs where the figures of vultures had been intricately carved into stone, reaching out to touch the largest one perched at the edge. It was time.

     He stepped forward, intent on the depths below. A flutter of wings, a startled look – and the healer realized the carving was not stone as the bird flew at him, a killjoy to the end.

Requiem for Charlie

By Tina Debellegarde

     Little Jimmy sat on his stoop, crying over the death of Charlie.

     He looked up. His day had just gotten worse. Standing there was Elliott, the school bully. Jimmy had heard wild tales about Elliott’s cruelty.

     But Elliott surprised him. He sat down and offered Jimmy a candy bar. “What we need is a burial or your parakeet will never make it to heaven.”

     Jimmy wiped his tears and followed Elliott to a hidden spot in the town cemetery where a fresh grave had been dug.

     They said a prayer in near silent voices then Elliott said something about bones returning to dust and dropped the bird into the depths of the grave.

     Jimmy bent down and threw a handful of dirt.

     Elliot grabbed the nearby shovel and hit Jimmy over the head. He dropped into the open grave.

     Elliott walked away whispering, “Don’t they ever learn their lesson?”

Does it Matter?

By Rebecca Ervin

     Dana’s heart thumped in her chest, a furious wild bird caught in a steel trap. They were near, closing in tight, smelling their prey despite the storm. She willed herself to be silent as the rabid voices and brutal dog barks licked at the edges of her awareness.

     She crouched at the base of a tree, wishing she could scurry into its hidden depths like a small animal. This isn’t happening, she thought.

     A sharp crack of lightning threatened to shatter her bones like thin glass rods tortured by fire.

     Does it matter that he beat me for years? Does it matter that his death feels like paradise for me and Seth? That the only true thing about him is that he’s pure evil?

     It doesn’t. There’s no lesson here. No moral tales or spiritual healers to make sense of this.

     He deserved it. And now my life is over.

Hunted

By Jill Fletcher

     It was the wrong day for our return hike. It was cold and damp, the rain, at first a silent mist, then slapping the leaves nonstop. Lightning started just as we passed the halfway mark. We could only continue to base camp.

     We heard voices then saw a well-hidden lean-to. Two men dressed as hunters were building a fire. It is NOT hunting season. One raised his gloved wrist and a falcon drifted through the trees, clutching its prey.

     The bird dropped a writhing squirrel at the feet of the larger man, who stomped it, crushing its bones.

     “It’s cruel to let ‘em live.” He said, “But it’s not a pretty death.”

     “Maggie,” Sarah whispered, “This feels like a trap.”

     “Girls gone wild?” I said.

     She nodded.

     We backed away, started screaming, stunning the men.

     We ran.

     Sometimes a cry in the wilderness is your only weapon.

Pigeons

By Mary Jo Robertiello

     The chaplain blessed me, mumbled some prayers and wasted my one hour of exercise. I was allowed one book. I begged for a history of pigeons. I received Bones of Glass. How I miss my state supported paradise, Rikers. As the lightning streaked across LaGuardia’s nearby runways, my beloved pigeons–don’t call them birds—surrounded me with almost silent love. The tales I could tell of the hidden burials. First, a rudimentary cremation. My Bic lighter created the fire. The other prisoners preyed on me. They trapped me to learn my secret. With wild voices they threatened me. The secret? The killjoy wardens were scared to death of pigeons. Let this be a lesson: Pigeons are healers and true friends.

Tit for Tat

By Cheryl Fulton

     She sat there in the depths of darkness, still his trapped prey. Her reality was illuminated as the lightning blinked onto the panes of glass, and death was displayed in the silent room. She covered her ears to stop the voices from competed their directions. The indignant rain was deafening, and she shivered and pulled her bloodstained sweater tight against her bruised aching bones. The rusted cooler was waiting for her to fill it with her abuser, she untied him and forced him in. She then pulled it outside and trudged it to the cliff’s edge, with no hesitation pushed it over into the wild waves of the sea. As she turned her smile was interrupted by a bird blinded by the rain, flew into her and she stumbled and fell back and over to her own burial below. No paradise for the sinner.

Death Rolled Over in His Grave

By Eleanor Ingbretson

     Death woke. His ears itched; he listened to the voices.

     “Yeah, that was good, but the silent movie was better.”

     “Where Death was on holiday, and wouldn’t whack anyone? Lazy killjoy.”

     “Definitely jealous of humans and this earthly paradise.”

     Death was pissed. Killjoy? Lazy? Inhuman? Oh, their laughter sorely tempted him. He knew he wasn’t allowed, it wasn’t their time, and he’d be really sorry, but. . .

     Blam! A blast of hot lightning shot from the depths of his heart and smote the movie-lovers. Death immediately cringed, anticipating the All-Mighty’s lesson. It came quicker than he’d expected.

     In the fires of hell, the two he’d zapped repeated, ad nauseam, taunting tales of Death’s movie career. The trapped denizens bellowed killjoy and hooted kookaburra bird calls. Wild and profane Bronx cheers followed Death everywhere in his own domain. His victims were deliriously happy. Death laid himself down and died.

Paradise Fried

By Beverly Post

     Make no mistake, when lightning strikes, I run! That’s how I ran into Charlie, who must have been running too, when he was shot in the back.  I never laugh at the dead but Charlie was another thing entirely, being that his hair was fried and standing on end. Lightning must have struck dead-on, I thought, chiding myself for thinking funny things about a dead man; but it was Charlie, always a killjoy, laying there with his fried hair, that struck me funny.

     I pictured him in Paradise, wild with outrage that he wouldn’t get the burial he’d wanted with friends and family crying over his death.  These silent voices in the beyond were true healers— their ecstatic joy would never give him the feeling he craved. Charlie felt trapped. He’d paid some lowlife to kill him because he was so depressed, and now he was suicidal and dead.

Rotting Leaves

By Karen Whalen

     You never finish anything you start my grandmother sniped when I dropped out of high school. My grandfather left to check his traps when I was ten and kept walking, followed three tumultuous years later by my mother. She hunted for a different prey I learned cowered silent in my bedroom.

     “You’re playing with fire, running wild from one man to the next.”

     “Killjoy. Look what happily ever after got you.”

     My grandmother’s response was lightning fast, a slap that made my mother’s cheek rage red. The front door slammed her farewell.

     Alone now, their voices my memories, I track my grandfather’s footsteps through the thick woods. I scatter the pile of rotting leaves with my boot and add a handful of stones to the mound, relieved to find the burial intact, her bones still hidden within the depths of the earth, her life ended before she could ruin mine.

“Caw”

By Joanne Bianco

     The shard of glass shimmers with golden fire when the lightning illuminates the ground below our hidden treetop lair. We are silent, watchful, and patient awaiting our prey. You may ask, “Is this a trap for some unsuspecting wanderer?” Most certainly, it is! The scattered bones and rags nearby attest to that! “Hush now. Something approaches.” It clasps the shiny crystal in its hand, This act signals our attack and a myriad of our wild voices ring out. CAW! CAW! CAW! And as we pounce and pierce, our bird calls spell death to our victim.

The Things I’ve Learned

By Joseph S. Walker

     I learned my lessons from the tales of a man on the job for years before I came along. He was a cop right down to his bones, and the things he taught me still rattled around in my head years after his death.

     “If you’re not the predator, you’re the prey.”

     I crept along the outer wall of the silent house, edging my way toward the open door, my gun out. The escaped killer was hidden inside.

     “Don’t think. Just listen to the voices.”

     My voices were saying trap.

     Three feet shy of the door I crouched, picked up a rock, and tossed it against the window I’d just gone by.  It made a noise and immediately shots rang out, shattering the glass.

     “When the moment comes, move like lightning.”

     I dove through the door, opening fire, all the lessons holding true.

One True Friend

By Mary Fishler-Fisk

     Was her glass half full or half empty?

     Margot stared through its burgundy depths into the roaring flames in the fieldstone fireplace. This rustic cabin should have been paradise. Yet, right down to her bones, she felt trapped, hidden in the wilds of Northern Maine like some prey animal hunkered in its burrow, waiting for deliverance or death.

     A nearby crash of thunder broke through the silent night.     

     Had she missed a flash of lightning?

     She placed the wineglass on the end table beside her rocker. Reached underneath for her one, true friend. Cradled the shotgun in her lap.

     Outside. Voices. Two. Whispering.

     She slipped out of the chair. Hid behind the fireplace. Took aim at the door.

     It blew open. Two armed shadows entered.

     Margot didn’t hesitate.

     Each barrel dispatched an intruder.

     She dragged the bodies outside. Time enough tomorrow for burial.

     Tonight, she poured her glass full.

Sweet Revenge

By Janice Asher

     “I’ve told you before—you’re trapped in fat. I want you to eat like a bird until your bones show. No more cookies – Paradise is thinness! You are to eat only kale this week—let that be a lesson to you.”

     “It’s true, Doctor. You’re such an inspiring healer. Here are homemade cookies I baked specially for you. I won’t eat even one.”

     “Oh, thank you. Delicious. Lucky I don’t have a weight problem.”

     She watched as his breathing became more rapid and then slowed. Soon, he was silent.

     Death by cyanide chip cookies.

     “Kale indeed,” she thought.

     Many shared their stories about Dr. Killjoy at his burial. She left the graveside `feeling wild and free from the depths of shame.

     Let that be a lesson to you, Doctor.

Conflict of Interest

By Catherine Bellaconis

     “He’s not going to return early, is he? I don’t want a repeat of the Davidson job,” I said.

     “It wasn’t that bad.”

     “Danny, we spent hours hidden behind a bush when the owners decided to do the wild thing in the pool.”

     “True, but we learned a valuable lesson. I confirmed the doctor’s lecture on the depths of the human psyche is still on. I can’t believe your girlfriend dreams of bones and suddenly we’re searching our client’s home.”

     “They symbolize treachery.”

     “Great, any insights to what we are hoping to find?”

     “Before them all the other images were good omens like fire and a flying bird.”

     “Things one might see at a campsite. Kam, look at this picture of the wife. Didn’t he say this was her private paradise, far away from the tourist trap? It gave her a place to think.”

     “And him a burial ground.”

Vocation

By Judith Carlough

     The owl clutched the mouse in his talons, crushing its fragile bones. The bird’s beak opened– as if in a victory screech–as prey became sustenance, eternal testimony to Darwin’s laws. But the owl was silent, frozen forever beneath a glass dome. The taxidermist ignored the owl as he did dozens of similar vaults crowding his cramped store. The taxidermist had stopped trapping and preserving wild creatures for scientific study after his life’s work was redirected by a request from a neighbor desperate over the death of her cat. His act of compassion had delivered an invaluable financial lesson: science reimburses only a fraction of what grief will pay. He took on more cats, then dogs, until finally discovering his true and most lucrative specimens: the dearly beloved, recently departed to paradise. Tonight, in the depths of the taxidermist’s hidden preparation chamber, the mayor’s Great Aunt Cornelia awaited.

Mainely Overdosed

By Matthew Langdon Cost

     “I want you to find who supplied the heroin that caused the death of my infant granddaughter.” The old bird was not much more than a bag of bones, having just come from the burial, her voice coming from cavernous depths.

     Langdon remembered this initial meeting as he faced his prey. The lobster man known as Killjoy who had been smuggling hidden drugs in his traps had a wild look, perhaps because one of his eyes was made of glass, or maybe because of his claim to hearing voices in his head.

     Lightning flashed, splitting the heavens above the paradise that was coastal Maine. “Somebody’s been spinning tales,” Killjoy said.

     “All of them  true, it seems,” Langdon said.

     “I’m a healer, not a dealer.” Killjoy charged forward.

     Langdon fired once shattering his knee. “The lesson is that drugs are bad for you,” he said and dialed 911.

Just another Day in Paradise

By Linda McHenry

     Reigning over paradise, I enjoyed the fires of eternal damnation shooting bolts of lightning toward the heavenly light.

     Down here, the voices of my followers howled. Up there, the big, black, bird circling overhead whispered prophetic tales about the depths of pleasure the living would experience if they joined us on the dark side.

     When the raven began circling directly overhead, I knew the wild flapping of his wings signaled his excitement at finding fresh, new prey. Foolish bird. Didn’t he recognize me? Hadn’t he worked for me long enough to recognize me in one of my disguises?

     Obviously not.

     I pursed my lips and bestowed a kiss of discipline, just enough to singe his wings and send him tumbling onto his predecessor’s burial vault.

     “Killjoy!” he squawked and made my day.

Ellie’s Find

By Michael J. West

     Hidden by earth burial for centuries, bones of the gigantic bird T-Rex rose from the silent depths of a once-marshy Montana paradise. Lightning pierced the archeologist’s tent, and it burst into fire. His crazed assistant Ellie’s glasses fogged up as she trapped her prey inside, dooming him to a certain death.

     “This will be my discovery, my fame, my fortune,” she said aloud to no one. Perhaps she spoke to the voices in her head, as she danced around the archeologist’s tent. “They will tell tales, she said, of my find here in the wild.”

     Not to be a killjoy, but it did come true for Ellie, though she spent her remaining years under the care of a Buddhist healer, who was never able to free her from her karma, nor the lesson she could not excavate from her soul.

The Healer

By Rima P. Riedel

     Silent, moccasin clad, Nestor padded into the dense forest, tiptoeing gingerly, as if negotiating endless shards of glass. If the many tales he had heard about The Healer were true, he’d soon be cured—no longer prey to his own disturbing thoughts. Drawing closer, Nestor felt in his bones the presence of the one he sought.

     Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning followed by drumlike thunder claps.

     Nestor stopped.

     Watching.

     Listening intently…

     “There!” He cried out. “It must be there. Wisps of smoke spiraling up. A hidden  cave!”

     From within the depths, a voice beckoned.

     “Enter. You have reached your destination.”

     He entered.

     “I know why you have come. Drink this and you will find the peace you so desperately  seek”

     Wild-eyed, Nestor grabbed the potion, drinking deeply. Gradually the voices of the victims he had left in his wake receded, as he joined them in death.

Homecare

By Christine Falcone

     “Time to get you up, sweetie.” Her smile is insincere. She grabs my arms and jerks me to my feet.

     I cry out, “Go slowly. My bones have become fragile. Let me try to walk by myself.”

     She calls herself a healer, but she has a face of glass, I see that her true agenda is death. My nephew, that dirty bird, has hired her to care for me. But I know their hidden purpose. I heard them talking, trying to keep their voices down.

     “Now hold onto the walker. I’m going to give you a lesson on how to use it properly.”

     I follow her instructions, silent, but watching. In the hallway, I see her trap:the loose rug, the long staircase. I may not move like lightning any longer, but my wild flailing arms send her instead; not to Paradise, but to hell and its fire.

Paradise Point

By Julie Brogan

     Detective Martin and his deputy sidestepped down the icy bluff. A silent spot in winter except for the birds squabbling over limited prey.

     “Didn’t the Pilgrims name this Paradise Point because they survived a lightning strike here, Detective?”

     The Pilgrim legend never rang true to Martin. Neither did the suspect’s story about the disappearance of his wife.

     “That hidden cove at the mouth of the Candecott River is an Abenaki burial ground. They never would have let Europeans settle this far upriver.”

     The men grabbed onto juniper roots to keep from falling. Rocks jutted up from the river below like shards of glass. A crow swooped past. Martin ducked. The winged beast landed a few yards to his right, jerked its beak, and started pecking at the flesh remaining on bones the size of a woman’s leg.

The Deadly Ivory-Bill Quest

By Pat Remick

     If you believe the tales, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is either extinct or thrives hidden in a secret paradise in the depths of the wild swamps of the Southeast. The search for the rarest bird in North America has made it the prey of birders worldwide. I know the woodpecker’s fate, but remain silent. Not because I yearn to trap it —just seeing it would be a true triumph for any birdwatcher. No, I have kept counsel because the quest has led to so many ornithologist disappearances. When I heard animated voices through the trees, I feared the worst. But soon they reached the small weathered bones planted to deter their mission. Cameras flashed like lightning in the predawn light as they recorded the death of their odyssey. No need for burials today. I put my rifle and shovel aside until the next time—and listened for the Ivory-Bills instead.

Adopt a Cat Instead

By Melinda Abraham

     “Don’t call me Killjoy,” I screamed and stomped out of the room.

     I hated that parrot. His wild accusations frayed my nerves. A cat would have made a better pet—a lesson learned far too late.

     Pet stores with a no returns policy prey upon those of us who never read the fine print. Now I was trapped with a feathered demon telling tales.

     Joy’s death had been ruled an accident, just the way I’d planned it. No one suspected foul play. The glass that had held the poison had been wiped clean and hidden at the back of the shelf.

     “Killjoy. Killjoy. Kill Joy,” the parrot bellowed. The noise echoed throughout the courtyard. Everyone in the apartment building heard it.

     It’s true that someone recorded that rant and fired it off to the police. Now they know that the parrot wanted to kill Joy.

     I beat him to it.

Red Riding Hood

By Christine Allen

     Their voices were moving away now. But the woods weren’t silent: a hidden bird squeaked, an owl hooted, something wild—a fox? a coyote?—stirred in the depths of the undergrowth.

     They’d called her Red Riding Hood, because of her jacket. Only one of them had hurt her; the others had finally pulled him away.

     Whatever they’d forced her to drink was making her drowsy. The fairy tales she’d loved all her life drifted into focus: the girl abandoned deep in an impassable forest would surely be found, snatched from death, by her one true love?

     It’s not going to happen, she thought. When they find me, I’ll be…

* * *

     “Bones,” the hunter said. “There’s a skull over here. Have you got a signal? Call the cops!”

     His companion looked over his shoulder and glimpsed shreds of cloth faded to a dull rose. He started to retch.

Potter’s Field

By Sharyn Daynard

     Stanley Potter considered his elderly neighbor, Lavona Whitcomb, a crackpot rather than qualified historian. Her morbid curiosities revolved around unsolved murders, accidental deaths and eccentricities of the town’s founding families. As far as Stanley was concerned, her far-fetched narratives of women who’d disappeared centuries ago were more based on tall tales and campfire oddities than on true accounts and documented testimony. That changed when he found bones on a remote part of land that had been in his family since before the town was founded.

     Digging through the depths of the two-hundred-year-old burial ground proved a lesson in death and a hidden pleasure—a way to stop the voices. And while they were silent now, it was far too late for Lavona.

     At least he’d made sure the old bird was in the company of the women she shared so much history with.

And Dust to Dust

By Marjorie Drake

     Madison, hidden behind the ornate columns in front of the hotel, watched Jason and the girl, entwined in the hammock on the hotel’s front lawn. The night was silent, except for their soft voices.

     Jason and Madison had spent their honeymoon here, two years before. It’d been paradise, a passionate wild ride, after the joyous gravity of their vows. What had been the truest thing in Madison’s life was now a farce. She waited in the shadows for the right time.

     A stroke of luck—the flash of lightning. She counted to three and approached as the thunder rumbled.

     Later, she wiped the blade clean, and considered what she would wear to the funeral. There would be an open casket—she’d avoided his face–and a burial. Fire was too good for his body. Instead his flesh would be eaten away and his bones would finally crumble, ashes to ashes.

Polly Wants a Helping Hand

By Tonya Price

     Mike, known as the family killjoy, hated the way the wild bird watched him, but he kept silent. He listened to his extended family’s voices as they gathered after Uncle Jim’s burial. Amid the clinking of champaign glasses at the Caribbean paradise estate, Mike warned, “Fools, you’re celebrating Uncle Jim’s death, but no one knows where his stolen money is hidden.”

     Sitting on its nest in its gilded cage within view of the giant granite fireplace’s roaring fire, Jim’s pet crow, Polly, snuggled her head into the depths of her black feathers. She couldn’t get comfortable as she nestled on her eggs.

     None of the greedy relatives noticed the bird’s dilemma, but Polly wasn’t worried. She knew tomorrow Uncle Jim’s lover, the veterinarian, would visit and take the Swiss bank key Jim had concealed in the coconut fiber nest, ridding Polly of the annoying distraction.

Marriage Trap

By Pat Goudey O’Brien

     My husband was a weird bird. He had his own way of thinking. Seriously abnormal. He said something wild once. “Marriage is a trap. Women have the power; they exploit men. Prey on husbands, take their stuff.”

     I should have learned my lesson when he started throwing things, but sometimes we face reality, and sometimes it remains hidden. I missed it.

     Living with him had never been paradise, but it was always his stuff he broke. His stuff, not mine. Stuff he cared about.

     He smashed a TV. A glass-framed photograph. Said I made him do it.

     Until one night, lightning struck. A kind of fire. His anger rose, the fire grew, and he knocked me down. I saw his eyes. A look like death.

     I was something he cared about.

     I knew what to do. A hammer. Silent. Dark of night. Boom.

     Burial was private. Very private

Patient, No More

By Cynthia Gould

     Myles stared into the depths of his brandy glass as the light from the fire reflected off of the crystal, creating patterns on the wall. He listened to the sounds of the VitaMix as it worked on grinding the bones to powder. He thought about how he used to be a healer of the minds of others. But, years of listening to the tales of the rich and whiny had withered his heart and soul, and left room for something, hidden deep within, to grow. He turned off the blender. As he poured the contents down the drain, the grinding of the disposal reminded him to clean it well and make sure no traces were trapped in the blades. He flipped off the switch. Silence at last. Maybe now, the voices in his head would be silent, too.

Paradise, Briefly

By Rachel Brown

     Edna Sparks is a killjoy even in death. Her dear Peter is with me now, but she’s still in the way.

     “She was a wild child,” he says. “Before she grew so dull.”

     Believe me, I’m not in his bedroom to talk about Edna. But for him, I’m game. “She felt trapped,” I say. “Sad to her bones.”

     It’s nonsense; Edna was vain and unworthy. But Peter smiles. “Thanks for releasing her.” He traces my lips with his fingers. “And for releasing me.”

     This surprises me. Nobody knows I fed Edna the ricin. And he’s glad?

     He kisses me. “You’re like a bird of paradise,” he says. “True to yourself, fire in your belly. Tell me everything. I’m in awe.”

     I am a bird of paradise. I kiss him back. My love, my prey. I tell him everything.

     He gets up, walks to the door, and lets the officers in.

The First

By Adrienne Ross

     My mother is the village healer, and though she has tried, even her touch cannot hush the dark voices in my head.

     On the morning of my twelfth birthday, she asks me to collect some wood.

     “There is a bird that can’t fly, hidden in the hedge,” she says.

     “Should I bring it to you?” I ask. My mother is silent and turns away.

     Outside, I find the bird. I stretch out my hand, offer some seed warm from my pocket. Hungry, she flaps over to me. It is easy to trap her. Her beak, sharp as cut glass, pecks me. My bloodied fingers feel where her head meets her body and there, I snap her hollow bones.

     Later when the fire is low and my mother is tired of telling tales of heroes, she asks what the voices in my head say. For the first time, I hear nothing.

What price?

By Bob Tucker

A desperate couple stood near their only child, a heartbeat from death, gaunt, with skin stretched bones. They agonized over words from a stolen book of ancient tales used to summon the true healer who would appear for a price. They spoke with determined voices masking terror-filled hearts. Flames erupted consuming an ornate cage. It shattered into a million fiery glass slivers. An iridescent hooded bird of prey streaked out, trailing white hot sparks. It turned its head with murderous stare. The startled couple locked frightened eyes, slowly nodded, and pointed. With a violent thrust of wings and cry of wild song, it summoned brilliant streaks of lightning, wrapping the tiny figure in a cocoon of blinding energy. Daggers of heart-stopping screams pierced the air as life returned. The hooded healer dropped to the child. An unforgiving voice lashed out. Now, which one will take the child’s place?

Widow’s Pyre

By Adelene Ellenberg

I quiver with silent laughter as I remember:

On my wedding day, I had decided there would be no chaste, widow’s devotion from me!

The day my husband died, I had to undergo ritual death by fire on the ever-so-unjust-widow’s-pyre.

My bones would be gathered up with his, and our joint burial would be a toss in the River Ganges.

That day came yesterday. Just as the match was struck, lightning-from-heaven exploded around us. The pious holy men, killjoys who sought to trap me like prey for this terrible ritual, fled before the ferocious storm. Their pounding drums and wild voices vanished.

Our Sister-Healer crept out from the nearby foliage, unbound me, rescued me. She brought me to a hidden refuge for the other “no-longer-necessary” widows like me, saying:

“Let this be a lesson. True Paradise is your Earthly Freedom!”

Return to Paradise

By Sheryl Kayne

Lightning seared through the silent night. My front door opened. He was there. I walked into his trap. I wanted to kill him. He belonged in a bag of bones, ready for burial. Speaking about his death was easier than explaining his incarceration. When asked, “Where is that good looking guy?”

I replied, “He’s dead.”

“When did you get out? New glasses?”

“Yes, four days ago, I returned to paradise. You didn’t notice.”

I did but did not learn my lesson. One day the heat was on when I got home and one night I woke from a weird noise upstairs.

“You came here to kill me?”

“I’m no killjoy buzzkill, no wild man. You had ten years here without me, now I want ten without you.”

“Hah, over my dead body.”

“OK,” he said as he shot her pink glock directly at her heart and said a silent prayer.

Innocence Lost

By Kristopher Zgorski

     The sudden flash of lightning illuminated the burial plot they had dug under the old elm tree in the backyard. Tears were not necessary as the burden of this demise weighed heavy on all who gathered. The joyous voices of innocent children at play in the distance were overshadowed by the wild wind that whipped around the gathered assemblage, rattling each to the very depths of their soul, as it chilled the bones of both young and old alike. Every silent prayer wished a plush paradise upon this innocent victim, fallen prey to unimaginable and unexpected evil. It was likely that by tomorrow the ragged and torn body of the yellow Big Bird stuffed toy would be a forgotten memory, but the true lesson here was to hold precious things close at all times…and most especially keep them away from Fido’s reach.