Contest #212 shortlist ⭐️

39 comments

Fiction Mystery Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

John knew it was illegal, but that didn't hinder the temptation. For weeks it sat there, its unread secrets wanting to escape its crinkled manila prison. No one in the local shop or cafe ever heard of Ellie-Mae MacIntyre, never mind living at this address. That only intensified the handwritten letter's draw. Its cursive script, beautiful, elegantly old school, as if it came from the past. Who even sends letters anymore? So alluring, so tempting, so…


He couldn't take it any more, that damned letter lurked on his console table for long enough.


With a lover's touch he stroked its creased corners, as though the answer to life's mysteries lay within. For all he knew, they did. He squeezed it, many pages, folded and packed with care. Or money. A syrupy smile smeared across his face. I could be rich


Eyes darting from peeling wallpaper, to the mold seeping in around the door frame, he allowed himself a smile. Everything he ever wanted could be inside that wrongly addressed letter. Everything and anything.


Perhaps it was wealth, he imagined telling his supervisor where to stick his soul destroying shift work. To retire early, such a glorious dream. Enough for a house? Or even a deed to a house. In fact, a shed would be better than this shit hole. Maybe even…the not so distant ding of his microwave salisbury steak forced him back into glum reality.


He snatched the envelope in clammy palms. Everything could change, all he had to do was open it. But change isn't guaranteed to be good. He knew that better than most. All those wonderful possibilities would disappear with one little tear. It's opened, it's confirmed, no more dreaming. Schrödinger's damned first class missive. He looked around once more. Anything would be better than this solitary, dull, loveless, life.


With a cracked and dirt clogged thumb nail he sliced the secrets free. Unfolding, he licked his lips. Photos fluttered to the ground. Heart racing, he stepped back, eyes wide, jaw slack. A girl stared back from glossy six by fours, twisted, broken, gray lifeless eyes staring right through him. His guts twisted, teeth chattering. Forensic indicators marked the splatter and dash along the hallway. A familiar hallway. His hallway. One page rustled in his trembling wrinkled hand, he looked from it to the photos, then began to read. Two words in, he stopped - Hello John…


He checked the envelope again, Ellie-Mae, he wasn't going mad. Was he?


Small hairs tingled the length of his neck. What had he opened? Dropping to the marked linoleum on creaking knees, he swept the horrific photos towards himself. What had he let in? Gathering them he pressed them to his pounding chest before stumbling room to room closing the curtains. Why could he never just be content with his lot, always the dreamer, always the failure. 


Closing the kitchen blinds, he laid all across the table in a bad impersonation of some movie detective. The photos were old, but reprinted, the wallpaper and furniture hailed from the eighties, the girl herself…he needed a whiskey. Filling a tumbler he threw it back, yet his hands still trembled. Another then. He lit a cigarette, taking long drags, falling ash dusting his blue threadbare jumper.


Something resembling calm took his hand, directed it to the letter, told him to lift it, to read.


Hello John,


I know you know who I am, just as I knew you would have to look inside, you couldn't resist something bearing my sweet Ellie’s name. You're no innocent John, I couldn't prove it, but that doesn't matter now.


I’ll be free soon, but the only thing I would ever want to return home to, you took from me. You owe me twenty five years, and a daughter. But that’s a debt no man can ever repay.


Strange what being in here can do to a man, people used to call me a gentle giant, wouldn't hurt a fly and such, but for two and a half decades I've gone to sleep every night pondering just the opposite. And boy do you learn some things here that no ones ever going to print in a book.


Point being, I’d prefer not to come back to this forsaken shit pile, so take this as a warning, you in that house when I get out, you're going to answer to me. It's only right after what you did. 


See you soon,


John crushed the letter, crumpled the pictures, then rammed the lot into a kitchen drawer. How long had it sat in the hallway? He rubbed his face. Two weeks, three? What did it matter, it was obviously a different John. He paced room to room, smoke trailing and booze splashing his paranoid patrolling. Yes, it's a different John, if someone shows up they'll soon realise. Won’t they?


Every rumble outside, every barking dog, every passing stranger, gave him pause. Damn it, why did he look? Not looking wouldn't stop whoever was coming. Mistaken identity. Coincidence. Ring the police. They will understand. It seemed the logical answer. 


Standing before the fireplace, he stared at the gray, scruffy, bastard in the mirror, a little too red eyed for lawful interactions. Regardless, he practiced what he would say. 


"...yes, I'm being threatened by a letter from an unknown sender. I know I shouldn't have opened it. Yes officer I knew it was a crime, but my sad little life made that unopened letter the most interesting thing to happen in months. No, of course I didn't murder that little blonde girl, excuse me, why do I have the photos? That's what I'm trying to tell you, they were sent to me. No, they are not keepsakes. Perhaps you should be more worried about why these appear to be crime scene photos, these came from inside the house so to say…."


This was getting him nowhere, head spinning, stomach lurching he gave it up as a bad job. He should never have started drinking. Oh well, you've started now!


The back gate shrieked open, next door's dogs howled. They must know something he didn't. 


He switched off the kitchen light before rifling below the sink for an old metal toolbox, mostly rust at this stage. Withdrawing a hammer, chisel, and screwdriver, he sat them on the counter. The venetians crinkled as he peered out. Sighing he cursed his jumpiness, the neighbour was taking out their bins.  


Taking the hardware he careened into the front room. Maybe he was being paranoid. Maybe not. Slumping into his busted armchair he lit another cigarette, poured another drink and turned the hammer in hand like a swordsman balancing his saber. The hefty weight and warm liquor gave him new found confidence. Let the bastard come. Who does he think he is, this stranger, threatening me because I have the same name as some murderous shit bag. Let him come, let him…


***


John bolted upright, breath rapid, shirt clinging to his sweat drenched back. Squinting, he scanned about, the blue gray of early morning streaming between the curtains into the front room. Bang. There it was again, the noise that had woke him. 


Wincing, he hobbled towards the hallway. He paused, the front door was swinging open for all the world to see. Closing it, lock clicking impossibly loud for his fragile, thumping, headache he rubbed his eyes. The moment before sleep evaded him. You must have gone outside, maybe those hoodlums came back, or that damned dog needed roaring at. 


He downed two glasses of water, filled a third. Foolish was the word stabbing behind his bloodshot eyes, letting a letter get him so worked up. Old age, loneliness, and too much booze, that's what he put it down to. He’d phone the police today and…


The glass shattered on the hallway floor. Hello John, scrolled in black marker across his living room mirror, and the pictures were not in the drawer. No, they were pinned and taped about the message. He peeked into the corners of the room, thankful for once of its minute size. The door, the blasted door.


“Hello?” he called up the gloomy stairwell. No reply. Better or worse, he couldn't say.


Each slow step groaned like a ship at sea. He called again. Still no answer. He reached the landing, three rooms, none of the doors open more than a crack. Anyone could be within. The bathroom, unlikely, the bedroom, perhaps, the spare room, too full of clutter. Bang. He jumped, letting loose a string of curses. Bang again. From downstairs.


Fist clenched, he threw open the front door.


“Hello John, how are you today?” A young woman dressed all in blue held up a white paper bag.


“What's this?”


“Your tablets, your prescription," she cocked an eyebrow. "Everything ok John? You're white as a ghost."


Creaking came from upstairs, shifting weight, footsteps. John's wide eyes followed the noise. "Do you hear that?"


A hinge squeaked, his bedroom door, more footsteps. "Hear what John?"


Pulling his overcoat from the rack, he grabbed his wallet from the console table. A shadow trickled across the landing above. John barged through the delivery woman and ran.


***


“I'm telling you Janet, I know what I saw, and heard, there's someone in my house, someone wants to murder me, for, for—”


“It’s ok John, drink your tea, I believe you, help is on its way.” She smiled from across the plastic tartan tablecloth, head tilted as people do when they pity the elderly. “I’ve asked Bill and Frank to go check it out."


“Thank you, here," John slid the house keys across the table, but Janet shook her head.


"Sure we don't need them John." She nodded to the two hulks in checked shirts at the cafe counter and they disappeared out the door, bell jingling behind them.


John could feel the eyes of everyone in the cafe on him. Probably think I'm a damn fool, old man scared of his own shadow. 


***


"John?" 


He looked up from his third cup of sugary tea to a narrow bespectacled man in a gray three piece. Without invitation the stranger slid into the red leather booth chair.


"Do I know you?" John asked.


"Do you?" He leaned back, laced fingers resting across his stomach.


"Are you…" John gripped the cup a little tighter, ready to weaponise it if the need arose. "Are you the one who sent that letter?"


"No. I'm the one trying to help you find that person."


The cafe door jingled, Frank and Bill lumbered in carrying John's old rusty toolbox. 


"Was there anyone there?" John asked. They didn't answer. 


Sliding the rusted tool chest onto the counter they turned to the stranger, "Hammer, chisel, and screwdriver, were taken out."


The stranger removed his glasses, as Frank lifted out the tools in question and laid them on the table. "Why those three items John?"


"What the hell is this, who the fuck are –"


Someone squeezed his shoulder, Janet, eyes sympathetic wide, head still tilted in pitiful belittlement, "John, you're ok, Doctor Creed here just wants to help, we all do."


"Doctor? Doctor! I don't need medical help, I need the police, there's a man in my house."


"And yet," Creed began polishing his glasses with a red pocket square. "You didn't ring them did you, why is that?"


"Because…because, I shouldn't have opened that letter."


"So you felt guilty, would that be correct?" The doctor put back on his glasses and plucked something from his inside pocket.


One, two, three, pictures. Blond girls, no older than eleven, smiling and posed as if for a school photo. Each next to a implement. The doctor leaned forward pointing to the first.


"Sarah Whitworth, chisel to the temple," his finger moved to the next, "Louise Caldwell, screwdriver in her neck." The doctor paused and double tapped the last, pushed the picture in front of John. "Recognise her?"


"I don't understand any of this, I didn't do anything. I swear."


"That's the problem John, I believe you. This you. What's her name?"


It wasn't hard to infer, yet John's lip trembled as the words bubbled out, "Ellie-Mae." Soundless tears streamed now his aged cheeks.


"Yes John, yes." The doctor's poise broken, he shuffled forward, excitement tingeing his every word. "Where is she? Where is her body?"


"I don't know, I honestly don't, it was just on the letter, what's all this about? Please?"


"Who is she John, who is she to you?"


"Nobody."


"You sure?" Creed pushed the photo closer still.


Those blue eyes, so big, so familiar. He saw them before, his wife's eyes. That flaxen hair, like silk, the smell of lavender and coconut. Her tiny red hand squeezing his finger in the hospital…


His shoulders shuddered, heart and soul cracking, "She's my daughter." He pressed the photo close to his heart.


"Where did you bury her?"


"Me? no, I never, not my little–"


"Yes John, you. Don't you realise your both things at once, the victim and murderer. The other you, the one that's been living with you for twenty five years. The shadow on your conscience, your guilt John. You opened the door for him last night, invited him in. We need to speak to him, John. Help me, help you and all this will be over."


"No, no, no." John jumped up when a meaty hand gripped his shoulder and forced him back down.


"Yes John. John MacIntyre, a.k.a the toolbox killer, Ellie was your first, the only one we've never found. Help us John." Creed gave the slightest nod. "Next time, don't run. Confront the shadow, ask him where your daughter is. Anything for me to take to the Governor, anything to prove this program can work." 


John winced at the stabbing pain in his neck. Slumping into the chair he rolled his eyes toward the woman in blue, empty syringe in hand.


The world got warm, fuzzy, inviting. His lids grew heavy, sounds muffled.


"Ok, everyone, let's reset. Janet, a little more psilocybin in his whiskey and Frank get them dogs barking more, fear seems to…"


***


John woke with a start, head pounding, palms sweaty. He rubbed his temples, he knew he needed to stop drinking so much. A hinge squeaked in the hallway, followed by a soft fluttering.


He stumbled out, there was a bright white envelope on the doormat. Lifting it he admired the beautiful handwriting, who even sent letters anymore? More to the point, who the hell was Ellie-Mae MacIntyre?


August 23, 2023 18:49

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

39 comments

Marty B
05:42 Aug 29, 2023

I see this as a horror story, the evil inside him creeping out, into alcohol fueled violence. I liked how he grabbed tools to protect himself, the same ones he used as a serial killer. A great conceit! Of many, I liked this line 'With a cracked and dirt clogged thumb nail he sliced the secrets free.'

Reply

Kevin Logue
06:54 Aug 29, 2023

Thanks for reading and commenting, much appreciated. I questioned adding a horror tag when submitting but opted out in the end. It was actually the grabbing of the tools that flipped this story for me and gave birth to a different idea that became this story... That's issue and benefit of pantsing these ha.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
06:02 Aug 25, 2023

Awesome story! Starts off a casual everyday story about a guy down on his luck who has a mystery drop into his lap, then... grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go! Couple of things. Sleep is spelt sleek. Something seems wrong with this line.? Fist clenched, he threw it open the front door. Creepy and cool!

Reply

Kevin Logue
06:57 Aug 25, 2023

Cheers Derrick for the pick ups, weirdly I had corrected them on Google docs but tired head I copied in the wrong version here ha. Too much of a rush. Glad you enjoyed it, and happy to hear it grabs the attention. This story changed three times whilst writing it so I worried I was chopping too much to hammer it into shape, so appreciate the feedback.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Euodia Albright
09:58 Oct 14, 2023

I like the low of the story and how you capture the attention of us readers, the ending made if us want to read more only to realize it was the climax of the story.so captivating story. I LIKED IT ALOT.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Amanda Lieser
00:53 Sep 20, 2023

Hi Kevin! Congratulations on this outstanding shortlist! I highly admire the writer if you can craft a beautiful mystery because I myself struggle with that particular genre. I love the way that each paragraph gave us another puzzle piece, and I found myself gobbling up the story as fast as I could. The ending was just as thrilling as the beginning. Nice work!!

Reply

Kevin Logue
06:51 Sep 20, 2023

Thank you very much for such high praise, you've made my morning 😁 I always considered myself a fantasy writer cause it's the genre I read the most but my more suspenseful/mysterious stories seem to resonate with people so maybe I should dabble more in that genre. Cheers for reading and commenting, much appreciated.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Ken Cartisano
16:00 Sep 14, 2023

Hey Kevin, Congrats on making the short list. Way to go.

Reply

Kevin Logue
16:15 Sep 14, 2023

Cheers Ken. Just seen you posted a story for the Devils Deal, had a feeling you'd be posting this week. I'll get a read later tonight, in work at the minute.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
10:35 Sep 07, 2023

https://myelitedatequest.life/?u=0uww0kv&o=1e0px26&t=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvFQWoT__Lo&t=tiktok=&t=youtube&cid=clickid={cid}

Reply

Show 0 replies
Story Time
17:59 Sep 04, 2023

I love that you created a story where there's just as much for the reader to assume as there is on the page. That's such a tough thing to do, and the use of tension is fantastic. Well done.

Reply

Kevin Logue
18:39 Sep 04, 2023

Thanks very much Kevin, appreciate the feedback. I enjoy being a little vague with my story's, when reading I always those moments where you are like, what's going on? Glad I'm able to recreate that to and degree. Cheers again for taking the time to read and commenting, always a pleasure to hear from other writers.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Philip Ebuluofor
17:50 Sep 02, 2023

Congrats. Drilling Tools and Stabbing One is not my favorite movie. Fine one here.

Reply

Kevin Logue
18:21 Sep 02, 2023

Cheers Philip 👍

Reply

Philip Ebuluofor
18:51 Sep 03, 2023

Welcome.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Michael Martin
19:52 Sep 01, 2023

It took me a bit to get what was going on... I think the first time he passed out with the door open, I got the idea that it was him. I didn’t pick up on the experiment/procedure until the end though. Well written, well deserved shortlist. Good work l!

Reply

Kevin Logue
20:17 Sep 01, 2023

Cheers Michael, appreciate the comments.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Nina H
18:40 Sep 01, 2023

Wow, this is quite a story 😲 I love how you unravel it all, as John unravels too. And the ending is perfect. Great job!!!

Reply

Kevin Logue
19:10 Sep 01, 2023

Cheers Nina.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
15:14 Sep 01, 2023

Congrats on shortlist! 🤗 Got it read now. What a thriller. Deserved the win!

Reply

Kevin Logue
16:03 Sep 01, 2023

Thanks very much. Genuinely wasn't expecting it, I read so many great entries this week, but I'm happy to accept it 😁

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Helen A Smith
13:40 Sep 01, 2023

It sounds like this guy cannot see the truth. His personality is split down the middle. He can’t believe he did what he did. Believes it was someone else on one level, but knows it was himself too is how I read it. Compelling story.

Reply

Kevin Logue
16:14 Sep 01, 2023

Thanks very much Helen. John can't see the truth for sure, whether guilt or his broken mental state I'm not even sure myself. Always great to hear others interpretations. Cheers for reading and commenting,much appreciated.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jessie Laverton
19:23 Aug 31, 2023

This is very gripping writing. I had to read it twice to understand, and still not sure I have. Who is writing from the prison? Another version of himself? Split personalities are definitely fascinating material. Leaves you somewhere between horror and pity.

Reply

Kevin Logue
19:59 Aug 31, 2023

In my thinking, the letter is crafted by Dr Creed, but as if it's from John to his darker personality. The part of the story that went unwritten was that John has served twenty five years in prison, an ideal and peaceful prisoner that was selected for this new program. What wasn't detailed was that John's inside a facility made to look like his old house etc. The purpose of the letter is to both scare and entice the darker personality out. I do tend towards vagueness when it comes to these sort of suspense/mysteries. To draw a comparison ...

Reply

Jessie Laverton
20:40 Aug 31, 2023

Totally get it now! I was wondering how come they left such a dangerous man free at home 🤣 I did get the purpose of the letter clearly, just couldn’t work out who it was from! Thanks for the extra explanations ☺️

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Ken Cartisano
05:17 Aug 30, 2023

Another good story, Kevin. It doesn't read as if it changed its clothes three time before lunch. What you've done here is tough to do, create horror and suspense without resorting to fantasy. In fact, the neat thing about this story is that you lead us to think it could be many things, It could be supernatural, natural, a mistake, a prank, it turns out to be far more serious. And it heightens the suspense when the mc doesn't know anything either. This is not a fun story, but it's a very satisfying one.

Reply

Kevin Logue
06:58 Aug 30, 2023

Hey Ken, thanks for the feedback - "This is not a fun story, but it's a very satisfying one." This is brilliant quote, and sums up how is feel about it too. How you keeping, any prompts taking your fancy this week or are you battening down the hatches?

Reply

Ken Cartisano
05:58 Sep 01, 2023

Thank's Kevin. I say that with the full knowledge that whatever you write, you have a knack for injecting humor, or fun into the plot, but this story is a breed apart from your usual fare, and it does not disappoint. I'm determined to write one this week. I had a great idea for one of last weeks prompts, but the idea hatched too far into the week to make a serious go of it. And then the hurricane threatened, and the battening of the hatches necessitated itself. After everything is secure we usually grab some things and retreat to our vaca...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Michelle Oliver
05:11 Aug 27, 2023

Well done, what a thriller! Love the way you’ve kept us guessing until the end, and even then we’re still not sure of the guilty party here. An experiment? A dig into the mind of a Jekyll and hype killer? Great work.

Reply

Kevin Logue
08:05 Aug 27, 2023

Thanks Michelle, appreciate your feedback. For me it was a Jekyll and Hyde type situation, a split personality, bit like Fight Club meets Shutter Island. I had a section were I went deeper into it all with Dr.Creed but I'll always opt for mystery over resolution 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
16:12 Aug 26, 2023

That's a fun dark mystery! The idea of getting a letter full of crime scene photos, that's a great setup. But it all gets deeper when we realize things don't quite add up, and then we learn the whole thing is a setup, an experiment. First we feel for John, but then suspicion sets in. Ultimately, "Don't you realise your both things at once, the victim and murderer" seems like a good summary. A fun dive into John's guilty mind - thanks for sharing!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Ty Warmbrodt
21:31 Aug 24, 2023

That was brilliant!

Reply

Kevin Logue
21:33 Aug 24, 2023

Thanks very much Ty 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Chris Miller
15:17 Aug 24, 2023

That's a pretty cool idea, Kevin. Good story. Thanks for sharing.

Reply

Kevin Logue
15:33 Aug 24, 2023

Cheers Chris 👍

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Unknown User
17:40 Aug 31, 2023

<removed by user>

Reply

Kevin Logue
18:28 Aug 31, 2023

Ha, the toolbox shuffle is a most secret and dazzling performance that was once performed for Suleiman the Magnificent and is said to have brought him to tears that flooded thr Ottoman Empire for seven days and nights. Glad you enjoyed the suspense, although I'd be a little worried if he was your role model, ha. I see Behold Poetry has a third outing, looking forward to reading it as soon as I wrap up a story here (Hopefully a second outing for my world of the Nine Mages, if I can hammer it in shape)

Reply

Unknown User
19:27 Aug 31, 2023

<removed by user>

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply