Contest #163 shortlist ⭐️

15 comments

Suspense Thriller

This story contains sensitive content

Contains a dead body, suggestions of murder and drug addiction.


There was a plague of crickets the summer we found her body. They were everywhere. At the bus stop, hopping on the road, even sitting on the pump at the gas station. I remember the dead ones crunched under our sandals as we walked down to the creek.

“My butt hurts.”

“Then stop scratchin’ it.”

“Candy, this grass won’t quit whippin’ me, it’s hurtin’ my legs.”

“You didn’t have to come, Greg.”

“Mom made me. Where are we goin’?

I’m goin’ to get tadpoles down at the creek.”

“Why?”

“For Billy.”

“Do lizards eat tadpoles?”

“If they can get ‘em.”

“Why can’t you just give Billy more crickets?”

“He’s sick of crickets.” One of the insects bounced onto my shoulder and I quickly brushed it off. “I am too.”


We waded through the long grass in the field behind our house and entered the treeline. Greg and I knew that forest like the back of our hand. We practically grew up in those trees.

Sometimes I think about the ripples a drop makes in a pond. You know, swirling out into the water and making more? That day was like a drop. It made so many ripples in our lives that it’s hard to remember a time before. Greg was eight back then. I remember because the day before we went to one of those family restaurants for his birthday and a guy in a mouse suit came over and sang Happy Birthday. Greg cried. Dad told him he needed to grow up and start being a man. I’m sure what happened the next day wasn’t what Dad had in mind when he wanted Greg to grow up, but it did lead to the man Greg became later. I don’t know if one big childhood trauma can cause addiction, or if it’s lots of little ones added up, I just know Greg was never the same after that day. Something broke in him and he tried to fix it later with drink and other things.


We made it to the creek. Its fresh water wound through the giant trees in our forest all the way downhill into town. I grabbed my net and my jar and started scooping up tadpoles. They wriggled and squirmed, swimming helplessly against the glass. Billy was gonna love them.

“I’m gonna go find another four leaf clover.” Greg said.

“You gonna give this one to Miss Clarke too?”

“Shut up.”

“You gonna marry her?”

It was immature, even for my 12 years, but it was obvious that Greg had a crush on his new teacher at school. Half his class did. It always caused a stir when someone new moved to a small town like ours. Especially when that someone was as young and beautiful as Miss Clarke. 

“Shut up!” he yelled at me, catching a cricket from a blade of grass and throwing it into my hair. 

I screamed and dropped my jar into the water. Greg ran further down the creek towards his favorite thicket of clover in the roots of an old Cypress tree. I swore at him, looking down at my empty jar. All my tadpoles had escaped. I grabbed my net and waded into the creek, waiting for their return.

“There’s a doll over here.” Greg’s voice came from the other side of the giant roots of the tree.

I ignored him. 

“Candy?”

“Hush!”

One of the escaped tadpoles was swimming cautiously towards my feet. I slowly dipped the net into the water.

“Candy!”

I dropped my net and the tadpole shot away.

“What?” I snapped.

“It’s naked. Like your Barbies.”

“Wow.” I said sarcastically, scooping up my net from the water.

“Candy?”

“Could you hush?” I yelled over my shoulder. “I’m trying to catch these critters.”

It took a few minutes, but I managed to capture two of them, locking them into my jar. That would have to do, Billy. Triumphant, I held the jar high and waded out of the creek. 

“Time to go.” 

I turned and saw Greg had climbed back over the roots and was staring at the tree. He stood motionless, crickets crowding onto his white shirt.

“Gross.” I said, stomping towards him.

I swept the crickets from his back.

“Can’t you feel them crawling all over ya…”

I stopped. Beads of sweat covered Greg’s forehead and slowly dropped into his wide, unblinking eyes.

“What’s wrong?” 

He didn’t answer.

“Did you find something?”

A dark patch expanded on his tan shorts. He was peeing himself.

“Jesus, Greg. What is it?”

I looked over at the tree. Maybe it was a dead animal. Greg had never really seen anything dead before, except crickets. Mom said he’d get too upset. It was always me and Dad who dealt with the dead mice and birds our cat brought in. I thought maybe this was something bigger, like a possum. I’d have to go check so I could tell Dad and he could come get it before it stank up the whole creek.

“Wait here.”

As I walked toward the tree I remember thinking maybe Dad was right, maybe Mom had coddled Greg too much and he did need growing up. I wouldn’t be around all the time to deal with dead possums for him. 


I jumped over the tall roots and rounded the giant tree, when I saw her. The doll lay a little way ahead, her naked legs splayed up on the bank of the creek. Her face leaned towards me, resting on the rocks submerged under the water. Even my 12 year old brain knew she was dead. A person shouldn’t be that still. The only movement was her long, dark hair swirling in the current. 


As we ran back through the grass towards the house I knew I’d get in trouble from Mom for letting Greg see. I wished I’d seen her first, of course I did. Not because I could have stopped Greg seeing the body. I know he would have come and looked anyway, no matter how much I yelled at him not to. I just wished I could have stopped him from seeing her face. Maybe that would have made a difference. Maybe then it wouldn’t have been so bad for him.

But he had seen her face. Beneath the clear water of the creek, tadpoles dancing around her eyes. A face, once beautiful, but now stripped of the glow of life. A face he knew so well as it spoke kind words to him and grinned as he handed her a four leaf clover.


The face of Miss Clarke.


September 15, 2022 02:24

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15 comments

Sarah Parker
22:44 Jan 30, 2023

I love the plot. And the twist at the end caught me by surprise. Great job!! :)

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Alisha Hol
14:55 Oct 26, 2022

Hi can you tell me what makes this story suspenseful

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Mel Dingwall
18:31 Oct 26, 2022

Hi Alisha, I used a couple of tricks like foreshadowing and juxtaposition. The scene starts innocently with children collecting tadpoles for their pet but they crush dead crickets under their feet, so death is always present. Early on the narrator mentions her brother’s drug addiction later in life that was caused by the upcoming event, so despite the narrator’s focus on her tadpoles we know something is actually occurring that will traumatise her brother for life - the reader is just waiting for ‘it’ to happen. Then weaving in the crush on...

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Melanie Hawkes
23:54 Oct 01, 2022

Well done Mel! Now I really want to know what happened to Miss Clarke. This would make a good first chapter in a novel.

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Mel Dingwall
23:03 Oct 04, 2022

Thanks for reading Melanie!

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Amanda Lieser
23:57 Sep 29, 2022

Hi Mel! Oh my goodness! Congratulations on the shortlist! This was so well deserved. I loved the way you characterized these kiddos and brought to life a sense of beauty in the death. I am desperate to know what happened to that doll. My favorite line was so very haunting: The only movement was her long, dark hair swirling in the current.

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Mel Dingwall
17:08 Sep 30, 2022

Thanks so much for reading Amanda and for your feedback! :)

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Story Time
17:09 Sep 29, 2022

This story gripped me by the neck. I love the shifting sense of ease and reality. Well done.

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Mel Dingwall
17:09 Sep 30, 2022

Thanks so much for the feedback Kevin!

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Neha Sharma
09:10 Sep 28, 2022

The writing is so vivid that the story felt real. Loved the details you have put in it. Great work! :)

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Mel Dingwall
10:06 Sep 28, 2022

Thanks for reading it Neha and for your feedback!

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J.R. Wise
02:33 Sep 23, 2022

The thing I really like about this is how Greg's brain tries to make sense of what he's seeing. It can't process at first then it finally hits him and he freezes. Peeing yourself in a moment like that is a very real response. This felt real. Great job.

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Mel Dingwall
03:03 Sep 23, 2022

Thanks John, I really appreciate your feedback and look forward to reading your next story!

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Jennie B
02:48 Sep 19, 2022

Wow Mel, I really enjoyed your story. I love how you start out describing the plague of crickets. From there it just gets better and better. In my humble opinion this is some great writing. Kudos and thanks for sharing.

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Mel Dingwall
02:50 Sep 19, 2022

Thanks so much for your positive feedback Jennie! Much appreciated 😊

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