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Mystery Suspense Thriller

Hunter brought the van around the loop. He saw his targets waiting at the far end and cross-checked the photos again.

Meanwhile, James and Curtis were playing a game of War in the back seat, already riled up, by the sounds of it.

“Ah-thank you,” James said and swiped a winning stack of cards into his pile. “Maybe you should give up now.”

“You. Wish.” Curtis narrowed his eyes.

Hunter hopped out of the van and strode toward the two figures. “Ladies, I’m Agent Burgh.” He extended his hand.

The shorter one smiled and shook his hand. “Tia—err, Agent Marksberg,” she said and hoisted her backpack onto her shoulder. “Sorry.”

“Actually,” he said and quickly smiled at the team's new photographer, “we don’t need to be so formal. Force of habit.” He heard she possessed a wealth of historical knowledge and was curious to learn more, later. He then turned to the woman sporting a dark bob.

“Cunningham, Lexa. That formal enough?” she asked with a smirk, but offered her hand. “Or would you prefer a salute?”

“At ease, a handshake will do,” Hunter said and grinned. She had a firm grip—pretty on par for an agent skilled in diplomatic relations. He was impressed with both of them. “Welcome to the team. Can I take your bags?”

“Nah. So is it just you?” Lexa asked and grabbed her duffel, making for the back of the van.

Tia shrugged politely and followed her.

“Boys,” he barked, “get out here.”

Curtis pulled the side door open and clobbered out, towering over Tia when she came to introduce herself. "Curtis Carlsson."

Before he had a chance to finish, the biologist swooped in, flipping his bangs out of his face. “I’m James Piaget. Such a pleasure.”

“Don’t mind him,” Curtis whispered to her, “he’s extra,” and they shared a giggle.

“Oh, please,” James started to protest but then saw Lexa and his jaw dropped.

Curtis sighed. “Don’t embarrass—”

Tia grabbed Curtis's arm, a twinkle in her eyes, and quietly said, “Wait for it."

James smoothed his hair back and grazed his tongue over his teeth. “And you are?”

“Ready to kick your ass if you touch me.” Lexa side-stepped the biologist and promptly settled into the passenger seat.

Curtis snorted, knees buckling beneath him and high-fived Tia.

Hunter raised his eyebrow, then motioned for everyone to get in. A firm grip and a touch of attitude? Now throw James into the mix? Interesting challenge...

“So, team building...any idea what that entails?” Tia asked once they were one their way. She leaned between the center console, picking at the corner of her lip.

“It’s top secret,” James snickered mischievously from the back—it was decided that he be condemned to the depths of the van for the journey.

“All I know,” Hunter said and he drove out of Manhattan, “each of us is assigned a role, which will become clearer as the mission progresses. My job was to grab the van and drive to a location that only James is allowed to navigate to.”

“But even I don’t know where it is. I only get to see the next step.”

“Was this the General’s idea?” Lexa asked skeptically, referring to their boss.

Hunter shot her a dark look. “Do you have a problem with that, Agent?”

“Uuuuh…”

“I’m kidding,” he said. “But General or not, team building is mandatory when joining another team. It’s always secret. The whole point is to learn to trust each other in new situations.”

“Thanks, Dad,” James called and tried to rope Curtis into another game of War.

“You’re welcome,” Hunter replied, eyes shifting to the gas tank.

Lexa held in a smile and looked out the window.

“So, what made you transfer to Biochemical warfare?” Curtis asked and dealt a hand.

“Actually, we didn’t transfer,” Tia replied and turned to face the computer whiz. “We were in a position to go international.”

Hunter’s gut clenched a bit. International rookies? Odd decision on the General’s part. Judging by Curtis and James’s silence, they agree. “Congrats. It can be a whirlwind, but if the time is right, it’s right. Glad to have you on board.” He knew as Team Lead he was obligated to be supportive, but he was genuinely looking forward to tonight.

“That’s really sweet,” Tia said and squeezed Hunter’s shoulder.

Yes, we, are,” James added, but Curtis told him stop being a pervert . “Whatever, it’s about time we had some estrogen on this team. You two are way too serious.”

“Just logical,” Curtis muttered and won the next hand.

As Hunter drove, a feeling settled over him. This was going to be a night to remember.



“James, are you sure we went the right way?” Hunter asked uneasily.

“What’s up?” Lexa demanded and leaned over Hunter to inspect the dashboard.

“Yes, of course I’m sure. I’m following GPS and we’re right on track,” he said and flipped his bangs.

Hunter clenched his jaw.

“We’re out of gas,” Lexa said. “Great.”

“I don’t remember seeing a gas station recently,” Tia said and craned her neck to the back. “Do we have spare gas?”

Hunter kicked himself for not listening to his intuition to stop for more fuel earlier. “I was told to be ready at 16:30 for the van, pick you ladies up at 16:45, and promptly head to the secret coordinates.”

“We felt rushed, too,” Lexa said. “We got our instructions an hour before meeting you.”

“Sounds intentional,” Hunter said.

Curtis dug into his jacket for some cigarettes. “Anything around here we might need to discover?”

“Well, I think it’s a coincidence. GPS says we are 25 miles from our destination,” James pointed out. “But no one suggest we walk.”

“It wouldn't hurt to check things out,” Hunter said while Curtis muttered, “Suspect everything.

“I agree: the game is afoot.” Tia reached for the side door. “Come on, let’s see what we can find. Supplies in the van maybe?”

The guys paused and looked at each other.

“Err, did anyone look?” Curtis asked. “It didn’t even cross my mind. Damn, I trusted the agency. First mistake.”

“Why?” Tia asked. “The agency is a life line.”

“And this is a test,” Hunter answered. “Curtis is right. You can’t rely on the agency to bail you out, especially the farther out on a mission you are.”

“We know that,” Lexa said and strode to the trunk.

“I didn’t mean you didn’t,” Hunter replied and looked at Tia, who shrugged apologetically. “You wouldn’t be on our team—uh, I mean, we wouldn’t be joining forces if we weren’t experienced,” he added, a little annoyed at her comment.

“What’s this?” Lexa pulled out a small, fabric satchel from under the seat. She grimaced.

“Give it.” James snatched and opened it. “Just a lame emergency kit—bandages, burn kit, string, and a tiny flashlight? Jeeze, my phone is brighter.”

The agents groaned, and a gust of wind picked up, swirling some dust and dead leaves around them.

Lexa tightened her leather jacket and looked at the desolate horizon. The sun was setting over the rolling hills. Dry grass spanned for miles, divided only by a single gravel road. There was nothing particularly helpful in sight except for skeleton trees that had sprung up sporadically over time.

“Oh, my, god!” James shrieked.

Hunter’s head whipped up from his search of the trunk. “What?!”

“I don’t have a signal,” he moaned.

Lexa slapped James’s shoulder. “Don’t be an idiot.”

He stuck out his tongue. “Well, I don’t.”

No one did.

Curtis rolled his eyes. "Maybe we're not on the right track then," he muttered and spotted Tia. The shadows dancing across her face—never mind. It was probably just a trick of the light—but she was staring at something. Her eyes grew and the next moment she was slapping herself.

“What—are you—doing? Stop that,” he said and reached to restrain her hands. Instinct.

“Had—t-to—be—sure,” she panted. “Look!” A finger pointed past him.

Curtis swallowed and turned, not sure he wanted to know.

“I think I see a light—up there!”

Curtis forced an eye open to see what she was pointing at, but didn’t see a light. “No way!”

Hunter twisted into attack stance at the tech’s howl and popped his head out of the van. “What is it?” He saw Lexa do the same.

“You got that right!” James said, joining the group. “There is no way I’m going in there!

Hunter finally found what Tia was pointing to, and blinked hard to make sure he was seeing correctly. He clenched his jaw to contain his emotions, which were being heavily influenced by the team’s energy. He could see the silhouette of what looked like a mansion standing ominously alone on a hill above them. He blinked again. It was still there.

“Would everyone just calm down? This is obviously a setup,” Lexa insisted, breaking the silence. “It’s messed up, but we’re spies and our team building isn’t going to be a game of mini putt. So, let’s grab our stuff and go.”

“Exactly,” Hunter said and composed himself. “Good initiative, Lexa.”

“So nice, but no,” James said flatly. “I vote we sleep in the van. Hell, I’ll even suggest we walk the 25 miles.”

“It’s the end of October, and we have no gas to heat the van,” Tia said and glanced up at the mansion. “We have to go up there if it’s part of the game because that’s probably how we get out of here.”

“Yeah,” Curtis forced himself to say. He wasn’t thrilled about it, but he told himself it was just a test. “Tia said she saw a light, so maybe it’s not abandoned after all.”

Abandoned?” James’s eyes almost popped out. “That’s your issue? More like, what if it’s haunted?”

Lexa scoffed at this and James was about to snap back when Tia said, “Ghosts are real.”

See?” James crossed his arms. “Thank you, Tia.”

The team was silent.

“I, uh, I’m not saying that place is haunted, but ghosts are real—we don’t have to be afraid of them,” she went on in a small voice, realizing she wasn’t exactly helping the situation.

“I’m surprised James hasn’t tried to comfort us “poor” women,” Lexa said with a sneer.

“Rude,” he scoffed, flipping his bangs at her. “For the record, looks like you don’t need my help, so feel free to take care of yourself.”

Lexa’s jaw dropped.

Tia and Curtis exchanged sheepish glances and tried not to laugh.

“Come on, let’s do this,” Hunter told them and finished unloading. “Hope you all packed something useful.”



James was cursing under his breath as they trudged up the hill. A bolt of lightning tore through the sky and illuminated the old structure. “Did they stage that, too?”

Hunter silently admitted this was quite the situation, and took calculated breaths to keep his cool.

All too quickly, they were at the front door. Lexa, being at the head, secretly mustered her courage and threw herself at the entrance, compelled to knock and get it over with.

Hunter grabbed her wrist. “What are you doing? We should scope out the place,” he said in a hushed whisper, his grey eyes dotted with alarm.

“Yeah, of course, I-I don’t know why—” she said and shook her head, suddenly retreating. She glared at the door, feeling her confidence falter. “That was…weird.”

“Ok, Lexa you’re with Curtis and James. Go left. Tia and I will take the right. We meet around back. Deal?”

“Deal,” James said before anyone could disagree, linking arms with his teammates.

 “Try not to use your phone lights if you don’t have to—you never know who’s watching.”

James checked his watch. “See you in five.”

Hunter nodded. Then he and Tia broke off.

“I don’t know where the light was coming from,” Tia whispered and peeked into a dusty side window, “but it’s gone now.”

“How old do you think this house is? Think it was constructed just for team building?” Hunter asked, flattening himself to the rough wooden façade and scanning the surroundings. There really wasn’t another structure in sight. Nor was there any signs of life inside, just like Tia said.

“Definitely Victorian,” she replied, “Mid to late 19th century. In this state, the agency would’ve had to go through great lengths to build it themselves. The wood is original—see the way it splinters and how it’s warped? It’s possible they renovated the inside to suit its needs, but other than that I feel like someone found this place and said, ‘that one’.”

Hunter arched an eyebrow. “Unless they’ve been using it since then.”

Tia shivered.

He didn’t actually know the answer, so he peeked around the corner. No movement. But he saw a back entrance. His eyes darted around his immediate area for something—anything—that could serve as a weapon. He wanted a stick or a branch, but alas settled for a piece of splintered wood from the porch. It snapped off easily.

Tia nodded, then drove her foot through the wood to make herself a weapon, too.

 “Good thing this place is an original,” Hunter said.

“Watch out!” Tia cried and lunged past him with her plank.

Hunter ducked and spun around, only to see James and the others.

“Sorry,” Tia reddened. “I saw a shadow behind you and thought…”

“It’s ok. You had my back,” Hunter said and smiled. Then he looked at his watch. “You’re late,” he told James.

James tossed his bangs out of his face. “Fashionably.”

Lexa rolled her eyes.

“We didn’t find anything suspicious,” Curtis murmured darkly and stubbed out a cigarette. “It’s getting dark, so what our plan? I want to be prepared.”

“I’m assuming each of our roles will become clear once we’re inside,” Hunter said. “Anything can happen, so what did everyone bring that will be useful in an emergency—aside from your phones? Something you can likely keep on you. There’s a good possibility we might get jumped inside.”

“That means there a good possibility we might lose everything anyway,” Lexa commented as she unzipped her bag.

“Just humor the man, will ya?” James asked and bent down.

“Says the guy who brought a carry-on on wheels,” she muttered and dug in but he merely rolled his eyes.

“Time’s up. Show me what you’ve got.” Hunter looked around.

Lexa had a multi-purpose knife, Curtis held a lighter, Tia a charging cord, and James a travel-sized bottle of cologne.

“Excellent. Now hide those items in your intimates,” Hunter said and showed them his pack of mint gum. “If something happens, I say we keep this split we have going. That gives each group a good amount of skills and tools to achieve the objective.”

“Which is?” Lexa asked.

“Probably to get out alive,” he said and popped a piece of gum. There was never a bad time to chew.

“We should be so lucky,” James said. “I bet we have to make it through the night, ugh. I’d rather do Navy Seals training.”

“Oh, stop being a baby, they’ll hear you,” Lexa said.

James looked around. “Who? Where?”

“The ghosts,” she hissed back. “Let’s go already.”

“Stop fighting,” Hunter said and swung his wooden bat over his shoulder. “Just work as a team and try to survive, alright?”

“Yeah,” Tia added. “We can do this.”

“Fine, but can I kick the door in?” James asked, an air of bliss in his voice.

“Don’t be so dramatic,” Hunter replied and flattened himself beside the frame. “Let me see if it’s unlocked first.”

The sun had just about set.

Hunter took a deep breath as his fingers gripped the brass knob. They flinched back. It was warm! Weird.

“Hurry up,” James urged and Hunter went for it, his team waiting to attack.

It was—unlocked!

Letting it creak ajar, Hunter moved to the side.

They listened.

Something darted past his leg and he gasped, hearing the others suck in their breaths, too.

What was that?” Lexa whispered while James stifled a shriek.

Tia had jumped back and swung but missed.

“Olive.”

“Huh?” James asked Curtis.

“It was Olive.”

“How do you know? Who is Olive?” Lexa demanded, her heart picking up speed as she recalled the strange urge to knock on the front door earlier.

“Uh, I don’t, I don’t know,” he confessed. “First thing that popped into my head.”

Hunter crinkled his brow in the dark and felt as if someone was beside him. But Tia was further.

Something wasn’t right. And then they heard it. A wailing meow from behind them.

A loud bang crashed in the darkness and Curtis yelled.

“What happened?” Hunter pushed off the door frame and grabbed Tia’s arm to pull her away from the entrance, never taking his eyes off of it. He heard Lexa swearing and frantic footsteps.

Curtis yelped.

Hunter’s head whipped back and forth to see what was happening.

Lexa grabbed her phone and shone her flashlight around.

Curtis was splayed on his side, slowly pushing himself up. “I’m ok,” he said and turned to face them.

Lexa lowered the light to illuminate an object cradled in his arms. To her surprised, it hissed.

Tia saw it and crooned. He was holding a black cat. It was adorable.

“How did you know?” James asked slowly, and Curtis shook his head as he stroked Olive. “Ugh, creepy.”

Lexa shivered and gasped when she saw it. A rusted canister of gasoline was tipped over by the porch where Curtis sat.

“Is it—?” Hunter asked as she reached for it.

“Yes!”

“Let’s go!” James lunged for it excitedly, and was off to the van.

Hunter glanced at the house. It remained dark. He was relieved but felt a chill and returned his attention to the rest of the team. “Shall we?”

Curtis looked up at him. “Yeah, but I’m taking the cat.”


October 29, 2022 03:21

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7 comments

Andrea Doig
07:55 Nov 11, 2022

Interesting story Michelle. I liked the way the tension built - between the team .. and as the story progressed. Maybe you could make this a longer story - and flesh out what the story with the house is ... and if it really was part of the assignment ... and what happens to them :) Thanks for sharing.

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Michelle Konde
21:23 Nov 12, 2022

Thanks for the feedback! I know! 3000 words was just the tip of the iceberg. I had grandiose plans that would have made it at least double in wordcount haha, but definitely something to keep in mind as Bonus content. Love that you had all those questions because I wanted to leave it up to the reader ;)

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Michelle Konde
21:23 Nov 12, 2022

Thanks for the feedback! I know! 3000 words was just the tip of the iceberg. I had grandiose plans that would have made it at least double in wordcount haha, but definitely something to keep in mind as Bonus content. Love that you had all those questions because I wanted to leave it up to the reader ;)

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Jarrel Jefferson
22:57 Nov 30, 2023

I enjoyed the banter between characters. Their wit kept me engaged throughout the story. I wish the events of the mansion went on longer. I was really curious about all the agency had planned for the team in there, as well as how the team would continue to bond. The story felt like it ended midway, but it was enjoyable, overall.

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Michelle Konde
23:40 Dec 12, 2023

Thanks so much for your feedback!

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Brenda Wilson
17:56 Jan 10, 2023

I really enjoy your dialogue. It felt pretty real to me. I do wish some of the pacing was slowed down a bit. It felt like a lot was shoved into a small space but still enjoyable. Short stories are hard with word counts.

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Michelle Konde
05:39 Jan 11, 2023

Brenda, thank you so much for taking the time read one of my stories and leave feedback. I agree I shoved a lot into it haha time got away from me on this one, but I wanted to get it posted. :) I may revisit it. Good luck with publishing!

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