Speculative Crime Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

Contains sexual and physical violence and gore.

Artemis lay back in the cool, crisp starched sheets of the hospital bed with her hands folded across her stomach and thoughtfully considered what the officer had asked her.

“Maybe in another life,” she said.

Detective Sergeant Roald Garcia frowned at this, and consulted his notes. “Are you certain, Miss Devon, that you did not know this man, Victor Sanvini? Had you ever seen him before?”

Artemis, descendant of Zeus and protectress of women, had little experience in conversing with mortals, but she knew instinctively that you did not lie to the police. And so she told the truth.

“If I had,” she said seriously, “It was in another life.”

Garcia’s frown deepened. He snapped his notebook closed and regarded the woman in the bed with a mixture of compassion and suspicion. He took in the ugly swelling on the heart-shaped face, closing one of her deep blue eyes to the merest slit. He noted the unsightly purple bruising on a forearm and the wadded bandage on her right hand, where, according to her doctor, a surgeon had reattached the thumb that had been severed by a bullet. Sanvini’s bullet. She had been badly treated. Still, when he thought about what had happened to Sanvini…

“I hope you’re not toying with me, Miss Devon.”

She remained silent, her head cocked slightly sideways, fixing him narrowly through the puffy slit with that intense blue eye.

Exasperated, he said. “I need a yes or no, Miss Devon. So I will ask you again, did you know this man, Victor Sanvini?”

“No,” Artemis said, firmly.

She hoped this truth would finally satisfy the detective, who had been rooting around her bedside for almost an hour, like a truffle-hound circling an oak tree.

                                  *                             *                          *

Hers had been entirely another life twenty-two years before, when Allison Devon, thirteen, had been walking home in the dusk from her summer baby-sitting job. It was mid-August, and all life had seemed to languish in a lazy, late-summer complacency; a torpor that had set in with the oppressive, humid, dog-day heat. Everyone seemed generally listless, bored and snappish.

When she had left home that morning, her parents had been bickering for no reason, except perhaps that they were bound legally to be uncomfortable together, and they could only find each other to blame for their mutual discomfort.

By late afternoon, a hot stickiness had covered up everything with a moist woolly blanket of weather. Allison was anxious to get home to the steady and monotonous thrumming of the window air-conditioner to peel off her damp clothing, so she took a short-cut across the abandoned construction site.

Then she heard a noise behind her.

When she turned around and looked back, she saw that there were three of them, all male. They had come up on the sidewalk behind her from somewhere in the tall grass and weeds of the Don Valley. Two of them were about her own age; just kids.

The third was older, maybe even in his twenties. His skin was what her mother called swarthy and he was close enough now that she could see little cratered holes, pock marks, on the sides of both his cheeks like he’d had some kind of a disease when he was younger. A wispy stubble sprouted along the line of his jaw, and his eyes were almost black, and empty of anything human. He was their leader.

A fear raced around in her chest. She was alone and it was beginning to get dark. She swung around and started to run. Her backpack bumped painfully between her shoulder blades. It was new. Her mother had given it to her two weeks ago on her thirteenth birthday. Her Winnie-the-Pooh pin that she had kept since she was six, was fastened to a strap.

They caught her easily and pulled her off the sidewalk, down the slope through the tall grass of the valley side, and out of view of the street. She screamed in terror but a gloved hand clamped over her mouth and the noise of her cry was muffled by the leather-covered palm. One younger boy held her legs and the other one pinned her arms up over her head. He laughed nervously, a high, almost girlish laugh.

She screamed again and kicked out, but the swarthy man drew his free hand back and struck her on the side of the head. It was a vicious, stunning blow and it knocked her senseless. When she opened her eyes again her pleated skirt was bunched up near her waist and her panties had been stripped off. The man was standing over her, opening his zipper. His lips were thin and his dark eyes had the unblinking and impersonal malice of a reptile.

“A maraschino cherry,” he said to the boys, his cruel thin mouth twisting crookedly. She could see a row of uneven teeth, with a single gold filling capping a front incisor. “My favorite thing to top a dessert. Watch, and you’ll learn something.”

The two boys drew back away and huddled together, giggling. Through her foggy terror, she reached out to them with her eyes for help. Their only response was a collective look of excited, childlike curiosity.

Her head was starting to clear and she vaguely felt a dull ache on the side of her face where she had been struck. Then the man entered her brutally, and a hot stabbing pain tore through to her backbone.

She was fully conscious now and only aware first of his animal grunts, and the piercing agony of his thrusts. Then through her pain she felt an overwhelming indignity and shame, and her mind began to detach.

She willed herself to open her eyes and she could see over his shoulder the concrete skeleton of the partially built and abandoned apartment block they called the Bayview Ghost. It reared up starkly, a bleak and barren silhouette against the darkening sky. She knew where she was now, and she knew no one would come to help her down here. She closed her eyes tightly again, and wished for death.

And then, she was transported upward.

She was suddenly Artemis, daughter of Zeus and Leto and the patron of the warring Amazons. She was floating in the formless void, looking down upon the ugly scene. And she realized that the primal motivation of lust, charging the loins of deities and humans alike, had brought about this monstrous attack.

Artemis had in past times been pitiless, even killing her grandnephew Actaeon, with a curse. He was hunting with his dogs when he came upon her bathing naked in a stream. In anger, she turned him into a stag, and the dogs, no longer recognizing their master, tore him to pieces.

But for her fierce temper and vengeful spirit, Artemis also had her gentler side. During the Trojan War a soothsayer told King Agamemnon that he must sacrifice his daughter Iphigeneia to remove a curse on his becalmed fleet. The girl was on the alter ready for death, when Artemis secretly substituted a hind, took Iphigeneia away to the country of Tauri, and gave her priestess-power.

And now here again, looking down from the void, Artemis was called once more to be a protectress. She wanted fiercely to immediately avenge Allison Devon, but could only watch impotently, frustrated at having to bide her time. But what was time, to a goddess?

                         *                       *                               *

Allison Devon’s parents reported the abduction and brutal rape of their thirteen-year-old daughter. It was investigated but nothing ever came of it, and the case was eventually filed away, unsolved.

However the Fates have their own inexorable ways of shaping the destinies of mortals. Two decades later, the sisters Lachesis and Atropos joined forces with Artemis to bring the case before Themis, who held the scales of justice.

Allison had gone on to graduate from law school and began working as a family-law practitioner in a small legal firm, where she became a partner. She never married. When she was thirty-four years old she was able to buy a small, detached house on a large lot with a garden out the back.

She found that she loved the rich clean smell of the damp ground after a rain, and she thrived on the manual work involved to chop out the weeds between the rows with a hoe. It gave her a satisfying feeling to thin the rows of root vegetables, like carrots and beets, to give them room to grow, and she thrilled to the taste of new potatoes - those first small tubers that came up out of the dark, moist soil.

She believed that she had put the trauma of her rape as a teenager well behind her; in fact she hadn’t thought about it in years. That was why it was such a shock to see the swarthy, pock-marked face of her rapist peering at her from over her garden fence.

Victor Sanvini was a large man, just over seventy-two inches tall. At forty-four years old, he was balding, and more than two decades of self-indulgence had packed thirty more pounds on him than his large frame was designed to carry. He was, in fact, running to fat. Each year a new layer seemed to appear, like a tree ring. His eyes were a dark brown, but without any natural warmth and usually cast in malevolence.

He had committed his first criminal act at age eleven, when he had smashed a neighbor’s patio door and stolen the family’s video recorder. By the time he was sixteen, he had dropped out of school and was well known by the local police as a thief and a hoodlum. He was now a career criminal, deriving most of his income from the sale of illicit drugs.

Victor Sanvini had a cruel streak, which was intensified with alcohol, and on several occasions he had beaten women savagely after he had tired of them sexually. He was a man who could commit murder without it weighing the least on his conscience, and, in his lifetime, he had done this more than once. When he was twenty-five, he had beaten a man to death with a tire iron. He was only one of a dozen possible suspects in the case and the police had questioned him, but without witnesses, they were forced to let him go.

Because of his size and his propensity for violence, Sanvini usually worked alone, not needing hired-muscle to settle differences and preferring not to share his gains with anyone. He continued however to be small-time, and never attracted the attention of organized crime elements, so he was able to carry on his business without any restrictions. After an early conviction for personally selling cocaine, he developed a dealer network that allowed him to remain insulated from the street transactions where a person was most vulnerable to arrest. But his innate need for action and excitement had to be satisfied, and the drug dealing kept that edge honed.

Sanvini had gone armed to the house of one of his dealers to personally collect a sizeable debt, something that he rarely did in person, but in this case he wanted to set an example. The dealer was not home, so it was by happenstance or perhaps the connivance of the Fates that he found himself looking over a fence at an attractive woman who had been working in her backyard garden. He had always been forward with women, so he grinned at her, his gold tooth flashing in the afternoon sunlight.

“I wait for your neighbor. So, I am inviting myself over for a cup of tea, yes?”

Allison rose slowly from where she had been sharpening tomato stakes. Her heart beat a little faster, but, curiously, she was not afraid. She knew by his demeanor that he did not recognize her from that terrible time long ago. She, however, would never forget the swarthy pock-marked face and the cruel rictus of that grin with its winking, gold-capped incisor.

“I don’t think that I have any tea.”

“Coffee, then.” A suggestive leer. “Or maybe something a little stronger.”

She turned and went toward the back door of her house, saying over her shoulder, “I may have some coffee.”

Sanvini felt a flush of sexual excitement as he went out through the gate of his dealer’s yard and then up the sidewalk toward the woman’s front door. He moved quickly, with the stealth of a predatory animal. It was a quiet afternoon and there was no one around, except two black squirrels who chased each other up and down the branches of one of the giant elms that hung down over the sidewalk.

Allison opened the back door and stepped over the sill into the air-conditioned coolness of the house that she loved, and was rebuilding her life around. When the latch clicked behind her, her mind detached and she felt herself being transported upward.

As she rose into the void, she knew that Orion, the hunter, who she had seen over the garden wall, would soon be at the front door and she must be prepared. She knew that he was coming to mock, and worse. He was here to ravish; as he had done Opis, the virgin, years before. She must not drop her guard, or show weakness.

Sanvini stood confidently by the front door and pushed a white rectangular button on the left-side door-frame. A buzzer chittered inside. He felt reassuringly for the silenced nine-millimeter Browning automatic pistol in his inside coat pocket, but it was just habit as he did not sense any threat. After all, he was a man, and she was a woman and women were used to giving way to men.

Artemis set her Winnie-the-Pooh cup on the table near the stove as the front-door buzzer sounded. She ignored the noise, and took down a coffee container from a cupboard. The door buzzer sounded again, impatiently this time with two sharp staccato rasps, and she smiled as she went to answer it. Orion was behaving predictably, and that was to her advantage.

“I found coffee,” she said as she opened the door.

“What, nothing stronger?” he said arrogantly, stepping into the house.

She smiled and motioned him toward the table, blocking the opposite seating area so he would have to take the chair by the stove. He sat down and as she moved past him, he grasped her roughly by one arm, struck her viciously in the face, and made to pull her over his knees.

 Artemis, the divine goddess, would not be bested by a mere hunter. With her free hand, she snatched the cast-iron frying pan off the stove and smashed it into the back of his head. The force of the blow drove his face into the coffee cup on the table in front of him. It exploded into splinters, and the impact jammed a two-inch shard of broken china up into his cheekbone, where it hung like a huge torn fingernail. Blood dribbled down from the wound and splashed on the linen tablecloth.  

She had made the 911 call and was standing by the telephone, when he rose, wobbly, to his feet and shot her, twice. Then he fell forward on the floor, beside the table. Badly wounded and rapidly losing blood, Artemis stumbled out the back door toward the garden.

She saw the hatchet she had used to sharpen tomato stakes.

 A stunned and bleeding Victor Sanvini had crawled halfway out the back door, the silenced pistol in his hand, when Artemis appeared beside him. She brought the hatchet down toward the back of his head in a high curving arc.

The two-pound stainless-steel wedge at the end of eighteen inches of handle was travelling at the rate of eighty feet per second when the finely-honed cutting edge entered Orion’s skull from the back, just above his hairline. It cut cleanly through his cerebellum, sheared the spinal cord, and stopped just short of the temporal lobe.

Artemis heard sirens as she collapsed beside the hunter’s body. 

                         *                         *                            *

“She’s not telling us everything,” Sergeant Garcia told his boss, Inspector Gordon Creedmore, after he had written up his notes, “but I don’t know what the hell is missing.”

“Considering what happened,” said Creedmore, “I’m not surprised.” He was looking at the colored images on the computer screen on his desk that Garcia had taken of Allison Devon, and sent from the hospital. “Christ, she’s a mess. He beat her up, then shot her; an upper-chest wound. It’s short of a miracle that she survived.”

“And he didn’t,” said Garcia. “Which is my problem. How do we close this case?”

“I can’t see charging her,” said Creedmore. “She has no form, not even a traffic ticket, and based on these photos and what you’ve got so far, It appears almost certainly to be self-defence. No jury would convict, and we’d be laughed out of court.”

Garcia pounded his fist on the desk. “But she’s holding something back, goddamnit! I know she is!”

“Any inkling of what it might be?”

“I think she knew the victim, Sanvini.”

Creedmore scrolled through the images on his screen again. “Looking at these photos of her, I would say that there’s two victims here.”

“But if she knew him, that changes the whole picture.”

“How so?”

“She could have killed him for revenge.”

After he beat her up and shot her, you mean?”


“What’s your point?”

Garcia gave a short, sharp bark of a laugh. “She’s not telling us everything! She’s holding something back! She’s lying to us!”

Creedmore looked at the close-up image of Allison Devon’s bruised and battered face on his computer screen again. “You’ll have to prove it, Roald,” he said. “And, if it was me, I wouldn’t waste too much time trying.”

In the hospital, Allison slept.

                            *                           *                     *

April 30, 2023 21:57

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Laurel Hanson
17:25 May 01, 2023

Good use of the prompt phrase to play with meaning. This story grabs attention immediately and pulls the reader into what gives rise to the desire for vengeance and how that is resolved in this case. Love the way you use language to add character, such as: "her parents had been bickering for no reason, except perhaps that they were bound legally to be uncomfortable together, and they could only find each other to blame for their mutual discomfort." What a truism that can be and so well-framed. I admit to harboring a wee hope that Artemis wo...


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Mary Bendickson
04:17 May 01, 2023

Revenge of the goddess.


Richard E. Gower
14:25 May 01, 2023

Thanks for the read, Mary. Cheers! RG


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Show 1 reply
15:36 May 07, 2023

This was really intense and a good read!


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Darya Silman
15:22 May 04, 2023

Your story is an exceptional case where I want the writer to be less skilled. I saw trigger warnings, but in our age of overall sensitivity, I didn't expect such level of violence in an online short story. I understand you needed a grounded justification for Artemis to be so angry, hurt , etc, etc. Yet, I wish you went with something like Victor killing her pet by a car or even her parents; a common literary trope in psychological thrillers. The story is very well-crafted and deserves to win. To my taste, though, it's too violent.


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Michał Przywara
00:10 May 03, 2023

That's a long wait for revenge, but it's a revenge we were hoping would happen. Though true, for a goddess perhaps, it was just the blink of an eye. It's an interesting take on the prompt, weaving the two lives together like that, weaving past and present. Sanvini attempts the same thing twice, but it plays out very differently for him the second time around. Critique-wise, the summer heat descriptions - all of them - were great. This isn't really a story about setting or mood, but it bears highlighting because they definitely conveyed a l...


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