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Mystery Fiction

Flashing cameras created orbs of lights dancing around the lobby. It was not my first time at the Manhattan Club Gala, but the anticipation washed over me as if it were. My novel’s position as number one on the bestseller list was tenuous and hung on for dear life.


Standing at the bar, I listened to the conversations floating through the air. Greetings were exchanged with various levels of sincerity, making it difficult to discern between friend and foe. We were, after all, each other’s competition for the coveted award.


As I sipped my wine, hushed voices caught my attention through the chatter and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. 


“I switched them.” 


“Any issues?”


“None. And I sealed the envelope. It’s a done deal.”


I darted a look to see the bartender smile with glee, the look sending me back to my first foster home where the wife looked at the husband with such a look. My stomach recoiled as I felt the malicious energy. Who was he talking to? I watched the co-conspirator turn quickly, retreat into the thick crowd and disappear.


“Paula, over here,” my agent appeared, motioning me over to a larger than life cutout of myself for the mandatory photo op and book signing session.


Smiling for the cameras, I felt the pressure on my shoulder from the man who had promised me the good life. He took me in, then took away all that was mine when I answered him back that one fateful day. Watching my blanket, my toys, my books burn up in the bonfire I discovered my words in the silent pain. They would be mine to accompany me through life, they could not be taken away. “Smile, Paula,” he had squeezed my shoulder, the stink of his breath in my ear while the social worker took a family photo for the file.


Lifting my chin, I forced away the image from long ago, my thoughts turning back to the sinister conversation behind the bar. They could only be referring to the golden envelope and the name of the winner tucked inside. 


Would someone be so cruel as to strip the winner of their hard earned award? Was the new recipient, the imposter, responsible for this turn of events or blissfully ignorant? My thoughts raced through a series of scenarios.


It wasn’t the prize money that concerned me for my words had afforded me a comfortable lifestyle. The new blankets, toys, and books I placed in foster homes made up for those treasures taken away from mine. Always tucked away in the gifts for the children was a supply of notebooks to be the forever home of their captured words. My words allowed me to give hope to those who felt hopeless.


What drove fear into my heart was a lack of acknowledgement. I needed continued support from a world where digital threatened paper and 280 characters were more alluring than 280 pages. The seductive lure of artificial intelligence filled me with a fresh wave of dread as it threatened to chase my stories away.


With my words being my only family, I needed their strength to come back to me with validation, to stroke my soul, to wipe my tears, to cheer me on. To love me.


***


“Good evening ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the Manhattan Club.” The overhead lights dimmed as attention turned to the stage. Excitement filled the air as if a tangible entity. 


Applause rang out as the accolades began to flow. I surveyed the faces of those who surrounded me wondering if the saboteur sat amongst us. Donna turned to me and winked. Was it a sign of encouragement or something sinister? I had to believe the former as her success was based solely on my success. I ruled out my agent as the culprit.


My attention turned to JoyAnn sitting at the round table nearest to the front. Did she demand that table hoping for a short commute to the stage? We had greeted each other with air kisses, mwah mwah, first this cheek then that. The symbolism was not lost on me as I had turned the other cheek more times than I cared to remember against the catty remarks of the industry. I studied her face from across the room, her husband next to her with their children and grandchildren filling out the rest of the seats. Would she set the example, be a role model for those little ones? Not necessarily, I realized, pushing the memories of my own childhood aside, chastising myself for once again being naïve.


A gentle hand on my shoulder as David was ushered past me arriving late as always. He smiled over his shoulder as his beautiful wife followed, her baby bump larger than life. No hard feelings, we had agreed as we went our separate ways years ago. Two creative forces had proven to be one too many, each of us desiring to be the star of our own show. Was he behind the switched names in the envelope? I thought back to our time spent together and presumed his innocence. He was an egomaniac but not without morals.


I reached for my index cards which held the words of my acceptance speech. For the magic of my words sparked only when pen met paper rather than tumbling out haphazardly in spoken form. The first place winner had not yet been announced, and every author in attendance held onto high hopes.


A sudden thought quick as lightning shot through my mind. Rather than my name removed from the golden envelope, for I was the predicted winner, was it actually placed inside in an attempt to keep my career alive? Had my words let me down, slipping over the years like an aging relative irrelevant to the younger generation? The thought was more than I could bear. I motioned for another glass of wine and watched the waiters slink around in the dark.


A hush fell over the audience as the golden envelope was opened and one last question occurred to me. Had the storyteller in me absorbed overheard words and created a tale where there was none?


***


Leaving the gala my words cloaked me, turning my little black dress into a gown, its train following me silently down the steps to the waiting car. My driver congratulated me on my win before closing the door carefully. I settled in for our drive across town to my apartment. 


Looking up through the sunroof I saw my words in the stars twinkling down upon me. 


May 15, 2024 14:57

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15 comments

Carol Stewart
20:00 May 22, 2024

Yup, could be any envelope, any deal. A writer's story this for sure, overhear anything and you form different conclusions, first one, then another, then ah - what if?! Really enjoyed the turning the other cheek scene with the air kisses. Nice touch.

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Hannah Lynn
02:13 May 23, 2024

I would definitely overthink and question everything about the entire night! Thanks for reading, Carol! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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Liane Fazio
15:14 May 22, 2024

Oooooo.... this would bug me! Did I hear them correctly? Did I win on my own merit?

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Hannah Lynn
19:19 May 22, 2024

Haha I would have the same reaction! Thanks for reading!!

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Corrie Burton
02:32 May 19, 2024

Wow, I loved this story. You’re a great writer!

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Hannah Lynn
02:57 May 19, 2024

I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks so much for the praise!! 😊

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Darvico Ulmeli
14:34 May 18, 2024

I was sure you would not tell us if she won, but I was wrong. I probably would have left it unknown (just to piss off everyone). But I liked it.

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Hannah Lynn
02:55 May 19, 2024

Ah you’re the second person with that suggestion. I really was on the fence about the ending but we still have to wonder what she overheard and if she really did win fairly or if there was some tampering of the golden envelope! We don’t know for sure! Thanks for reading!

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Trudy Jas
18:37 May 15, 2024

Again, so many lovely little tidbits. from childhood and its losses, to failed a marriage, the backbiting and competition in the adult world and the final win. Though, the image of the words in the stars is lovely, pure Hannah, I think not knowing the outcome would have left us with more. Does that make sense?

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Hannah Lynn
14:24 May 16, 2024

Trudy thanks for reading and for the praise. I did struggle with the concept of a mystery as it was my first attempt. Perhaps the win should have been left out and up to the reader's interpretation.

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Trudy Jas
15:29 May 16, 2024

It's just my thought. but you have time to play with it. After all we also don't know what the overheard conversation was about.

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Alexis Araneta
17:14 May 15, 2024

Hannah ! Once again, beautiful work. Your descriptions were, once again, impeccably employed. I love the final imagery of the words being like stars. Butter-smooth flow too. Splendid job !

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Hannah Lynn
14:21 May 16, 2024

Thanks so much, Alexis! My first attempt at a mystery was more challenging than I thought it would be. Reedsy pushes us to explore genres we aren't used to which is great.

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Mary Bendickson
16:05 May 15, 2024

Uh,oh! Did she or didn't she?

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Hannah Lynn
16:34 May 15, 2024

Nobody knows for sure! Thanks for reading, Mary! 😊

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