Flashwords Winners

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FLASHWORDS!

New England Crime Bake™

2020

     We challenged the folks attending the 17th annual 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 first seven Guests of Honor before Flashwords! debuted: Jeremiah Healy, Janet Evanovich, Robert B. Parker, Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Scottoline, Lee Child, and Harlan Coben.

     We received 40 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:

“Blunt Cake”

by G.M. Malliet

“Dirty Money”

by Patricia Dusenbury

“What Comes in by a Door and Leaves by a Window?”

by Eleanor Ingbretson

     Congratulations and thank you to all who participated with such enthusiasm. Enjoy!

Title Words: blind, blunt, ceremony, deadly, detail, dough, enemy, fear, hush, innocent, invasion, joy, mischief, mistaken, rescue, savage, spiral, tender, truth, vanish.

Flashwords Stories

Winner!

Blunt Cake

By G.M. Malliet

 “Blind” judging. Ha! The village knew Emily’s cake on sight—those spirals of cinnamon sugar in the dough, that fine detail in the swirly icing.

Her blushing, “surprised” acceptance speech at the prize ceremony, year after year, fooling no one.

She might well blush, the shameless hussy.

This year, I plan some innocent mischief, nothing more. Some deadly bug spray—is half a bottle too much? Truth is, I find it hard to follow recipes.

My real enemy is the vicar—the judge, who hands victory to his lover year after year. They thought they were being so hush-hush. Ha!

Poison Emily’s cake, you’re thinking?

Mais non, as Poirot would say.

Attack the problem at the source.

Judge this, vicar.

Cake’s ready! He’ll be here for tea in ten minutes. He thinks I’m making a big contribution to the church.

Well, in a way…I am.

Ω

Winner!

Dirty Money

By Patricia Dusenbury

      Fishing boats line up, the priest raises his hands, and the locals hush. Tourists keep chattering, but no one chastises them. Truth is, Blessing the Fleet has become more celebration than ceremony, and the tourist invasion brings in more money than fishing ever did.

      A girl skirts the crowd, trying to look innocent, but I’m a cop, and if I’m not mistaken….I watch her slip a wallet from a purse, a phone from a pocket, another wallet, another phone. She fills her tote and strolls away. I catch up and take the tote.

      Fear widens her eyes “P-p-please.”

      “I’ll let you go this time, but no more mischief.”

      Grateful, she scurries away.

      I sort through her haul. Phones and credit cards go to Lost and Found. Bread, bucks, dough, legal tender—call it what you will, the money is what I’m after. Me and everyone else.

Ω

Winner!

‘What Comes in at the Door and Leaves by the Window?’

By Eleanor Ingbretson

Rudeness was not an innocent error on Harold’s part and happened too often. The truth was, he was his own worst enemy. He called Joy into the room with an oath and any happiness the servant had managed to enjoy that day vanished, replaced by deadly loathing.

“Rescue my cufflinks, wench. And open the blinds, idiot, so you can see where they’ve rolled under the bed. Quickly, my appreciation ceremony is starting.”

Joy tenderly hushed Harold’s young son, for whom she cared, and put him from the room. She wiped her hands clean of bread dough and from her rumpled apron hearth soot fell like an invasion of lice onto the bedspread.

“Filthy savage,” Harold screamed.

She crouched cringing. Harold raged and aimed a kick, but the blunt cosh hidden under the bed soon put a permanent end to his malicious mischief.

Joy left by the window.

Ω

The Wedding

By Sylvia D. Frank

An outdoor fall wedding. Crisp, cool weather. Every detail accounted for. The joyous ceremony began at 3 PM, with the couple standing before an apple tree, and the attendees socially distanced, wearing masks. A hush fell over the group as they listened to a tender love song and watched the couple gaze into each other’s eyes.

Then the flower girl shouted, “Bees!” and fear overtook them. Alas, an invasion of killer hornets was headed their way! An enemy of the groom, bent on deadly mischief, had released the swarm.

Just before the hornets savaged the couple and their innocent guests, however, the wind changed direction. Smoke from wildfires miles away spiraled toward the venue, choking the hornets. Masks protected the group until the wind shifted again, and both the interlopers and the smoke vanished, leaving the couple astounded at the rescue.

It was a tender mercy, rare in 2020.

Ω

Borden Sargento’s Cheesy Plot

By D.M. Barr

      Borden Sargento, once a mere mouse but now a Super Vermin since devouring a radioactive slice of Brie, gathered his posse: Colby, Jack, Chedds and his secret weapon, Murray the Muenster. Together, they reviewed plans for the kitchen invasion, a deadly act of revenge against their archenemy, the farmer’s wife, who had savagely attacked their brethren, the three blind mice.

“They were tender and innocent, but she de-tailed them with her carving knife. The world knows our truth but does nothing, so we must take matters into our own hands.”

“What’s the plan?” asked Colby. “If you’ve devised it, I know it will be Krafty.”

Sargento sighed. Colby was always brown-nosing. “We will sneak in and poison the pasta dough,” he said. “Once she starts shaping the fusilli, things will quickly spiral out of control.”

“Whey cool!” gushed Jack. “Your deviousness never ceases to amaze.”

Ω

Bake-Off

By Beth Kanell

It was the day before the Betty Baker Bake-Off ceremony.

“You can’t enter with Grammy’s cinnamon rolls,” I told Aunt Lucy bluntly. “She gave me her recipe, and my dough is perfect.”

Aunt Lucy gave a savage snarl. “I had it before you were born, Carole. You youngsters, all fresh and innocent, think you can win anything. But being old,” she leaned closer with a hushed hiss, “and wicked good, brings advantages!”

Know your enemy, they say. I knew her habits: Spooning up frosting. Sneakily tasting. That night, I dosed the sugar containers with powdered milk. Great texture! Next morning, with joy, I watched it take effect, as she rocked back and forth, unable to steady her hand for frosting spirals. Then quit abruptly, vanishing to the bathroom.

At the whistle, only mine had all the details. “First prize!” The motto: Lactose intolerance isn’t deadly. But very, very potent!

Ω

Labyrinth

By Amy Ballard

Down the stone steps of the spiral staircase in the tower, into one of the fort’s blind alleys he pursued her. In the dank darkness, their feet struck stone, ringing, ringing the truth: she had never loved him. Now, ahead, a hush. She had vanished into the belly of the fortress, but he would find and end her. She deserved to die for her mischief. As he slowed to listen, the cold, damp draft from a hidden corridor made his hair stand up. A rustle of skirts echoed soft against the stone. Or was he mistaken? He drew his blade, pushed down the fear of this darker darkness, and followed his tender enemy into the labyrinth of her soon demise.

Ω

Innocents End

By Robert Tucker

He bowed low, hiding his crushing disappointment from the blunt stinging words of his superior. His eyes twitched with anger at his mistaken belief that speaking the truth might rescue the innocents. A blind obsession smothered his soul, turning him cold and empty. Returning to his lab, he slipped something unseen into his pocket and left. Numb to the chaos and chatter swirling around the wet market, he cast tortured glances at the exotic hanging animals. He closed his eyes, fingers wrapped around his salvation. He lifted it to his nose and inhaled deeply, praying for a life-ending exchange. He began to cough violently, never noticing the deadly saliva spiral down the slender tube, slowly inching its way toward freedom. It hung on the vial’s edge, toxic droplets growing before they silently fell, vanishing onto a hanging slab of tender meat.

Ω

Gone

By Karen Lee Boren

Savage wind slapped Ronny, as she scuttled to the squat. Nisse was gone. The others would be pissed. She’d sworn off drink when Nisse vanished, the details still fuzzy; she’d supposed she’d never know the truth about why he’d gone.

Head down, she’d been blind to the man in the doorway until he was on her. The faux leather of her jacket blunted his knife point, but it still felt like a deadly invasion.

“Your dosh.” He smelled of moldy fruit and cigarettes.

Keep cool, girl. “I don’t . . .” Yes, play the innocent. “ . . . skint.”

This confused then angered him.

“Liar. Bloody, lying slag.” His hushed tone just left of tenderness.

Longing for Nisse flooded her, but he wouldn’t rescue her. Never again.

Fear shot through her, to her knee, which hit his balls with bullet precision.

“You’re wrong!”

She ran. Joyous. Free.

Ω

Cake-Tails

By Diane Annunziato

 “Stop your mischief!”  Lily threw a ball of dough at Macavity and he vanished behind the mixer.  In truth, she had a tender place in her heart for the bakery’s rescue cat, though his deadly stalking of the mice often took the form of savage sport.  Was it really necessary to execute them with such cold ceremony?  The use of his enemy’s head as a toy afterwards was what really chilled her.

Lily turned back to the wedding cake she was just finishing.  Innocent tendrils of grape vine spiraled down from the crowning tier, coming to rest at the base.  There was such beauty in the detail.  Smiling, she anticipated the joy on the bride’s face when the cake was unveiled.

Macavity grinned.  If he wasn’t mistaken, he spied the tail of a mouse slipping into the storage larder.

Ω

Be Careful

By Dan Friedman

He dragged me to the deadly ceremony blindfolded.

But I knew my boyfriend would rescue me.

It had started as an innocent prank. The home invasion was supposed to be mischief. We drove to a remote house, planning on stealing something meaningless. We were supposed to get away laughing, then make tender love in his Toyota.

But the homeowner caught us.

“Tell me the truth!” He tied our hands and blindfolded us.

“It was a prank!” I heard the fear in my boyfriend’s voice.

“So, no one knows you’re here, huh?” He laughed, filling the air with his bad breath. “Thousands of kids vanish each year.”

We heard him chamber a round in his shotgun.

He dragged me into a different room and tied me to what seemed to be an altar.

Who has an altar in their house?

I heard him leaving the room.

Then I heard a gunshot.

Ω

Savage Beads

By Stacey Pearson

      Lee never planned to kill. The deadly thoughts came to him like savage rosary beads strung together. Sitting on the bed reading his son’s suicide note, Lee’s tender hands hung heavy between his knees. The words on the lined notebook paper erased his blindness and detailed a truth that yanked Lee into an abyss. He refused to descend alone. Lee would take the enemy with him.  So, as the moon painted the tips of the ripples white, Lee let his fear and his son’s innocent body slip quietly into and vanish under the river’s swampy waters. A rescue would be mounted, and his boy’s death would be mistaken for drowning. An invasion of crushing grief would follow. Joy would never again exist. But now, Lee entered the hush of the chapel and grabbed the first blunt object he saw.  An amber light glowed at the top of the confessional box.

Ω

The Ceremony

By E TheWriter

It is an invasion, how you come into my life. You are not a tender lover. By the time you’re done with me, I am no longer an innocent.

Do not be mistaken: I’m neither blind nor stupid. I know you for what you are—a trickster. What a joy it must be for you, enticing me with your deadly mischief to follow your duplicitous spirals of fear.

You are the devil in the details, warping and kneading my mind like dough, convincing me an enemy lurks around every corner ready to savage me with a blunt instrument.

When I cry out for rescue, you silence me with the tip of your finger, telling me to “hush,” as though the word will make all darkness vanish. And, in truth, for a while it does, until I see you—once again—beckoning me through the bookstore window, and the ceremony begins.

Ω

A Covetous Crime

By Ellen Butler

Ka-thunk. The deadly butcher knife savagely split through the fat, sinew, and muscle like cutting through bread dough. He’d made sure to sharpen it beforehand, so the slices were deep and clean. For a blunt blade would hack and cause damage to the tender flesh. It even cut through the bones with only the mildest crunch. As he raised the knife, another sound disturbed the hush. He paused. Cocked an ear.

No, he must have been mistaken, but he’d better hurry in case his enemy noticed and came to rescue his pride and joy. He’d been eyeing this prime piece for months, but the plan to snatch her formed in his mind just a week before the ceremony.

The barn door burst open, sunlight flooded in, and there stood his neighbor, farmer John. He pointed and shouted, “There he is, Sheriff! The thief who stole my prize-winning pig!”

Ω

Deadly Anniversary

By Janet Anderson-Murch

For an anniversary ceremony, Ted and Julie Newcastle chose mischief and attended a murder mystery dinner to raise funds to purchase guide dogs for the blind. The invitation offered little detail, other than an innocent patron would be murdered in a deadly home invasion. Guests needed to conquer their fear, find the truth, and describe the savage crime The joy in the evening was cut short, when Ted’s ex-girlfriend and Julie’s enemy, Penelope, arrived at the dinner covered in fake blood. They were mistaken to think Penelope was hurt, when it was Jason, Penelope’s husband, who was lying in the hall, his temple smashed in with a blunt object. As Ted turned to confront Penelope, she vanished out a side door. As hilarity and accusations from other patrons spiraled, Ted turned to Julie with a tender touch to her face, and whispered, “I’m so glad I married you.”

Ω

Kneading the Truth

By Carol Kaufman

I didn’t just knead the bread dough. In my anger I pounded it and twisted and slapped the yeasty stuff against the marble counter. Nothing would be able to rescue that loaf when I was done with it. Joy had committed the ultimate invasion of my privacy. How mistaken I was to have had tender feelings for my baby sister. Her juvenile penchant for innocent mischief had morphed into a savage attack on my wedding ceremony. How blind I had been to trust her as my maid of honor! I spiraled downward as the reality of what she had done became clear. Could anything blunt my anger? My sisterly love vanished; Joy was now the enemy.

So, during the week of what should have been my blissful honeymoon, I planned my revenge, detail by deadly detail.

Ω

Farewell, My Sweet

By Matt Cost

Johnny vanished from the world one day without a trace. His wife of two days was left in a quandary. The ceremony had gone off without a hitch, and she had felt a joy she’d never experienced before. It was as if she’d been reborn. She feared that mischief had befallen him, but the truth was, he’d told her he was leaving. With a bluntness that was the opposite of his normal tender self, Johnny said that he was going away, and when she awoke in the morning, he was, indeed, gone. There were no savage and deadly enemies, unless one counted the bullies. Joannie was not blind, nor was she an innocent, but there was no mistake that Johnny was gone. Quite simply, Johnny had gone so that she could be. Farewell, my sweet, Joannie thought to herself.

Ω

Mind Your Own Business

By Kristopher Zgorski

 “If it’s the truth, it’s not paranoia.” I argued to my therapist on Wednesday.

Now, on Saturday, I don’t understand why you won’t believe me…why no one believes me. Here we are roaming the hushed halls of this estate at the reception following Yvonne’s joyful wedding ceremony…yes, I know she didn’t marry me…but I’m happy for her…really. Of course, I was invited…why would you ask that?

Besides, you’re missing the point…the crucial detail here is that someone is after me. I saw him in the study…watching me…staring…but he vanished as I walked across the room…No, I can’t explain it…Listen, don’t believe that crap from the doctor about a spiral of fear…I am not mistaken…I’ll show you. Follow me.

The enemy is over there, against the wall…are you blind?…he’s right there…in the reflection, pointing at me. I’ve got to stop him…I need to be by myself again…be myself again. Please!

Ω

Booked Up

By Paula Messina

Dorothea slapped concrete on Mistaken Identity and set it atop A Savage Place. To drown out Ralph’s moans, she cranked up The Blind Boys of Alabama.

“Haveta do everything.”

“Rescue me.”

“Too late, Ralph. Shoulda sold the books.”

She added Sudden Mischief, Crimson Joy, and Hush Money, then picked up The Enemy. She hadn’t read it and set it aside. Vanish, Blunt Dart, and Darkest Fear went next.

“Thought I married a bibliophile. Not a book hoarder.”

She added Three to Get Deadly, The Final Detail, and Two for the Dough to the growing wall. “Ralph, who reads The Innocent six times?”

She could barely hear his groans over the Blind Boys singing “Can I Get a Witness.”

Spiral, Legal Tender, and Ceremony meant the wall nearly reached the ceiling.

“Please, Dorothea.”

Ralph’s voice was lower than Bertie Wooster’s IQ.

“Too late, Ralphy. And that’s the truth.”

Ω

Baked

By Gina Fava

A savage gust of Ottowa wind spiraled down the theater’s staircase, and snuffed lights pitched the attendees into blinding darkness. The generator kicked on. Twelve prepubescents had vanished from the Kids’ Pasta-Making Championship medal ceremony. Parents’ joy turned to fear.

One mother found the scribbled note, “They’re all baked.” Another screamed, “Kidnapped, or worse?” Panic ensued.

A judge announced, “Hush! Truth is…I’m the head of security. Don’t be mistaken, my detail will find and rescue your innocent children.” Most appreciated his bluntness; others conjured him the enemy. All sought the young chefs.

Cold swept in. The boiler battled its invasion and forced heat through vents. The guard shouted, “We must get to the boiler room in the annex outside!”

They fought the deadly subzero winds to the annex that housed the blazing furnace. The children, alight with mischief, were gathered there, the eldest tenderly baking their dough into bread.

Ω

Abracadabra

By Patrice Perrotta

Magicians are masters of deception and we rely on our audience to be blind to the truth.

An experienced master knows a dangerous stunt can spiral out of control so I was blunt with Claude when I told him to stay focused. His reputation as a joker has made him his own worst enemy in this profession, which is why I chose him as my apprentice. He was no Houdini.

I knew his innocent mischief making would turn deadly someday.

Every detail of this illusion has to be executed with safety and precision. After all, he was about to slice our famulus, my ex-wife, into two pieces.

A hush fell over the audience as the hum from the buzz saw filled the theatre.

Fear gripped Claude’s face as the blade slipped and ripped through her tender flesh.

Beautifully done, my boy. Now for your next trick, make her vanish. Permanently.

Ω

Swift Justice

By Jody Rich

THWACK! Her machete split her target clean. Justice Blunt pushed the chopped stalks into the compost bin, without ceremony.

Time would take care of everything Justice put in there.

The kitchen window opened, “Auntie J, it’s too dark. Come in. You’re deadly with that thing. You’ll take off a finger.”

It wouldn’t last long with all this other rotten decay. “I’ll be right in, Joy.”

“Another day without Richard harassing me. He seemed to just vanish. Not that I mind, mind you.” Joy rubbed her still-tender upper arm where her former boyfriend left his handprint.

“Oh, you needn’t fear him. The Dick was sorely mistaken coming here, to rescue you from, how did he describe me, the liberal lesbian? Goddess forbid an innocent such as yourself should learn that you can live with your own opinions, and values. No, he was just an ugly detail in the story of your life.”

Ω

Invasion

By Claire A. Murray

“Are you sure?” Lena stood in the doorway.

Tony parted the curtains. “Look. Nothing there.”

“Guess I was mistaken.”

He lowered the blinds. Moonlight streaked the bare floor. “Get ready. The invasion will begin soon.” He grabbed two gas masks from the mud room. “Anything ready to eat?”

“Almost.” Lena wrapped spiral strips of dough around hot dogs stuffed with cheese and set them in the oven. “Glad this ancient stove works.”

They ate and drank by candlelight. Lena giggled.

“Hush.” said Tony.

“Can’t help it … nerves,” she said.

Feet shuffled through leaves outside and they donned their masks. Footsteps neared the door. Lena jerked it open and they sprang at the enemy, yelling like savages. Three teen boys, spray paint cans poised for mischief, screamed in fear and ran off.

Lena and Tony laughed, tears of joy rolling down their cheeks. “Happy Halloween,” they hollered.

Ω

The Enemy of My Enemy

By Roger Toll

Roscoe lowers the filthy blinds and fires up a fat meth-soaked blunt. He makes a little ceremony of tossing the lit match in my face. With my arms cuffed behind my back, there’s nothing I can do but take it.

I tell him, “I want Baboo taken down, same as you. You never heard the enemy of my enemy is my friend?”

“Not with you. You’re just another enemy.”

He’s not mistaken, but I keep at it, the truth not my friend at present. “How about this?” I say. “I deliver Baboo to you. You get all the credit.”

Roscoe says, “Hush up, you” He takes another hit off the blunt, then puts it out on the tender spot under my right ear, savage joy all over his misshapen cop face. “Baboo’s scum, but so’s Internal Affairs, and you been talking to them.”

The knife’s sharp. I barely feel it.

Ω

Varnishing the Truth

By Judith Green

I knocked. “Back he-ah,” called a voice. “I’m vanishing.”

Huh? It was the wife who was missing.

He was on the back porch, varnishing a spiral finial. Oh. The Maine accent again. I’ll never be mistaken for a local.

“Your stepdaughter, Joy, says her mother’s missing.” I eyed a freshly dug area near the garage.

“Puttin’ in some daffodils,” he said, “while my wife’s visitin’ her sister.”

“Joy says her mother doesn’t have a sister.”

“Cousin, then. Details, details. I’ll be blunt. Right from our wedding ceremony, that girl’s been mischief. The truth ain’t in her. Can’t never hush her up.”

A few hours later, Joy’s husband called. “Joy’s disappeared!”

“Disappeared?” That garden plot…had the old man made room for tulips, too?

“Ayup. She went out the doah, and—”

A payoff? “Dough? How much?”

“Do-ah. Went out the front do-ah—”

Oh.

That’s it. I’m moving back to New York.

Ω

The Apprentice

By Kim Keeline

      The knife sliced down. Walnuts drummed the tile in the kitchen’s hush.

      “What are you, blind?”

      “I’m trying.” Chopping continued.

      “You’re deadly Chefs need accuracy.”

      Since the boy’s invasion, I’ve ignored the details he screwed up. The truth was, it wasn’t my choice to let him savage the food. 

      He made a ceremony of shaping the doughinto aspiral. “You sure about no credit?”

      I gave the enemy an innocent look. “I’d deny it if you said so.”

      “To be blunt, I thought you disliked me.”

      “You’re mistaken.” I gave him a tender smile. There’d be no rescue now.

      He placed the pastry for his uncle, the food critic who’d ruined my life, in the oven. Wiping the poison bottle, I hid it in the cupboard. After I vanished, nobody’d believe him.

      Joy and mischief warred in the boy’s face. “I can’t believe I’ve feared you.”

Ω

My Bad, Sweetheart

By Ellen Welty

      Hush, darling, don’t say that! I love you. I didn’t mean to sleep with him. It’s just that in the darkness of the room, I was mistaken—I thought he was you. He is your identical twin, after all. How it rips at me to hear you say that no amount of dough would convince you to sleep with another, but that I callously leapt with joy to do it. How it tears at me to hear you say I turned your brother into your enemy—that your relations with him will now spiral out of control. The truth is, I’m an innocent soul who was blind that night to what could be, full of tender love for only you. Now, let’s plan that trip to Antigua we’ve dreamed of, where we’ll walk on a deserted beach together, with no one else around. There, all your hurt will vanish.

Ω

Deadly Honeymoon

By Rima Riedel

      He dashed up the spiral stairs in a blind rage.

      She stood, an innocent wearing virgin white, His Isabella.

      No. No longer his. She’d just married someone else.

      He took in every detail of her face–large dark eyes. Eyes only moments ago filled with joy now held fear in them.

      She stood frozen,

      He’d seen that look before. The look of sheer terror as he aimed his rifle at the enemy– a young German soldier, not much older than himself.

      She whispered In a hushed voice. “What are you doing here? I thought you were still overseas.”

      “I just wanted to see you one last time. Why didn’t you wait? Thoughts of returning to you kept me going.”

      Touched, her voice took on a tender note. “I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

      A deadly glint in his eye, he grabbed his gun and shot her through the heart.

Ω

Sour Dough

By Jude McGee

      The pandemic sourdough competition began, and my enemy Harmony was a judge. But her anything-but-innocent pursuit of Roderick—my soulmate, if only he would admit it—nearly took away all my joy.

      Nearly.

      Delicious, but lethal, kukui nuts, added to a special loaf, would kill Harmony within 20 minutes of her tasting my bread. After savage leg cramps, difficulty breathing, and painful urination—if the hussy lived long enough. Well someone had to rescue my mistaken darling from her clutches.

      It was simple. Judges would view the loaves, then a slice was given to each for a blind tasting.

      I distributed my slices, with a deadly one reserved for Harmony, in the pocket of my Kiss-the-Chef apron.

      A hush fell over the bakers as the judges made their rounds.

      But as each judge tasted a slice, Roderick playfully snatched the poisoned slice from Harmony and ate it. I spiraled into despair.

Ω

Savory Secrets

By Stephanie M. McPherson

      She savaged the dough without ceremony, punching it into tender submission, sweat pouring down her brow. No, Officer, she rehearsed in her mind. You must be mistaken. I haven’t seen Toby in days. What’s that? He vanished?

      It was just supposed to be a little mischief. There had been no joy, of late. No fun. Reality had struck post-college like an invasion. It was just supposed to be a prank, something to rescue them from the mundanity of “real adult” existence.

      She rolled the dough into two crusts, laid one into the pan, and filled it with the ground meat that had been sprinkled with her specialty seasoning. She laid the top crust on and slid the pie into the oven, blind to the little detail of the blood splattered under her work bench.

Ω

The Death of Emma and George

By L. J. Eaton

      “Elderly Couple Murdered During Savage Home Invasion,” the Boston Globe headline would read.

      George watched Emma knead dough as she did every morning. Today, performing each detail of their daily routine was paramount; nobody could suspect their dark truth.

      Although demented and blind, to him, Emma would always be the radiant bride at their wedding ceremony seventy years earlier. Love and joy had filled their lives, but fear of not dying together was their silent enemy. George had deadly pancreatic cancer, and Emma couldn’t care for herself.

      At noon the doorbell rang, George answered.

      “Got the cash?” the man asked. “Still want to do this?”

      George nodded, handing him the payment

      The man gestured, and the couple stood before him. Emma and George hugged in a tender embrace, their faces cheek-to-cheek.

      The man shot a single bullet through George’s temple, penetrating their brains. Now, they were together forever.

Ω

Death by Spouse

By Donna Clancy

      I told them the truth. They were sadly mistaken about him. Because of his charm, they were blind to my words and couldn’t see my fear. My mother told me to hush, it was all in my head. I must take matters into my own hands and rescue myself. I will live on, he will vanish.

      She stroked the knife hidden in her apron with a mother’s tender caress

      “You’d better get supper on the table,” a voice roared from the kitchen.

      She entered the kitchen, her mind centered on the enemy.

      “Get me a beer,” he growled.

      “Never again,” she yelled as she plunged the knife into his back.

      She ran out the back door laughing hysterically. You see, the devil was in the details. It was all in her head and he was innocent. This was the eighth night in a row that she killed her husband.

Ω

The Trial

By Anne Macdonald

      Velma fanned herself in the jury box. A small breeze moved the stale, humid air about with no relief. The trial had taken all day but seemed longer.

      She eyed the defendants as the foreman handed over the piece of paper.

      What mischief these boys had wrought with their invasion.

      The two surviving witnesses spoke of the spiral of fear they felt watching the deadly trashing of their home.

      The prosecutor said the boys made a mistake; it was the wrong house. 

      Were they intending to trash someone else’s home?

      The defense called the boys tender, wayward, innocent.

      What utter rot. They were five drunken college boys home on summer break.

      A hush fell over the courtroom as the judge’s gavel rang out.

      The boys stood and heard the verdict. Smiles vanished, there was no joy.

      Justice is blind but not deaf and dumb. The devil is in the details.

Ω

The Final Reconciliation

By Richard Groves

      She had requested a meeting at the lake house, and arrived with an innocent look.

      I was mistaken to think her reaching out was anything other than a savage invasion of my fragile psyche. My blind joy vanished as the blunt truth filled me with fear: she was still the enemy.

      I would not allow myself to spiral downward into despair again. Only I could rescue myself.

      I studied her from behind the kitchen counter, searching for some detail that might reveal any deadly intentions. What mischief was she up to? Was her Sig the bulge in her Vera Wang handbag?

      No longer being the tender, trusting soul, my Glock was ready: one in the chamber, safety off.

      She spoke, shattering the uneasy hush. “More dough,” she demanded without ceremony.

      “Nope.”

      Out came her Sig. I was faster. Double tap to the head.

      Next stop Bali. Vanish with no extradition.

Ω

Out for Blood

By Mae Bee

Salem, 1692

      She hadn’t asked for much, nothing more than a scrap of bread. Her child, she’d told him, was hungry. The scent of rising dough was enough to lure her in.

      “Hush,” he says, “No need for mischief.” Of course, she thinks. They always want something in return. She demurs. He advances. So it goes.

      She pushes away, dropping the loaf. He rakes the ragged curves of his fingernails across her flesh. The scrapes, still tender, will be against her in the trial. Mark of the beast, they’ll say.Though with her ill repute they never would’ve believed her innocent.

      Proceedings are swift, the verdict, blunt. The devil was never in the details.

      “Any last words?” they ask before she hangs.

      “Be not mistaken,” she says. “Tis thine granddaughters who thou shalt reckon with.”

Brooklyn, New York, 2006

      One woman, a survivor, trades fear for truth. She types: #MeToo.

Ω

Imprisoned

By Suzanne Baginskie

      Repeated banging overhead woke Jake McFarland at 2:00 a.m. He squinted in the hotel room’s darkness. The blunt thumps matched the quickening of his pulse. He raised his head, hit limited ceiling and a tender knot formed on his forehead. Still dressed in his suit and tie, Jake’s trembling fingers touched the sidewalls surrounding him.

      Last night, he’d attended an old friend’s memorial service and ran into an arch enemy. Years ago, he’d swindled the guy with a Ponzi scheme. Then vanished. Moved across county, thinking he’d never see him again.

      He was mistaken. The man remained civil during the ceremony. What mischief occurred afterward, Jake couldn’t remember.

      The thudding stopped.

      He breathed in dank, moist air. This wasn’t a hotel bed. Deadly fear possessed him. He was imprisoned inside a pine box. Jake’s fists punched the coffin’s lid. He screamed loudly, knowing the truth.

      No one could hear him.

Ω

Photo Op

ByRobert T. Kelley

      The protest was peaceful, no mischief or violence, just signs and chants. As Kim began her report, she spotted Park Police and others over her cameraman’s shoulder. Forty minutes before curfew, the flashbang went off, followed seconds later by pepper ball shots and tear gas grenades arcing into the crowd, which vanished into a billowing yellow-green cloud. Pushed from behind, Kim cried out, inhaling tear gas as she fell. Choking and blinded, in fearof being trampled or mistaken for a protester and arrested, she lay still amid the spiralingchaos.

      “Kim!” her cameraman gasped, reaching toward her. As he tried to rescue her, a savage blow from a police baton knocked him to the ground. Coughing, Kim stumbled to her feet, pulled her innocent, bleeding cameraman by the arm.

      “Media!” she croaked, “we’re media!”

      Across the street, the ceremonyand photo op at the church continued as planned.

Ω

Howard’s End

By CJ Verburg

      “The blunt truth is, Howard Savage mistakenly confused self-isolation with paranoia.” I steered Officer Chen back inside, pretending my tender heart couldn’t bear watching his colleagues pry that bloody glob of dough off the concrete four stories below. Really I didn’t want to distract my neighbors from this thrilling invasion by Emergency Rescue and the grim ceremony of Howard’s removal. Other innocent sufferers deserved to share my joy at the blessed hush which had spiraled through our building when the Jabba-like excrescence next door finally heaved out of its recliner, muted its stadium-volume TV, and lumbered blindly onto the fire escape to attack whatever deadly enemy was clanging up the ladder.

      “He’d stopped going out,” I told Chen at the elevator. “I fear he missed safety details like some mischief-maker disabling our exterior lights.”

      As the ambulance vanished, I waved and mask-grinned: “Rest in peace!”

Ω

Black and Blue

By Mary Fishler-Fisk

      Fire Rescue was taking its own sweet time.

      Nia worked hard to keep the deadly mix of joy and fear off her face. She should have vanished. Too late now.

      A siren’s distant wail broke the hush of the growing crowd gathered to gawk at a tender ceremony’s unfortunate results. They were mistaken. There was nothing tender about her enemies’ blind hatred. This was no downward spiral of innocent mischief gone wrong.

      The wail dopplered closer, preceding an EMT invasion and the inevitable questions.

      Should she be blunt? Detailed? Or keep her big mouth shut? 

      Blue lights flashed on a squad car leading the ambulance.

      Cops!

      The car door opened.

      Despite the mid-summer heat, Nia’s blood ran cold.

      A blue uniform exited—a sister.

      Would one sister believe another?

      Maybe.

      Nia glared at the dead white flesh on the ground before her.

      She stepped forward to face her truth.

Ω

In Plain Sight

By Catherine Bellaconis

      “Renewing vows doesn’t require a protective detail.”

      “Anyone with Davidson’s dough is bound to have enemies.”

      “What? The ceremony is over. We’ve got to blend in and a whiskey with a bride and groom stirrer does that.”

      “Fine. I’m going to hit the buffet,” Ray said.

      “Miss, are you okay?”

      “I’m sorry. I should be filled with joy. Truth is, it’s more jealousy mixed with fear I’ll never find Mister Right. Enjoy the evening.”

      “Rescue me,” Mister Davidson pleaded. “Tell her the crowd impairs your sight line.”

      “She told me no excuses.”

      “Well, at least I can finally take a sip of Scotch.”

      “Wait. There’s a condensation ring on the table but the glass is dry.”

      “And where’s the stirrer?” Ray added.

      “What are you implying?”

      “To be blunt, your former mistress switched yours for a deadly cocktail. Spare us the innocent act. We’ve got work to do.”

Ω

Pacific Heights

By William Bangs

Years of youthful Southie mischief prepared us to poach these Frisco elites. His Census gig paid off; loads of marked houses, abandoned by wealthy vacationers.

We run through our invasion: me cutting the power, him jimmying the window. Ten minutes into his detail, I lose contact.

Entering, the home’s hush is deafening. Priceless art everywhere begging to vanish. No brother.

From above, a loud thump.

A spiral staircase leads to three closed doors. Two doors are locked. Opening the third, I witness his limp body, a blunt metallic object lying nearby. Blood pooling.

Giggling arises from a dark corner, followed by beckoning whispers.

Fear produces adrenaline. My rescue attempt is stalled by echoing screams. I frantically carry the body downward, nearly stumbling. Childish, deadly joy closing in. Blind fumbling with the front door locks.

Fresh air! Freedom’s sweet ecstasy, soon interrupted by a savage cry from behind.

Ω