Thursday, November 9, 2023

A Short Story Just For You

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What's new with Ashleigh?

Last month, I participated in a Halloween short-story competition. I didn't win, but got some great feedback. I made a few changes and would love to share the story with you all.

The Details in the Devil

Panting, Anna glances over her shoulder, never breaking her stride. The man in the slasher costume is gaining ground. She has to go faster. But she’s not fast enough. The slasher grabs her, tumbling them both to the ground.

“No!” Gasping for breath, Anna sits up. Sweat drips down her back, but she’s alone. The elusive serial killer is nowhere to be seen.

As she waits for her breath to return to normal, Anna takes in her surroundings. She is sitting in her car, the pinks and oranges of morning light streaming through the window. Beside her are the remnants of her midnight snack: a paper bag with crumpled burger wrappers and an empty paper cup. There isn’t even any melted ice. Strange. She can’t remember finishing the soda.

Anna glances out the window. The ancient fishing shack has definitely seen better days. The faded wood and cracked windows help set the scene for Halloween. But the only things haunting this shack are the ghosts of the ten women killed there. One a year for the past decade. The only unsolved murders on Anna’s record.

It bothers her that she still hasn’t caught the man the media has dubbed the Slasher in the Shack. She knows so much about him. He kills every Halloween, the anniversary of the night he found his dead fiancée here. He dresses his victims in a red suit, placing devil’s horns on their heads and a pitchfork in their hands. Then he slashes their throats with a knife, leaving it behind with a note—his signature.

The message is the same each year. For Nadine. Handwriting analysis determined the slasher to be an outgoing, outspoken person who habitually invades other people’s personal space. He is logical, practical, aggressive, and very intelligent. Unfortunately, none of that helps identify him.

He also uses the same knife. A nondescript steak knife available at any and every big-box store in the county. There are never any prints.

There are only two questions Anna still has about the slasher. Why the devil’s costume? And who is he?

Because, despite his claims, no reports of any crimes or deaths existed before the first murder. While Anna knows the fiancée’s first name, it never appeared in any missing person’s reports. Without the identity of the fiancée, she is no closer to identifying the slasher.

But he has struck like clockwork every Halloween for the past ten years. And this year, now that she made detective, Anna is determined to catch him. It took a surprising effort to convince her captain to approve the stakeout. He seemed to think she would botch it.

Anna stretches in her seat the best she can in the cramped space. How could she have fallen asleep? She was drinking water all night, just like her first trainer had taught her. The soda was a surprise from the captain when he checked up on her just before midnight. If anything, it should have kept her more awake.

Maybe she should have gone home like the captain had suggested. He believed that if the slasher hadn’t appeared by midnight, then he wouldn’t show. Especially since no one had called the station to report a missing person, otherwise known as a potential victim.

But Anna was determined to spend the night. Wishing her luck, the captain left her alone and ... what? She can’t remember much after that.

Everything is so still, so quiet. It can’t hurt to check out the shack. Maybe something will jog her memory. Grabbing her flashlight, Anna climbs out of the car. Morning dew has left a crispness in the air as Anna wades through the wet grass. She tours the entire exterior of the small building, but the grass looks untouched. The woodland sounds seem louder in the morning’s stillness. Loons wail on the lake, and small critters skitter away. But she sees no signs of human life.

When she returns to the front of the shack, Anna slowly climbs the steps. They creak underfoot. The shack has to be empty. With all the noise she’s making, Anna is positive that the slasher would have grabbed her by now if he were nearby. But she scans left and right anyway, fruitlessly searching for clues.

Reaching for the doorknob, Anna feels her heart pounding in her throat. This is ridiculous. There’s no one inside. But she still can’t stop her hand from shaking as she turns the handle.

It’s unlocked. Then again, who would think to lock a fishing shack in the middle of nowhere? Anna has been inside many times. She knows it contains no valuables. There are no neighbors for miles. The crunching gravel driveway announces visitors long before they’re visible. If she lived here, she doubted she would lock the door. Except, of course, on Halloween, when the slasher attacked.

Anna swings open the door, sweeping her flashlight left and right in the dim interior. The shack is small, a single room containing a stove in one corner and a toilet in another. Along the far wall, a mattress lay on the floor, grey and peppered with holes, the perfect home for critters. In the center of the room lay the body of a young woman.

Anna winces. How did she miss the killer? The captain is going to kill her.

She does one more quick sweep, but sees no one except the woman. Satisfied the scene is secure, she hurries to her car. There’s no cell signal here, but the captain gave her an old CB. He even taught her how to use it.

Placing the portable antenna on the hood of her car, she switches on the radio and presses the button. “Anna to Captain. You there?”

He answers a moment later. “I’m here. What’s your situation?”

“I’ve got a DB. I need a full CSU.”

“Copy that. We’re on our way. Ten-Four.”

“Ten-Four.” As she returns the radio to the car, Anna tries to take a deep breath. At least the captain didn’t yell at her over the CB.

Knowing it will take a while for the crime scene truck to arrive, she returns to the shack. Maybe she can find some evidence while she waits. Without touching the body, she scrutinizes it.

Lying on her back, the woman’s lifeless eyes stare at the ceiling. She is wearing a red body suit, complete with horns and a pitchfork, a tail stretching off to the side.

Anna frowns. The victim’s never had a tail before. In fact, each devil’s costume has been different. While they all have the horns and a pitchfork, the clothes vary. Some victims wore pantsuits. Others, red dresses. One or two wore body suits like this victim. Could this be how the slasher picks his victims? Does he select people already wearing the costume? Or does he dress them before he kills them?

Making a mental note to ask the loved ones of the previous victims about Halloween costumes, Anna continues to stare at the body. But something feels off. There is something different about this victim. But what is it?

No blood! All the previous victims were lying in a pool of it. But the floor is dry. Was the woman killed elsewhere? Why?

Had the slasher seen Anna’s parked car? She had believed her hiding spot sound, but maybe something gave her away?

At least the slasher left his calling card: the note attached to the body via a knife through the heart. But something about it looks different. Anna crouches closer to the body, careful not to lose her balance and accidentally touch anything. For reasons known only to him, the slasher didn’t use paper this time. Instead, he used a napkin from a take-out restaurant. The logo matches the bag on the front seat of Anna’s car.

A horrible idea begins to form. One too awful to consider. But it keeps nagging at her.

It’s still there when the rumbling gravel announces her backup. When Anna goes outside, she sees only one car. As the captain climbs out of it, she knows the truth.


His wicked grin is all the answer she needs.


Choose Your Own Path Stories

A Weekend at Munson Manor is an interactive mystery story.

Have you been following along? If not, here's a quick recap.

A Weekend at Munson Manor

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