Contest #219 shortlist ⭐️


Crime Fiction Suspense

I think someone’s watching.  I have heard that it’s normal to feel like you’re being watched after you commit a murder. Maybe it is guilt, maybe it is paranoia. Just in case it is intuition, I walk over to the windows quickly. I look around the backyard, I see nothing except night punctuated by a few Christmas lights strung around a privacy fence. Lucky we are on the second floor. I can still hear the muffled noise of the crowd downstairs.

Ella, our department chair and her husband Richard always throw the faculty holiday party.  Non-tenured faculty are rarely invited and certainly not adjunct. I have been a tenured faculty member for six years and have been here for six holiday parties. I am familiar enough with the house to pull this off.

I take out my phone and check the time. When did I come upstairs? Was it five minutes ago? Ten?  I am watching the street beyond the privacy fence when I see a flash of headlights in the neighbor’s driveway.  My phone!  How could I be so stupid? Here I am standing in a dark room at night in front of a window and I have the light on my phone screen broadcasting my presence to anyone who happens to look up.

I turn the phone off and shove it in my pocket. My eyes dart around the room. Thoughts are coming so fast through my mind that they overlap. How much time do I have before someone comes looking for me?  How much time before someone comes looking for Henry? What did I touch? What about hair, DNA, skin cells?  What about Henry? Does anyone know where he went? How long before they notice he is missing?

I reach down and pull the plastic bag from Henry’s head. I wish I hadn’t had to do it, but he was putting me in a truly impossible situation. It’s not as if I planned this, I certainly didn’t bring a gun or a knife. I never wanted to hurt anyone, never been in a fight even. I stare at him hard in the dark, I reach down and feel for a pulse in his neck. His eyes are open. I know he is dead, but I must make certain. I hold my palm in front of his face. I feel no breath; so, he is dead. I am so relieved that it is over.

I take another look around to take stock of my resources. I am in Richard and Ella’s upstairs guest suite. The main room has a bed and two end tables against the far wall and a television against the opposite wall. Close to the television, Ella has set up a small living room space with an easy chair, a sofa and a coffee table.  The television is nestled in the center of a large entertainment center with bookcases on either side.

Henry refused to listen.  When he turned his back on me, I grabbed the biggest heaviest book on the shelf and hit him hard in the back of the head with the top corner of the book. I look for the book. I find it on the floor and inspect it carefully for damage, for blood. I see nothing and replace the book in its space on the shelf. The book is not the murder weapon. Henry is old, nearly eighty, I think. Anyway, the blow with the book just knocked him to his knees.

I will never forget the look on his face. How stunned he was! He stood in that dark room and told me he was going to destroy my whole life and really thought that he would walk out of there!  The nerve of some people.

After Henry fell, I noticed him reaching for his pocket, probably for his phone to make a feeble attempt at dialing 911.

I had to think fast then and I did. I looked into the small bathroom next to the guest suite and immediately noticed the small empty trashcan next to the sink. It had been lined with a white plastic shopping bag, exactly the right size to fit over a human head.

I managed to get the bag over Henry’s head and pulled it tight around his throat. I was behind him then. He struggled but I held on as if to a horse that was in a full gallop.  I don’t know how long it took. I have never strangled or smothered anyone before, but it is done. I look at the white shopping bag in my hand. Should I put it back in the trash can? No, certainly not. It is covered with my fingerprints, possibly an outline of Henry’s face, his saliva. The police labs can test for all that.  I crumple the bag up and shove it into my pocket. I look around the room. Other than Henry’s body, there is no sign that I have been here.

I cross the room to the door and peek out into the hall. I hear Ella downstairs telling a funny story about her and Richard’s trip to Pompeii last year. No one is upstairs, no one is in the hall. I turn and take one last look around the room. To my surprise I don’t see Henry. For a second, I am alarmed. Upon searching the room, I realize that he has fallen in such a way that his body is not easily visible in the dark. His torso is partially behind the sofa, his legs are just under the coffee table.

I smile as I walk down the hall toward the stairs. He could literally lay there for hours before he is discovered. What a break considering I didn’t even plan for this.

I make my way downstairs and into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of wine. I take a couple of sips and wait for everyone to start laughing at Ella’s story before a I slip into the crowd and begin laughing myself, as if I had been standing there listening the whole time.

I move over to the piano where Landon is sitting on the bench. He looks at me and smiles. "Hello lovely Lydia," he slurs as he tries to look deeply into my eyes. It's hard for me not to laugh at him, but tonight I need him. The gin and tonics along with the wine he has been nursing tonight have gone to his head. I can use him, at least for awhile. He is the department expert on the romantics; Byron, Keats and Shelley. Since his divorce was finalized a few months ago he has been flirting with me. Tonight, I will flirt back. Perhaps I will even go home with him. Maybe I will act drunker than I am, so that someone offers to drive me home. Would that be a red flag?  I don’t know. I just know I must make sure that many people see me and remember me here, in the living room, in the kitchen or on the patio. Anywhere except the upstairs suite.

After the crowd begins to break up, Landon and I move over to one of the leather sofas. He goes to the kitchen to refill my wine glass before coming back to tell me about the writer's conference he attended last summer, such a bore.

I think again of Henry, laying dead in the floor upstairs. I study the crowd. No one seems to have noticed he is missing yet.

 Henry wasn’t a bad fellow, but he didn’t like me at all. It all started last year when some of the female students reported to me that they had been uncomfortable in Henry’s presence. That he would sometimes touch them on the shoulders, make comments about their clothing or bodies that they felt were inappropriate. They also said that he often asked female students to read sexually explicit texts in class, while male students were never asked to do so. I reported the issue to Ella. She brought Henry to her office, notified him of the complaints and asked him to retire.  Henry refused.  She then opened a formal investigation into the matter.

The university had hearings about the issues with the students. If they found that Henry had done anything inappropriate, Henry stood to lose his pension.

As far as I was concerned, it was his own damn fault. Ella gave him a chance to make a clean and safe exit and he refused. It really wasn’t any of my business, I was just the one the students felt safe enough to talk with.

Then, a week ago, things went off the rails. Henry had known for months that I was the one who reported the students’ stories to Ella, and he had been busy. He had spent weeks pouring through my research until he found what he was looking for.

He notified me that he had proof that I had plagiarized most of my PhD thesis on Shakespeare's use of absurdity. I denied it of course.

The problem was that I had plagiarized it. I had copied it almost word for word from a Soviet era Russian academic.  I had found the work in an old Russian language literature book that I found at an estate sale. The book was out of print, the academic has been forgotten. How Henry figured it out, I will never know.

Henry showed up in my office last week and told me that he would take the evidence of my plagiarism to Ella, to the dean of the department, to the president of the university if I didn’t “fix” the situation with the students.

He wanted me to tell everyone, the university, Ella, the other faculty members, that the girls told me they were lying just to get back at him for a couple of bad grades. 

I tried arguing with him. This would not stop the investigation, I told him, he had nothing to gain by threatening me. He wouldn’t listen.  As far as he was concerned, I had caused his problems and it was my job to fix them or he would cause problems for me.

Earlier today, in the faculty lounge, I told him that I had a solution and that I would talk with him at Ella and Richard’s house during the party. I was lying. I had no solution except to talk Henry out of reporting me.  I don’t know what I thought I would say, but I vaguely believed that I could counter his threat with an offer of money or maybe even convince him that I could destroy him even further.

Tonight, I had become aware of Henry watching me as I left the party to make my way upstairs. He obviously thought this was his opportunity to talk with me alone. Once we were alone, in the upstairs bedroom, I realized how old he was, how shrunken he was, how weak and vulnerable he was.

I snap out of my thoughts as Natalie makes her way over to talk to Landon and I. She is with a new boyfriend and they are talking about a train trip they are thinking about taking next summer. Natalie says she loves the idea of a train trip, but she’s heard the reality of modern trains are more discount motel than Orient Express.

I make small talk, I drink wine, I scan the room. Everyone is fine, everyone is having a great time. The hall clock chimes ten o’clock. Then we hear the scream.

Ella and Richard rush upstairs. Landon gets up and goes to the landing looking up toward the second floor. Everyone else, myself included, stays where they are. I look around the room. I must act like everyone else. I must look like everyone else. Elsa rushes downstairs, her and is on her chest over her heart, as if she has just had a scare. She collapses in a wing backed chair. Her eyes are glossy with tears when she tells everyone that Henry seems to be dead in the floor upstairs.

Some of the women put their hands over their mouth, they look surprised. Others vocalize alarm.  I do the same. I get up and go to the kitchen and get more wine. Landon follows me. He is concerned. How considerate of him. I must really put on a show now. I make my hand shake slightly as I lift the wine glass to my mouth. I look at him and notice that he looks pale, his eyes are glazed.

The next thing I am aware of is the siren. Of course, there is an ambulance on the way. Probably police too. Richard comes down and stands on the edge of the stairs. He holds up his hands, his palms toward us as if to hold up an invisible wall. The police, he says, have informed him that none of us are to leave until they can talk to all of us.

For the first time, I begin to feel sick. The police—my god---what if they can just look at me and tell.  

I catch a glimpse of myself in the hall mirror as a make my way back to the living room. I half-expected to see the word murderer written across my forehead, but it is just me staring back from the mirror.

I practice a few faint facial expressions. Surprise first, then sadness, then horror.

I feel like someone’s watching. I look up to see Landon studying me. He looks a bit confused.

No matter. I will take him home with me tonight. We will drink more wine and talk until the early morning hours about what a crazy party, with Henry dead upstairs. When he is good and drunk, we will go to bed. In the morning, everything will be faded.

I walk to Landon and put my hand in his. His eyes soften. We enter the living room just in time to see a police officer making his way up the stairs.

I look around. I am one of many here. I look just as shocked as they do. I whisper to Landon "I'm so glad you're here." He puts his arm around me and pulls me a bit closer. I take another drink of wine. I blend in. No one is watching.

October 13, 2023 18:35

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03:13 Oct 21, 2023

Great murder mystery! I felt like there could be a whole novel after this, of her trying to hide her guilt during a police investigation. The academic scene felt very realistic. I've heard at most universities, tenured professors are always competing with each other and jockeying for position. I could picture a man like Henry getting very nasty to protect himself.


Kelly L
16:47 Oct 23, 2023

Thank you for the feedback!


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Kathryn Kahn
00:06 Oct 21, 2023

What a great story! I have been in the academic world enough to know this is actually pretty believable -- the stakes are very high in that world when one's personal reputation is at stake. I can't decide whether I want her to get away with it or not, which is a really interesting way to end and idea for me to take away.


Kelly L
16:48 Oct 23, 2023

I appreciate your comments on my story. Thank you.


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Amanda Lieser
07:05 Nov 20, 2023

Hi Kelly! Oh I love a good murder! It’s always interesting to me to read about someone who chooses to commit murder as an impulse-panic is such a natural state of emotion that I could totally understand how someone blacks out on it and wakes up terrified. This was a great take on the prompt because that first line is stunning, but also explained in such an eloquent way. Logic prevails for this character, for better or for worse. Nice work and congratulations on the shortlist!!


Kelly L
19:54 Nov 20, 2023

Thank you so much!


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Philip Ebuluofor
09:00 Oct 24, 2023



Kelly L
13:40 Nov 06, 2023



Philip Ebuluofor
15:16 Nov 09, 2023



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