Category Archives: Flash Fiction

Semi-Aggressive

Tasha wasn’t expecting a client, so when the door to her office opened her head snapped up from her work. She was just about to snarl at whoever had disturbed her when she saw it was her assistant. He knew better, so if he had opened the door it had to have been important. Before she could ask what he needed, her most notorious client stepped into the office and shot her the smile that had charmed thousands of moviegoers and one carefully curated jury.

“I brought you a gift,” Taylor said, holding up a bulging paper sack. Tasha held back a sigh. Whenever a client brought her a gift there was a decent chance it was going to be unimaginative. At best.

“Liquor?”

“Even better.” With a flourish, he pulled a plastic bag out of the paper one. It was a little over halfway filled with water and contained a single jewel-bright fish. Its rounded body was made slightly pointed by its fins and it stared at Tasha with a crafty orange eye.

“You brought me a fish.”

“I brought you a cichlid,” Taylor corrected maddeningly. Tasha narrowed her eyes at him, a moment away from telling him that she knew what a cichlid looked like, something that should have been obvious from the decoration in her office. “He wasn’t cheap, either.”

“They rarely are,” Tasha said, accepting the fish from him before he dropped the damn thing. She wasn’t about to admit it but she didn’t want to see even a single fish harmed. Clients had been offended when she refused to accompany them to extravagant sushi restaurants but she couldn’t think of anything more upsetting than sitting beside a beautifully aquascaped tank and eating fish. She turned the bag around and examined the fish. “You are aware this is a semi aggressive fish, right?”

“You mean it’s going to kill the other fish?” The look of surprise on Taylor’s face told her that she’d caught him completely off guard, and the balance in her office was immediately restored. Tasha raised an eyebrow at him.

“Does that bother you?”

“Not really. Everything has to die sometime.” It was exactly what she’d expected from him, and there was no point in commenting on it. He turned away from her and examined the tanks, his blue eyes stopping on each of the fish. Some of them stared petulantly back at him while others, mostly the small schooling fish, dove for cover in the rocks and plants. “Are you just going to dump it into one of the tanks and hope for the best?”

“I suppose you’ll be starting production on the new movie soon.” Tasha took the fish to her desk and set it down, careful not to shake the bag. She doubted Taylor had been quite so gentle on the trip over. He grinned at her and she sighed, though she didn’t think he noticed. It wasn’t surprising. Guys like him rarely paid attention to anything that didn’t involve themselves.

“Everybody’s favorite superhero is back in business,” he replied with a thumbs up. “I’m on my way to have lunch with my co-star, as a matter of fact. Just wanted to stop by and drop off that little guy.” His cocky smile turned genuine for a moment and he extended a hand to Tasha. “Thanks for getting me off.”

“You’re welcome,” she said, shaking his hand. It was the last time she would see him, and she was relieved. It was always irritating when clients decided they wanted to get chummy. Taylor went to the door, then paused for a moment.

“How did you make that guy have a breakdown?”

“Enjoy your lunch.” Tasha turned her back on him and waited until she heard the door close, then pushed the button on the intercom. “Troy,” she said before her assistant could speak. “Don’t let anyone else in.” It wasn’t a request, and she took her finger off the button without waiting for a reply. A moment later, she pressed it again. “Wait half an hour and call my tank guy.”

She locked herself in with the soothing glow and hum of the tanks that surrounded the room, her eyes on the fish suspended in his plastic prison. He’d be out soon enough. Tasha let a rare smile tug at her lips, then she unbuttoned her jacket and took off her shoes.

There was just enough time for a dip.

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Committed

“It’s too dangerous,” the doctor said, shaking his head. “He’s had a psychotic break. Admittedly it was a minor one, but I can’t in good conscience let you put him under any more stress.”

“How bad was it?” Detective Massey kept his voice low, though the man in the recliner didn’t seem to be able to hear him. “Is he okay?”

“Martin is convinced his wife has been replaced by a doppelganger. When the paramedics got here he had a knife in his hand and was screaming that he wouldn’t let her hurt his children.” The doctor glanced over at his patient. “It took a few minutes for them to calm him down and determine that the red mess splashed all over the floor was spaghetti sauce.”

“Huh.” Detective Massey looked at the last great hope of their case and saw the conviction spiraling down the drain with every jerk of Martin’s head as he checked the corners of the room, looking less like a man and more like a chicken.

“Pardon me,” Martin’s wife said as she walked toward the doctor and the detective with two steaming mugs. “I’m going to see if he wants some tea. He actually considered taking some from me after you started him on the new medication.” The doctor nodded and Detective Massey watched the slim blonde woman approach Martin with well-deserved caution. He couldn’t hear what they were saying but he could see her smiling at her husband, trying to coax him into taking the mug from her.

To the detective’s surprise and relief, Martin took the mug and looked into it. The doctor exhaled slowly and Detective Massey realized he had been holding his breath as well. His wife smiled and took a sip of her tea, as if she was trying to convince him it was safe to do the same. It reminded Detective Massey of how his own wife would act with the children when they didn’t want to try some new food.

Martin stared into the mug while she sipped her tea, still bathed in silence. The smile never left his wife’s face, even as she drank. She looked up at him and said something, just a couple of words made of a collection of syllables, and Martin recoiled. His wife looked confused and Detective Massey heard her ask him if he was all right just before he threw the tea, mug and all, at his wife’s head.

She dodged the majority of it, getting only a few spots of tea on her sweater, and the plastic mug bounced off the floor as the rest of the tea spilled out in a fan. It hadn’t even come to a complete halt before two large men in scrubs pushed past Detective Massey and moved forward to restrain Martin.

“Who are you?” He was screaming at the top of his lungs as he fought the orderlies, his eyes locked on his now-sobbing wife. “Who are you? What did you do with my wife? Where did you take her?” A nurse came running in with a syringe in her hand, uncapped it, and stabbed it into Martin’s arm, depressing the plunger with a speed that made Detective Massey’s upper arm twinge in sympathy.

“You see what I mean?” The doctor led him out of the room while Martin continued to fight. “I’m beginning to think we should keep his wife from coming at all. In any case, we won’t be letting him out for at least a month. Even then, the pressures of a trial…” His words trailed away as Martin’s struggles became weaker and Detective Massey focused on the syringe cap that the nurse had dropped in her haste to get to Martin. It was right beside the chair. If one of the orderlies stepped the wrong way, he could slip on it. Detective Massey wondered if they had the equipment there to deal with a broken leg or if they’d have to send him to the hospital.

Without another word to the doctor, the detective turned and walked out. He couldn’t stand to see Martin, his near-hysterical wife, or the ruin of his case for even one second more. It was over, that much was true. They might still have the trial, but without a witness it would be nearly impossible to convict.

Dammit, Detective Massey thought. I need a cigarette.

Crab

It was almost silent in the treatment room. The only sounds were the whirring and occasional mechanical grinding of the fluid pumps stationed by each of the recliners. Belinda’s pump was one of the grinding ones and she was quickly reaching the limit of how much she could handle.

The steroids were making her irritable and she knew it, so she didn’t grab the nurse and tear into her for giving her the loudest pump in the hospital. She wanted to, but she didn’t. Instead, she sat back in the recliner, closed her eyes, and tried to ignore it. It continued its mind-itching grind and Belinda looked up to see how much was left in the bag. The bright yellow fluid in the bag was still almost at the top and she sighed heavily, halfway hoping the nurse would hear her.

When nobody came to ask what was wrong, she fingered the call button on the side of the recliner. Calling the nurse would only prolong the administration. She would have to unhook the bag, bring out a new pump and IV pole, hook it all back up, and by that time the bag might have been a quarter gone or more. Instead of the call button, she pushed the longer button that would recline the chair slightly in the hopes she could take a nap. There was a whining from inside the recliner that only stopped when she took her finger off the button.

“Great,” Belinda said out loud, not caring that the other people in the room had turned to look at her. “Just effing great.” Leave it to her to get the one recliner that wouldn’t recline.

Belinda hated Thursdays. The rest of the week wasn’t a cakewalk – handfuls of pills three times a day, watching more and more of her hair swirl away down the drain – but Thursdays were chemo days which meant that not only did she have to deal with more of the same, she also had to try and keep herself from vomiting every fifteen minutes.

She was the youngest person in what the other patients called their “chemo clique,” and it made her sort of a curiosity to them. When she’d first started her infusions, they had a slew of questions for her, the sort of nosy and invasive ones that cancer patients felt they could ask of each other because they were all in it together. Belinda had closed her eyes and pretended to be asleep, and they’d stopped asking.

“Belinda.”

She hadn’t realized her eyes were closed until she opened them. There was a man in a suit standing in front of her and she sat forward. “Detective Massey. Is something wrong?”

“Bad news,” he said, getting right to the point. It was one of the reasons Belinda liked him. “They won’t move the trial.”

“What? They have to. I can’t miss my chemo.”

“The judge says we’ve already delayed long enough. If you can’t make it next Thursday, you’re out as a witness.”

“What about my statement?”

“He wants you on the stand. This is the most high-profile case he’s ever tried and he wants everything perfect for the cameras,” the detective shook his head. “I’m sorry.” He glanced down at his watch. “I have to get going. Without you we’re going to need Martin Griggs even more and I need check on him.”

“Fine,” Belinda said. “Whatever.” She sat back and watched the detective leave. He had been even more curt than usual and it lit a spark of rage in her. Did he think she wanted to be there? Trapped in a chair while a murderer that she’d seen clearly in the streetlights went free? The urge to rip the IV out of her arm and fling the pump across the room came over her but she forced herself to sit still. A second later the nausea hit her. Too distracted by her anger to concentrate on suppressing it, she fumbled for the plastic basin by the side of her chair and grabbed it just in time to vomit hard enough to make her back hurt.

“Are you all right, Miss Keys?” The nurse had hurried over when she saw Belinda flailing and the younger of the two women nodded as she wiped her mouth.

“Oh yeah,” Belinda said, thinking of the empty witness stand and the murderer dancing just out of her reach. “Just effing peachy.”

Stranger

It wasn’t cold in the house but Martin was shaking uncontrollably, locked in the bathroom. His pill vial was in his hand, the ridges on the cap digging into his fingers. He welcomed the discomfort. It grounded him and kept his head in reality. Taking the pills would dull him, and though he knew it would feel better at first he couldn’t afford to be dull.
He avoided the mirror, plagued by the fear that if he looked into it he would be sucked in and devoured the same way the house had already devoured his wife. The creature it left behind might look like her but it wasn’t her. It wasn’t Janice.

Martin knew Janice. He had spent hours staring at her before he ever worked up the courage to talk to her, and knew every crease in her face that had been folded there by their marriage. It just wasn’t Janice.

The children didn’t see any difference. They were five and seven, too young to see that their mother had changed, especially since she’d disappeared when they were babies. When she had come back they were overjoyed to see her, crawling into her lap and not asking where she had been or why she had gone. They didn’t see that her smile was just a little off, that her hair was a little too blonde, that her laugh was different. The hair he could let go because she could have dyed it but the other things were just wrong enough to stick in his mind.

At first he had wanted to believe she was back too. He’d hugged her that night, kissed her and even made love to her while the children were at his mother’s house. But when he’d seen her with the children, that was when he knew something was off. Now he felt sick thinking about the affection he’d shown her, or the ghost of her that had taken her place in the house.

Then, several months later when he was starting to believe that it was his mind playing tricks on him, she had changed again.

This time it was far more subtle. A hint of freckles on her nose that he could have sworn weren’t there two weeks earlier, hair that appeared to be one or two inches longer overnight, nails that were a little longer than he remembered. Just enough to make his mind hurt and trigger a panic attack like the one that had caused him to retreat to the bathroom with his medication in hand. That time she had comforted him, put an alien arm around him and said that things would be okay. It had made him want to scream but he couldn’t recoil from her. He had taken the pills then. He wouldn’t do it this time.

She had changed again.

The woman who was making him dinner was different than she had been the day before. He knew it as surely as he knew his name. Somehow she looked the same in the photographs that lined the hall, holding the children and smiling, and that was what made his mind hurt the worst. If she wasn’t the same, why did the pictures change with her? What was going on? He flushed the toilet, hoping she would hear it and not suspect.

“I’m not crazy,” he said just loud enough for himself to hear over the rushing of the water in the sink. “It’s her that’s wrong, not me.” Martin set the bottle of pills on the counter and washed his hands but kept an eye on them in case they disappeared. Things had been disappearing and reappearing lately too. A call of “Dinner!” startled him, and the face he saw in the mirror looked like a trapped animal.

Warning bells were going off in his head. She wanted him to eat dinner. That meant she might have put something in his food. His food and the children’s. He threw open the door and ran down the hall.

She was standing by the stove dishing out spaghetti, and he leapt forward. The imposter cringed as if he was jumping at her, but he knew better. Instead he grabbed the food and flung it on the floor. She was talking but he couldn’t hear over the ringing in his ears.

Safe. He was safe. The children were safe. For now.

 

Retainer

The first thought that went through his head when Taylor walked through the door of his lawyer’s office was that he knew where his money was going. He’d never seen a koi pond indoors before but there it was behind the desk, black marble and just deep enough for a couple of fish that were, oddly enough, nowhere to be seen.

His aunt had kept fish and her house had always hummed with filters and aerators. It had been a calming sound for him, but there were no sounds coming from the aquariums around the walls of the office. It didn’t matter. He was already calm.

He was alone in the room, left there by an anxious young man that had introduced himself as Ms. Dayton’s personal assistant. That had surprised Taylor; he had been expecting a paralegal. The assistant seemed to be hovering on the edge of telling him not to touch anything but for twelve hundred dollars an hour he was going to touch whatever he damn well pleased.

A gang of tiny, colorful fish flitted into their plants when he approached the tank and he pressed a finger to the glass, daring them to come out and savoring the power he held over them.

“Don’t touch that.”

Taylor turned around, expecting another assistant, and found himself face to face with a woman whose every motion felt as if she was carving herself out of ice. He took his hand away from the tank and the assistant hurried forward to wipe his fingerprint off the tank. The woman came over to him and looked him up and down.

“Natasha Dayton,” she said, extending a hand. “Your credit card says I’m your attorney now, so let’s get down to business.”

“Nice to meet you,” Taylor said, shaking her hand. “I’m—“

“I know who you are,” Tasha interrupted. “I watch the news, and unfortunately so does most of America. If they don’t watch the news, they read blogs. Everyone knows who you are and what you did, so let’s dispense with the dance and discuss how I’m going to make sure you keep sleeping in your own bed.” As she passed the tanks, the fish came out of hiding and followed her to the edge of their small, shifting worlds until they had nowhere else to go.

“Are those real plants?”

“Of course they are,” Tasha sighed. “They help keep the water clean. We aren’t here to talk about my fish tanks. We’re here to create a plan of action.” She sat down behind her desk and pulled out a piece of paper. “First things first, tell me your version of the truth.”

“I killed the guy,” Taylor said with a shrug. “I watched his house for years, I waited long enough so that no one would immediately connect me to his death, and then I slit his throat while he was watching trash TV. What else do you want to know?”

“At least you’re honest,” she said, shoving the paper away from her. “Try not to be that honest with the judge. We’re going for a winning verdict here. A dismissal, to tell the truth. It may not be pretty but I think we can get you off with most of your career intact.”

“I don’t care about my career,” Taylor said. There was a fountain pen in a wooden holder on the side of the desk closest to him and he focused on it for a moment until the thumping in his ears subsided. Blood. Just like Kinsey’s. “I’ve got plenty of money, I don’t need to work.”

“Well I care about mine.” Tasha shook her head. “How much dirt are you willing to let me dig up? Are you a big fan of morality or are you all right with my making witnesses cry? I hear one of them has cancer and the other is mentally ill.”

“You know,” Taylor said with a grin, “I think I’ve definitely picked the right lawyer.”

Knock

The sound was so soft that he almost didn’t hear it over the television. It was a scratching, scuffing sound that made Tom think of knocking the mud off his shoes when he came in through the back door. It could have been anything and he wasn’t the sort of man to jump at strange sounds so he settled deeper into his chair.

He was dozing, wrapped in the sort of warmth that came from security and nearly good health, and was almost asleep when he heard the sound again. The same scuffing, just underneath a green and fragrant crackling that he knew was coming from the side of the house.

“Dammit, Lee,” he muttered under his breath. He was sick of his neighbor letting that damn dog nose through his bushes. It always preceded a massive bowel movement and left both his bushes and backyard in a sorrier state than before the dog arrived, and Lee refused to do anything to stop it. Tom had spent the better part of a year trying to figure out the best way to confront his neighbor but he didn’t have the stomach for conflict anymore.

The sounds stopped abruptly and he let his eyelids droop again. It wasn’t worth it. He’d take the scooper out the next morning and get rid of the evidence so he could spend another day pretending it wouldn’t happen again. He’d give just about anything not to have to deal with it anymore.

“And now to our red carpet coverage,” the host of the celebrity news show said amidst an exciting sting of music that forced Tom’s eyes open. “Kima Carpenter is wearing a daring dress by one of the newest, hottest young designers, and doesn’t she look fantastic in it?”

“You can say that again,” his co-host said in a bubbly blonde tone. “Not many people can pull off those sorts of patterns but Kima sure does. Wow.” Tom reached for the remote control. He had zero interest in what the next big thing was wearing, and not just because he didn’t represent her. It had no bearing on whether or not he wanted them in his stable, and if he was being honest he preferred potential clients to come in dressed as simply as possible.

“Now here’s a good looking couple,” the host said. “Alyssa Duvall and Taylor Kyle, who still won’t tell whether or not they’re a real couple or just a pair of friends who like to keep us guessing. They’re both wearing Versace, making us wonder whether they do their shopping – and anything else – together.”

“I hope not,” Tom muttered. Taylor Kyle’s style left plenty to be desired as far as he was concerned, and always had. Bright colors were one thing, especially now that everyone was wearing them, but the man had some sort bizarre attraction to patterns and it seemed like fashion was determined to accommodate him.o The tuxedo jacket he was wearing had lapels of shocking red paisley and Tom groaned. “Thank God I dropped you when I did,” he said, turning the channel.

To his dismay, Taylor Kyle was on that channel as well. There was something about his smile, something too-wide and deep-rolling to express that gave Tom the shivers. He was handsome, no two ways about it, but there was something else there that he just didn’t like.

At first he thought the knocking he heard was at the front door, but it was too close. It almost sounded like it was coming from the kitchen, then the hall. It was soft and traveling, and by the time he figured out that it wasn’t knocking but the snaps of shiny, shiny shoes on his hardwood floor the knife was already at his throat.

Scales

Her breath came in waves that rocked her body in the water, making subtle ripples that disappeared as quickly as they formed. The room hummed around her but her ears were underwater so all she heard was her own breathing and the occasional movement of the water.

Her body was air-light and colorless when she was in the pool, her arms outstretched as if to touch the edges of the marble that surrounded it. Her eyes were closed but she knew they were there, could feel the fingers of chill that reached for her in the hopes of stealing some of her warmth for themselves. Marble collected sunlight but there was none here, in this dimness. Its only hope was the woman floating in the center of the shallow pool and she wasn’t about to let it get its way.

The water was cool, not cold, because she demanded it. There were heaters but she rarely turned them on, preferring water that was closer to room temperature so it wasn’t a shock when she got out. She opened her eyes for just a moment and raised her arm so she could look at it, a pale reach in the semi-darkness. Water ran down from fingers that were somehow not wrinkled in spite of the fact that she’d been in the pool at least twenty minutes. She submerged her arm again, not liking the feeling of the air on her skin. There would be plenty of time to deal with that particular sensation.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to swim in there.”

The voice that echoed through the room broke the silence and Tasha sat up, her hair streaming noisily into the pool while her bottom brushed its edge. A swirl of anger rose, then fell in her chest. This was supposed to be her time. No one was supposed to know about her time.

“Why are you naked?”

“Because I can be,” Tasha said, hoping he heard the frost in her voice. It was meant to cover the fact that her heart was racing more than anything, and she dropped the temperature another few degrees. “I was under the impression that I’d locked the door.”

“This is important,” her assistant said as she stepped out of the pool and walked around to her desk. The walls of her office were lined with spectacularly sized aquariums, and their whispered hums were barely louder than when she’d been in the pool. As she passed, the fish gathered around to watch, flitting back to their hiding places when her assistant followed. Just like everything else in the office, they were immaculate. They weren’t part of the décor, they were the décor. Between the aquariums and the marble pool, more than half of Tasha’s office was comprised of water. “Noonan called. They want to delay the hearing until next week. One of their witnesses is sick.”

“Why is that my problem?” Tasha picked up a towel that almost matched the mahogany wood of her desk and began to dry herself off. She doubted that anyone would have seen it if they hadn’t known where to look. That was good.

“I told him I’d talk to you about it,” her assistant said, trying not to look at her naked body. That was good too. Let him be uncomfortable. He was the one who had walked in uninvited. “She has cancer and the chemo is making it hard for her to get around.”

“I’ll send her a card,” Tasha said, putting on her panties. “But my client is not going to sit in jail one day longer than necessary. Tell him it’s out of the question.” Her assistant looked like he wanted to say something else, but nodded at her. Tasha could feel the sigh he was holding back and almost dared him to release it.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Her assistant turned to go, then paused and frowned. “What happened to the koi?” She didn’t answer him, instead pulling her silk shell over her head. He waited for a moment longer, then left. It may have been the first time he walked in on her in the pool but it wasn’t his first day on the job. Tasha gave the pool a wistful glance, then finished dressing, stepped into her shoes and sat at her desk. Out of the question.