7 comments

Speculative Suspense Fiction


His name—was Manchester. Norman Manchester. A normal guy: Tall and lanky, not too graceful, just your average twenty-something sluicing through his final semester of college and concerned about his prospects.


He was supposed to be compiling a list of potential job opportunities, water treatment plants and testing facilities within driving distance. It was either that, or accept the teaching position he’d applied for in a large congested city hundreds of miles from home.


Instead, he had gotten side-tracked into ‘Great-Books’, a site devoted to books and reading. It kept a running account of what books he had read, how many each year, and when he had finished them. It had a place for comments, reviews and ratings as well. A flashing red icon in the upper corner indicated that he had an unread message, from an unknown reader, Stefan, which, when opened read,


‘Nice titles, Norman. Interesting choice of reading material. Can you not read any faster?’


That’s all he’d been doing lately. Norman was a voracious reader. He almost typed ‘very funny’ instead he typed: ‘Thanks. I’m reading as fast as I can, Stefan.’ And hit the send button.


A response came almost before he sent his reply. He opened it


‘You can decipher it.’


He calmly typed a reply. ‘Stefan, old pal. I think you’ve got the wrong guy. I don’t ‘decipher.’


A minute passed before a message appeared. ‘Don’t you think your choice of books, over the last year has been a little—strange?’


Norman blinked. Clicked on his list of books. Hmm, they did look a little strange. A book about Codfish; Water in the desert; Lobsters and the people who love them; a book about Genghis Kahn, how could he forget that one? Holopticon? What was that about? There was another one: The Doddleston Mysteries? And another: The Last Opus of Hector Berlioz? And another and another. Flatland? The Dancing Wu Li Masters? What the fuck was that about? There was no way that he had read half of these books. And this really made him stop and think. How could books he hadn’t read been added to his library?


Then his girlfriend ‘Cage’ stopped by, jangling her jewelry, a heady distraction. Sure, we’d all love to hear how kind and supportive she was, how sweet and open to possibilities… like, when she actually said, ‘Oh, so you think you may have cracked the code on the location of a secret hoard of Ethiopian gold? In the middle of Atlantis? Wow.”


Before Norman could respond she said, “You need to find a job, Norman, because I’d like to know where you’re going after you graduate. Is that too much to ask?”


He rolled back from his computer and spun around to face her. She was hot, beautiful, slightly black, totally blond, with platinum hair, and nails and lipstick. Under a chain mail vest, everything was black, blue, or tattooed. She was gazing with mild interest at his most pointless possessions; a dirty sock, a Harry Potter wand with a broken tip, a jumble of Mah Jong pieces, a 1/16th scale model of Darth Vader. She knew he was watching her but she made him wait a while before she looked up. She was a controlling, brain-piercing bitch, but man could she cook. (She was pretty good in bed too.) She probably wanted to go out tonight and…


“I’m goin’ out,” she declared. “You stay here and nail down some prospects Norman, please.”


She could be so nice and sound so sweet.


“Or I swear to God, I will slit your throat. You understand, Norman? I need to know where you’re going, sweetheart.” She wove her way across the room, kissed him on the forehead. “Be a good boy and forget about all that silly book nonsense.”


She wrinkled her nose, winked, and giggled as she left, jingling all the way. The scent of jasmine remained. That, and the mystery message about the books he had supposedly read. He had completely forgotten about the whole weird affair in his online library until she reminded him.


He culled the list of Book Titles on his page and put them in a data base, then dropped them into various filtering programs. Nothing. He tried dozens of other strategies, as well, but nothing produced results. How could a message be hidden in book titles? He finally decided to simply view the list of books, starting at the beginning, focusing on four or five titles at a time; considering the subtitles as well.


Immediately he saw the words ‘you, will, find, manuscript.’ It was plain as day, even though the words were not in any kind of alignment. It was an uncanny feat. When he studied the titles that followed, the code was so simple it could hardly be called a code. The significant word was merely moved one place over to the next position in the title. Every ten books it re-cycled to the first word again. 


The message, so far, read: ‘manuscript will be found, near the hidden library underground, old…’


“Old what?” He wondered aloud. The message had a kind of rhyme and he assumed the message was at least 12 words long. He was temporarily stumped until he remembered that his girlfriend, Cage, A.K.A. ‘Attila the metal head’ had given him two books for Christmas. (A suspiciously ironic gift, since she didn’t read.) He jumped up and retrieved them from the shelf. According to the code, he was looking for either old Park Fort, or old Fort Park.



Neither version made sense, so it was fortunate that he was familiar with the name, it was the kind of place that only locals would know about. Strictly speaking the surrounding geography was rife with pottery, shell middens and dugout canoes, but no known forts. At the same time, he realized his flashy blonde girlfriend was probably playing him. Which figured, because she was way out of his league, and they both knew it. So he figured she must be working with someone to get the information out of him.


He felt a sudden flush of anger, and embarrassment at the thought of being used, and wondered how Cage would react if he refused to divulge what he had figured out. She seemed more dedicated to thwarting his efforts than pumping him for information. Then again…


He was actively wrestling with the notion that Cage might not be involved, when she suddenly burst in the door and removed all doubt by blurting out the question. “Well, did you figure it out?”


He was leaning back in his padded desk chair, oozing an air of steadfast aplomb. He imagined he looked like Abe Lincoln in his stone chair memorial. “Why should I tell you? Who’re you workin’ for?”


“Oh, is that how you wanna play it? Einstein?” She pulled a cigarette out of her spiked purse, and then put it back in. She walked over to Norman and bent down so they were face to face. “I work for a Mr. Findle, not Fondle, and the sex was my idea and my choice.”


“Uh-huh.”


“And I hope it continues.” She waited for a look of comprehension, and when she got it, she continued… “But here’s the thing, Norman. When we go to meet Mr. Findle, I suggest that we go together.”


“Who says we’re going to meet him? What if I refuse to share this information?”


“He already has it, Norman. He’s sharing it with you. If you don’t want to follow through on this…”


“No, no. I do, I do. I just wonder why he wants to share it with me. Why me? Did he just pick me out at random?”


“Oh no. I don’t think so. He certainly didn’t pick me out at random.”


“You’re sure about that?”


She pulled that cigarette out and lit it this time. “Pretty sure. In any case, when we go, I go with you.”


“Why?”


“If he sees us arrive together, he may suspect we’re working together.”


“Is that what we want? Are we working together?”


“No.” She said, “We’re just sleeping together, I—Christ, can’t you keep anything straight? I want him to wonder if we might have teamed up.”


“Because we’re having sex together?”


“No. In spite of it.”


At this point, neither Cage nor Norman wanted to speak, but Cage felt like she had to. “When he summons you, and he will, you’d better let me know, because I’m coming with you. And one more thing, the research department told me to tell you to pass this message down to your ancestors, to remember this for all time, ‘they’ll replace me with a plant.”


“Don’t ask me what it means, because I don’t know.”

May 25, 2024 02:11

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

7 comments

Gloria Writes
06:40 May 30, 2024

I appreciate your use of irony and sarcasm. Just a thought: I needed to read twice to understand the connection between the first part of the story and mystery of Norman’s online library. As well as the connection with Cage’s intentions. Great respect for the imaginative interpretation of the prompts.

Reply

Ken Cartisano
06:58 May 30, 2024

Thank you Gloria, I appreciate the compliment, and the very concise feedback. I'm going to take a look at that and see what I did and what I could do better. Thanks to you, I know where to look.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
18:54 May 26, 2024

Ditto... Thanks for liking 'The Passing'.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Trudy Jas
15:14 May 25, 2024

I enjoyed reading this. Crazy humor, meandering through the plot. You should know, though that chapters are frowned upon. Should you have another great idea that takes more than 3K words, be sure to have them stand on their own, with a clear beginning and end (and a middle if you wish).

Reply

Ken Cartisano
18:53 May 25, 2024

Thanks for giving it a read, Trudy. Your comment about 'clear beginnings and endings, (ouch) and a middle if you wish.' (Ouch-ouch.) Was pretty funny, It's exactly what I would say if our positions were reversed. It's not harsh, it's accurate. The first story has no ending--none. Believe me, I looked everywhere for one and it simply didn't exist! There was no ending for that story. I thought, 'How is that possible? What about the law that says every pot has a lid? Doesn't every beginning have an end? Somewhere?' No. Apparently not. but i...

Reply

Trudy Jas
19:17 May 25, 2024

I had to laugh at your story lying down and licking its butt. :-) Yes, I do believe that five cats and the kittens they had, might have been a bit ambitious. My main concern was with the connection between the stories. (chap 2/3 started in the middle of a scene with no reference unless you'd read chap 1, etc) We're not supposed to approve chapters. Of course, you can call them chapters but treat them like tv episodes. Marcus Welby will still be himself, but the disease is different, and he saves the day in the end. True that entertaining BS...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Jim LaFleur
10:46 May 25, 2024

Your use of suspense and humor makes this an enjoyable read. Well done, Ken! On to the next chapter!

Reply

Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.