Fiction Thriller Suspense

“Merde,” he mumbled gruffly.

“You say something, hun?” Barb peered over her reading glasses at her husband.

“Nothing, dear.” He looked at her and smiled.

“Is that the book you found at the thrift store?”

Dave gave no indication of hearing his wife’s question as he sat in his favorite recliner, tattered paperback in hand.

“Hun?” Barb raised her voice vying for her husband’s attention.

“Yes, dear?”

“I asked if that’s your new book?”

“It’s hardly new. In fact, it’s quite old.  I think it might actually be worth something.”

“Any good?”

“I just started.  I’m curious about all the fuss.”


“Yes, fuss. There’s a legend about the story of Francois. Apparently it had some kind of cult following in the 1800s before it was banned.”

“What??” Barb took off her glasses, giving her husband her full attention.

“I guess I’ll find out what the hubbub is all about.” He looked back down at the open book indicating their conversation was over.


“Coming to bed?”

So engrossed in his reading, Dave didn’t notice Barb as she appeared in the doorway.

“Hun?” She tried again to reach her husband.

Dave jumped. He looked somewhat dazed with his eyes darting around the small den. His gaze finally settled on Barb in the doorway wearing her pink robe and matching slippers.

“What?” He barked, a far cry from his usual calm demeanor.

“I just asked if you’re coming to bed?” 

“Not yet. I’ll be up later.

“Ok. I love you.”

“Je t’adore,” he replied, his attention back in the book. 


Dave slept fitfully in the recliner, the paperback open and face down on his chest, rising and falling in rhythm with his snoring. He mumbled every so often in a strange deep voice, his head thrashing this way and that.

“Je ne sais pas, je ne sais pas.”

Barb stood in the doorway, glass of water in hand, eyes wide with fear.


Sitting at the kitchen table, Dave was still in his cardigan and brown trousers that he had been wearing the day before. His eyes were bloodshot, his hair standing on end.

“Rough night, dear?” Barb smiled gently at her husband while pouring his morning coffee.

“Oui,” he mumbled as he took his first sip. 

“Ok. What’s going on?” Barb stood with the coffee pot held midair. “Are you learning French in your spare time?”

“What are you talking about?” 

“You’ve been talking French. I thought so last night, but now I’m certain.”

“You’re crazy.” 

Barb recoiled as if she had been slapped. What was happening to her gentle husband? In their thirty plus years of marriage he had never raised his voice to her, never insulted her even in jest.  She put her hand to his forehead checking for fever. 

After swatting her away, he stood up quickly, jostling the table. Coffee spilled over the rim of the mug, sloshing onto the morning paper.

“Dave! What’s going on?”

“Pardon, mademoiselle,” Dave replied, his head held high as he walked out of the room.


Sitting at his writing desk, Dave was restless, unable to concentrate. He watched the cursor blink at him on the empty white page, taunting him. The new idea he had for his story was vague, just out of reach.  What was that great story line he had come up with? 

He sat and stared. The blinking of the cursor was the only movement in the room. 

Light turned to dark as the day drew to a close. 

“Francois,” he mumbled. It was finally the end of the work day, time to pick up where he had left off.


“Mom, he’s acting so weird he’s actually scaring me. I don’t know what to do.”

“Now Barb, that doesn’t sound at all like our Dave.”

“That’s what I’m saying. There’s something very wrong here.”

“Maybe he’s caught up in his new book. You know how he gets when he starts a project, he gets all consumed.”

“That’s just it. He’s not writing. At least I don’t think he is. He’s been spending all of his time with his nose in that paperback.”

“What paperback is that, dear?”

“Francois. He found it at the thrift store and has hardly put it down since.”

There was a pause in the conversation, an eerie silence.

“Mom? Are you still there?”

“Francois? Are you serious?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Don’t you know the legend of Francois?”

Chills ran through Barb’s body. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. 


“Google it. But whatever you do, do not read it. Not even a word of it. You have to promise me.”

“What? You can’t be serious. Now I’m curious. Surely I can flip through it to get the gist of it?”

“Barb. Promise me. Do not read a word of it.”

“Mom, you’re being so dramatic.”

“Do I have to come over to make sure? Google it. I have to go. Call me later.”


Standing in the hall outside the bedroom Dave listened intently to his wife’s whispering phone conversation.

Flexing and releasing his fists, he felt his anger rise. “Putain,” he hissed, spittle escaping his lips. Who did she think she was badmouthing him to her mother? She crossed the line.


Barb poured herself a glass of wine and settled down in the den. Shivering, she wrapped herself in the blanket before opening her laptop. Between her husband and now her mother everyone she knew had gone mad.

“Francois,” she typed into her search engine and hit enter, taking a sip of the wine.

Shocked at the amount of results that popped up, she clicked on the first choice, put on her reading glasses, and fell captive to the tale.

Francois, written in 1789 by author Pierre Roux, became a popular cult classic in the early 1800s. Blamed for the sudden rise in violent crime against women, the book was officially banned in 1826.  Villagers in northern France celebrated in the streets while burning the books hoping for an end to the madness.

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” 

So captivated was Barb that she hadn’t heard Dave enter the den and stand beside her peering at her research. Slamming the laptop closed with shaking hands and a racing heart, she was dismayed to hear the use of yet another French expression.  She decided to tread lightly while attempting to unravel the mystery.

“Want to watch a movie, dear? Pop some popcorn?” 

“Non. There is work to be done, mon cherie.” His eyes, unrecognizable, stared at her. Was there actual hatred in those eyes? She tried to remain calm.

“Oh? Your new story?”


“Got a lot of writing done? That’s wonderful news, darling. Your agent is going to be thrilled.

“Non. Reading, not writing. I haven’t got time for that drivel.” 

He turned and left the room, leaving Barb speechless and shaking.


Barb opened her laptop relieved to find her research still on the screen where she had left off. Putting her reading glasses back on she leaned in to continue.

New editions had never been printed based on the suggestive nature of the story and the hypnotic effect that Pierre had on his readers. However, it is rumored that there are still rare copies circulating to this day.

Hypnotic effect? She thought of her husband, her gentle husband, and the way he had been pacing around the house the last few days. He certainly did appear to be under a spell of some sort. She heard her mother’s voice warning her, the promise she had made halfheartedly to resist reading even one word. 

She studied the black and white grainy photos of the women in their long dresses holding hands around the flames. Were they created for hype or actual images of a macabre event?

Leaning back in her chair, she contemplated all that she had just absorbed. Surely it couldn’t be possible.  It was absurd. 


Closing the paperback, Dave switched off the lamp and thought about Francois, feeling a connection to the character, as if a kindred spirit. All that the Frenchman had endured was so relatable it was as if they were one and the same person. 

Francois, like himself, had a demanding wife, a cruel and vindictive woman that he had tried in vain to please. However, such women who sought delight by belittling others could never be pleased. His thoughts returned to his own wife’s incessant nagging to complete his novel under the ruse of pleasing his agent as opposed to herself. 

Her whispering words to her mother, lying about him, turning the last of their relatives against him came back to haunt him.

Francois had faced such indignities until he finally decided he had had enough. 

He, like Francois, was going to put an end to it.


Barb watched the flames dance hypnotically as she warmed her hands in front of the fire. The snow had begun to fall bringing a chill to her bones. She poured herself another glass of wine, lost in thought.

It had been weeks since that fateful trip to the thrift store when Francois entered their once happy home turning it into a house of madness. The new Dave was not the man she had fallen in love with all those years ago. He had become a stranger lurking around scowling and surly. 

She cursed Pierre Roux for his writings, his hatred of women, his subliminal message of brutality. Her continued research had uncovered countless murders of innocent women, the slaughters spreading like a disease through Europe. Thought to be extinguished, it reared its ugly head once again in her sleepy town, infecting her husband.

She was going to have to put an end to it.


“You have reached Barb’s voicemail. Please leave a message.”

Doris felt her fear increase exponentially each time she called her daughter and was sent straight to voicemail. The snow was starting to accumulate, and she knew Barb didn’t venture out in bad weather. So where was she?

Knowing with absolute certainty the answer to her own question, she put on her snow boots and picked up her car keys. About to leave the house, she stopped at the door thinking. Rushing into her bedroom, she scrambled around her dresser drawers looking for that hidden pack of cigarettes.  She wasn’t going back on the promise to herself, it had been three months since she had kicked the habit.


Looking into the bathroom mirror, Dave saw Francois smiling back at him, his dark eyes meeting his own in conspiracy. Today was the day.


Two days had passed since Barb had picked up the tattered paperback with intention to toss it into the garbage can. 

“Promise me,” her mother’s voice had replayed over and over in her mind. “Do not read one word of it.”

One word had seemed harmless, one sentence, even a paragraph couldn’t hurt, she had thought. 


The house was quiet as she let herself in, a chill greeting her at the door.

“Barb? Dave?” Her voice rang out shrilly into the silence without response.

Confirming her worst fears, she entered the den and found her daughter motionless in her favorite chair, the fire having gone out leaving the room cold and still.

“Barb!” She screamed, her voice as unrecognizable as the expression on her daughter’s face.

Grabbing the paperback from Barb’s clutches, a quick glance confirmed the title. Grateful for the matches left in her dresser, she quickly struck one and held it under the source of the nightmare. As the flames sprouted out, she threw Francois into the fireplace, feeling the heat on her hand.


“Doris, what a nice surprise!” Dave entered the den, embracing his mother-in-law with a warm hug. “Honey, you didn’t tell me your mother was coming over?” He looked questioningly at his wife.

“I’m as surprised as you,” Barb replied, rising from her chair with a smile on her face. “Would anyone like a nice hot cup of tea? I’ll put the kettle on.”

May 19, 2024 00:58

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Rashida Ali
10:13 May 27, 2024

Wow. This was amazing. Hope it wins. :)


Hannah Lynn
13:26 May 27, 2024

Ooo that would be something! Thanks so much for your encouragement!!


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Carol Stewart
07:01 May 26, 2024

An imaginative take on the prompt. Much enjoyed. Good work!


Hannah Lynn
13:22 May 26, 2024

Thanks Carol! A fun one to write, I’m glad it was enjoyable to read!


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Darvico Ulmeli
09:46 May 24, 2024

Like the originality. A book that hypnotizes the reader. Nice one.


Hannah Lynn
20:52 May 25, 2024

Thanks so much, Darvico! This was one of the easy ones to write somehow! I appreciate your feedback!


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Alexis Araneta
17:28 May 20, 2024

Oooh, chilling one, Hannah ! I'm glad it was saved before it was too late ! Lovely work !


Hannah Lynn
23:07 May 20, 2024

Thanks, Alexis! Yes, glad they were saved. Who knows what might have happened next!


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07:07 May 20, 2024

This was such a clever use of the prompt! An interesting modern day parallel to how people can be swayed by the many crazy philosophies they see on YouTube these days. Happy to see Francois's "account suspended" at the end of the story!


Hannah Lynn
23:06 May 20, 2024

Thanks, Scott! This one was so much fun to write! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)


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Trudy Jas
01:24 May 20, 2024

Spooky! Saved in the nick of time.


Hannah Lynn
19:44 May 20, 2024

This was really spooky! In fact it almost wrote itself that’s how spooky it was! Thanks for reading, Trudy!


Trudy Jas
20:16 May 20, 2024

Yeah, that is spooky. LOL But time saving.


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Mary Bendickson
21:14 May 19, 2024

Very inventive. Glad they were brought out of the trance. Thanks for liking 'The Passing'


Hannah Lynn
23:15 May 19, 2024

Thanks, Mary! Yes, that was getting a bit scary for a while. Thanks for reading!


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