Flesh A-Flappin’: An A.I. Chatt Paranormal Mystery With Bonus Passion as Anita Brake AKA J.D. Robbed

Submitted into Contest #232 in response to: Write a story about someone looking for a sign in a dark sky.... view prompt


Urban Fantasy Funny Mystery

Note: This is a companion to Ilaanni Nanoq Pivat.

“My wife was murdered,” Arrell Stein insisted.

“Yeah, I get it,” Alexis drawled, struggling to keep the edge from her voice. “I’m sorry, but could you please put that down? You’ll rub the fur off.”

And likely find your rotting, crae-crae walking dead spouse waiting on your doorstep, she added silently.

Stein started, and sheepishly returned the Monkey’s Paw to the wormwood desk. A.I. cursed the Maine horror writer who’d gifted the thing, the paranormal investigator suspected as a curse itself. Despite his assurances to the contrary, she sensed the author was still smarting from Dvlknsh’s Burnishing: The Sequel out-selling The Shining 2 in the lower Pacific Rim and Eastern Slavic bootleg markets, despite her successful resolution of the rash of spectral pseudonymous drifters haunting him, his author wife, his author sons, and his handyman, who’d been doing actually fairly creditable Misery/Dolores Claiborne slash fanfic. Having written his third vengeful creative id novel, the author had initiated a Candyman Scenario Alexis had dispelled only through a literary exorcism and a referral to a life coach.

“I understand your frustration,” Alexis relented, tossing the widower a currently pulsing Andean stress talisman. The entity inside purred in a remotely disturbing manner as Stein manipulated its thick membrane. “But despite the locked-room aspects, there’s no apparent paranormal element to Dr. Stein’s death, and I’m only licensed by the State of Georgia to investigate vampirism, lycanthropy, poltergeisterism, wizardry, and fraudulent psychic telecommunications.”

“I read about you exposing the Jekyll Island Medium,” Stein blurted. “She was a human, right?”

“Eh, essentially. And a lazy one at that. She did all her psychic research on Facebook and Tik Tok. I only caught her when she told my client Bouffy her mom wanted her to continue her twerking and start a friends-and-family psychic hotline. Mom wasn’t even dead — she’d just gotten tired of makeup tutorials and woke politics and quit social media. Bouffy hadn’t even realized.”

“So there you go,” Stein proclaimed. He had caught Alexis in an inextricable Gordian Knot of logic from which there was no escape.


Dr. Frances Nekros Stein was one of Atlanta’s premier cosmetic surgeons, and the Stein-Rowe Clinic was all glass and brushed steel and north side chi-chi class, like the alpha dog in a Real Housewives coven. Franki, as she was known to the city’s elite, had been languishing as a restorative surgeon at St. Mary/Shelley LLC Hospital when, one night over a drunken anime marathon and some throbbing soul-searching, she found her true calling.

Nothing against skin grafts for burn victims and cleft palate repairs for homeless orphans, but the good doctor had realized she could transform actual lives, allow others to realize their life’s dreams and fantasies. And with Atlanta’s vivacious hospitality industry, state-of-the-state of the state’s transit system, and dynamic fast food renaissance, Franki soon rose to the top ranks of the world’s cosplay cosmeticians.

“Before, I could merely help my patients become their best self,” Dr. Stein told GMA on the 71-inch display over the receptionist’s station. “Now, they can be their best Sailor Moon, their best Nosferatu, their best Wolverine or Jar-Jar Binks or Worf or Pikashu, if that calls to you. We tell our clients, it’s OK to put yourself on the shelf.”

Which also was expertly rendered in teak on the marble face above the TV above the receptionist. Who was cobalt blue with decorative papillae and feline eyes and a pantsuit that appeared more T.J. Maxx than Nordstrom’s. The latter tended to blunt the Mystique mystique, but this was a place of business.

“Oh, no,” Cheryl laughed. “This is all latex and body paint — I got XCon after work downtown, and then I’m gonna hit SmurfFest at the Expo Center later. Hugh Jackson’s supposed to be there!”


The redhead frowned. “Hugh Jackson, the voice of Big Alpha Smurf in Smurfs 8: The Blue and the Ebullientest. If you want a patient testimonial, you should talk to Bethanee. Hey, Beth?”

What I’d assumed to be the office therapy dog looked up from the next kiosk, and issued a blistering Wookie roar.

“Give it a rest, Beth,” Cheryl sighed with an eyeroll. “Oh, nice. May it be with you, too.”

Alexis dropped her card on the counter, and after a few minutes studying it, Cheryl’s brow furrowed with a slight crackling.

“We all loved the doc, though Beth hides her emotions well. Luckily, Dr. Rowe — Morris — is keeping the practice over. Mo did Beth — I mean, the hair plugs and shit.”

“Was Dr. Rowe here the day Dr. Stein was murdered?”

“Dr. Rowe?? He’s a pussycat!”

“Good people do bad things,” A.I. noted.

“No. Mo was at GarfieldCon all day, at TidyCat Center. I did his registration myself.”

“What about patients?”

Cheryl turned a pallid cerulean. “Patient information is confidential. Lemme see if I remember the password.”


Despite the heat of deadline pressure — Crazy Rich Asians wasn’t going to rewrite itself, and his recent brush with a coldly vengeful Candace Bushnell’s weredoodles had left him temporarily with only three functional keyboarding fingers, Dvlknsh took time out for a cup of Type Oolong tea, once Alexis was able to pry the Kong out of the Syburslovenian hacker/werewolf/vampire/doodle-ish’s bionically augmented jaw.

“So, the day of the killing, Dr. Stein had a Barbie ass embossing, a Nosferatuplasty, a Transformer pelvic hinge replacement, and a post-op consultation,” she began as her Knish slurped at his bamboo straw. He fumbled his fourth lemon wedge into a Micronesian fertility pot/spittoon, and grunted either in exasperation or insight.

“I checked it out — it was a local contractor who’d bartered some carpentering for some facial reconstruction. The Barbie is a lawyer specializing in family litigation and a part-time Margot Robbie impersonator. The Nosferatu guy owns a chain of check-cashing joints, and Transformer just does a lot of birthday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs and corporate motivational retreats. I got all four on video, outside the main entrance. You wanna see?” A sippy cup of tea rolled across the Kelly Ripa Cthulhuan Collection Rug. “No, stay, stay — I’ll bring it over.”

A.I. manipulated the video controls on her iPad, and Dvlknsh squinted at the gray procession of a Malibu-model attorney strutting toward his presumably pink Testarossa, a ghastly bald figure in an even more ghastly jogging suit, a stumping pseudo-cyborg with a lavender/teal/raven-black Billie Eilish haircut, and a short, fairly average-looking schmo in a plaid workshirt, baggy jeans, and doo-rag pausing to stare into the clear early evening sky. The moon illuminated a bulbous nose, baggy eyes, and a valiant try at a chin.

Dvlknsh rumbled.

“I dunno,” Alexis murmured. “It does look like he sees something. There’s one of those indoor skydiving places and a Ted Turner Fitness next to the Stein-Rowe Clinic, with some dressage stables behind that. Whatever it is sure caught his attention.”

Dvlknsh growled a series of gutteral consonants. He was the aortic nerve that sparked her heart’s throbbing rhythm, but sometimes, Alexis tired of his mansplaining.

“Well, why don’t I just find out,” she snapped, grabbing her bag as he rooted around in the stygian depths of the Lovecraftian shag…


“I just like to look at the city sometimes, picture what I might have done different,” Lou Alcott grinned, leaning on the tailgate of his pickup. “I mean, Sherman torched the place during the First Civil War, right? What a reno job that woulda been!”

“Yeah, I don’t know if you should share that fantasy with the natives,” Alexis cautioned as she looked up at the framed-out suburban house towering above them. “I take it you aren’t from around here?”

“Not much work up north,” he muttered, the twinkle leaving his eyes. “Bad climate. Wanted a little Southern sunshine, a chance to tinker in a new environment.” The grin returned. “You don’t sound so country-fried, either.”

“I was a craft cupcake artist in a tiny but surprisingly violent New England hamlet, solving homicides and talking to my cat, Waffles, until I discovered my heart’s desire in a picturesque former Soviet republic and decided to live a more hardback life. Ah, I mean, hard-driving. And passionate, of course.”

The homely carpenter yawned. Men.

“So,” Alexis piped. “You did a lot of work at Dr. Stein’s clinic, right? What do you make of that whole locked operating room scenario? Keypad locks on both entries — only Stein, Mo Rowe, and two nurses had key cards, Rowe’s alibi at the Garfield convention is solid, and Nurses Todd and Sweeney were mock-cosplaying at Grey’sAnataCon in Savannah, which seems kind of unethical. The keypad log shows no unauthorized entry or tampering, and Cheryl and Beth armed the front and back entrance alarms after you all left, leaving Dr. Stein alone in a sealed surgical theater to be lipo’ed to death. You’re a contractor -- can you think of any way the killer might have gotten in?”

“Hey,” Alcott shrugged. “I pretty much just did the new trim and décor. But, yeah, I had to check out the schematics, the wiring, the plumbing, all that stuff, so I didn’t fry myself or flood the place. Think I would’ve noticed any secret passageways. Look, I promised the Siddons I’d have this place dry walled by Saturday, so if you don’t mind? I thought you were a paranormal eye, anyway – shouldn’t you be looking for a trans dimensional portal or a possessed fat vacuum or something?”

More mansplaining. Alexis let it pass.


A.I. glanced up at the lunar sliver and the Northern Star that served as the only two celestial reference points visible beyond the glow of Atlanta’s nightlife – and unlocked the townhouse door. She immediately reeled back as a wave of beets and stoat suet and paprika and crow offal hit her, and her irritation at Dvlknsh evaporated. She found her partner in the kitchen, stirring his grandmother’s Syburslovenian stew vigorously with his non-doodled hand.

The precious plagiarist turned and greeted Alexis with a warm five-toothed smile. She nestled behind Dvlknsh and lightly nipped his chupacabra-gnarled ear as she ran her hand down the titanium-reinforced thigh that served as a stern reminder never to mess with Colleen Hoover. He grunted with pleasure as she nuzzled the scar tissue of the werewolf bite that covered the vampire bite that covered Joy Fielding’s bayonet strike.

“Sorry I was such a grump this afternoon,” she whispered, heart throbbing as she sought his throbbing essence.

Fourteen minutes and seven pages later, after Alexis slipped on a kimono and Dvlknsh pounded on the kitchen smoke detector with his prosthetic left foot, the couple sat at the Early American witch-stretching table and sipped languorously and ferally, respectively, at their chunky, organ-laden stew.

Dvlknsh had polished off Insane Moneyed Serbians in Alexis’ absence, and the two – mostly A.I. – planned an evening bingeing American Horror Story: Costco with a bottle of Syburslovenian potato absinthe he’d been saving since successfully and eventually vanquishing a flock of suburban succubi at a North Decatur BevMo.

Sated with passion and root vegetables, Dvlknsh listened intently as Alexis outlined her investigation, which had been frustrated by the Atlanta PD’s announcement it was releasing the Stein and Rowe operating theater for bioremediation and cleanup. He carefully belched a single grunt.

“Yeah, I get they need a sterile environment,” she muttered. “That operating room where they replaced your elbow and my sternum after that Debbie Macomber attack? Before I returned to my corporeal body, I counted like four ventilation/exhaust ducts just to clean the air.”

Dvlknsh suddenly bolted upright, or as close as he could manage. He thumped the stew ladle on the thick, morally dark table. He let out a guttural warble, and Alexis paused as a thyroid dropped from her spoon.

“Seriously?” she murmured. “No, it’s impossible. You know how narrow those things are? And Franki Stein had just completed Transformer surgery, so the vents were probably going full-strength. It would be like…”

Dvlknsh turned abruptly and waggled the dripping ladle toward the blazing hearth in the room beyond. He unsheathed his favorite knife – the one Jackie Collins had left in his prosthetic lung, leaving him for dead -- and let fly. The blade lodged in the books next to the fire, and the handle quivered as Alexis checked the name on the impaled binding.

“It’s so nice to have an author in the house,” she cooed.


“Louisa May Alcott,” Alexis stated. “Little Women, Little Men? You’re really going to do this?”

Louis Alcott shrugged and furrowed his brow, scratching his head through the doo rag.

“It was word association. Louisa May Alcott, little men, a killer who could enter a locked room from a rooftop through a space no larger than a…oh, a chimney flue.”

The contractor twitched.

“In the early 1850s, Louisa May Alcott also wrote but never published Christmas Elves — the first use of the term to describe Santa’s little helpers. I never met one. Before now. It makes sense you chose the name — like a physicist called Albert or a lawyer named Vlad.”

“Do I look like an elf?” Alcott jeered, leaning against a sawhorse in the Siddons’ half-finished living room.

“Not any more, I’m guessing. Stein and Rowe made humans into supernatural fantasies, aliens, walking talking dolls, superheroes, and demons. So it stands to reason they could do the reverse.” Alexis reached out and snatched the doo rag from Alcott’s head.

The dressings were expertly applied, and A.I. had no doubt that once the stitches were removed, the carpenter, the tinkerer would have two perfectly human ears.

“So Stein helped put your elf on the shelf. Did she do it off the books, in exchange for your elfin handiwork?”

“Jesus, don’t use that word. Sounds like I bake Pecan Sandies in a hollow tree. But yeah, along with a new deck and a garage expansion. And $10,000 to keep her mouth shut.”

“But it wasn’t enough, was it? How much did you tell her?”

“Under anesthesia, everything. She wanted to sell the story.”

“Which was? You mentioned a bad climate back home. Was that literal?”

“Alcott” glanced up sharply. “If I told you…”

“Yeah, yeah. Something happened, didn’t it? The night you killed Dr. Stein, you were staring up into the night sky, you said at the Atlanta skyline. But the clinic’s on the north side of the city, and you were facing the wrong direction. The sound of hooves from behind the clinic brought back memories, didn’t they? What were you looking for?”

“Something that’s never coming back,” the elf muttered. “We had to close shop, permanently — the ground literally melted out from under us, and the boss caught a bug that popped up when things got hot. I was just looking for a new gig. Some of the others — most of the others — want something else. Payback.” Alcott’s arm came up with a nail gun. “Now that I’ve told you…”

Alexis’ arm came up, too. And faster.

“You shoulda watched out,” she told the right deceased little elf.

January 12, 2024 07:35

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Alexis Araneta
04:45 Jan 18, 2024

The details on this are just stunning! Loved it.


Martin Ross
06:18 Jan 18, 2024

Thanks for reading and the kind words!


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Mary Bendickson
00:48 Jan 13, 2024

Such detective work. So rich and detailed I have to read again to catch it all. But I have so many to catch up on right now. Thanks for liking my 'Too-cute ' And Where is the Can Opener


Martin Ross
01:04 Jan 13, 2024



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