As part of the Funk-N-Fiction Halloween Flash Fiction Event, we’re showcasing a few of the participating authors who are also 2021 Coastal Magic Convention Featured Authors! This morning, Violet Howe brings us a short story warning about the consequences of unfortunate deal making! Inspired by this image…
Don’t forget to check the info for the Rafflecopter giveaway below the story!! Print books, ebooks, and giftcards are all parts of SEVEN different prize packs!
Blood Ink by Violet Howe
“I want to create a murder so unique—so bizarre—that it almost seems artistic. Something beautiful, in a sick and twisted way.”
Alice laughed. “Scott, you do realize if anyone around you heard that, they’re calling the police right now!”
“There’s no one here,” I said, scanning the field where I sat just a few feet from the marked trail, “which is why I come here to write. Well, I would write if I had words.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to come to the lakehouse with us? You could bring your laptop and write on the deck at the cabin while we’re out on the boat. Then we could all still hang out together at night. It won’t be the same without you there.”
The idea of escaping my writer’s block at the lake with friends tempted me, but I knew I’d get nothing done there.
“I can’t. My agent is breathing down my neck, and if I don’t come up with something, I don’t know what she’ll do. It’s freaking me out. It’s like I’m all out of stories. What if I can’t be successful at this, Alice? I can’t even imagine what else I’d do. This has to work. I swear I’d sell my soul right now to be able to write a bestseller.”
Alice sighed. “You’ll think of something. I suppose I should go help the others pack the cars.”
“Have a good time,” I forced out in the most cheerful voice I could muster. “I’ll just be sitting here hoping the devil takes me up on my offer.”
When our call had ended, I closed the laptop and slid it back into my bag, pulling a spiral notebook out instead. Perhaps manually putting the pen to paper would get the ideas going.
Suddenly, the wind kicked up, fluttering the notebook’s pages. I closed my eyes against the dust and grass particles pelting my face, and just as quickly as it had risen, the wind died.
Something brushed my face, and I opened my eyes to see a snowstorm of papers floating down around me.
Looking up, I assumed something was lodged in the tree, but the pages were clearly falling from much higher. I searched for a source, but the cloudless blue sky was empty.
A page landed on my face and slithered to my lap, and my skin rippled in gooseflesh when I saw my name in the header.
I began to gather the sheets and put them in numerical order, crawling around on my knees like a madman in a desperate search for page one. Once I’d found it, I started to read, and it sucked me in immediately.
The detective had just the right mix of snark, smarts, and grit. The breadcrumbs led the reader down dark, mysterious paths. And the murders were described in such a way that it made the macabre intriguing.
When I came to a missing page, I’d search the ground again, continuing in that manner until I’d read them all.
Ah, the ending! So satisfying and unexpected that a shiver ran through me, leaving my body in a state of exhilaration. The killer’s identity had unfolded in a twist more brilliant than I ever could have imagined, yet the detective’s final triumph over him proved even more clever.
This. Was. A. Masterpiece.
I slid the manuscript into my bag, looking over my shoulder to ensure I wasn’t seen. The sun hung much lower in the sky than I had realized, and I couldn’t believe no one had come walking or biking down the trail. Perhaps there had been people, and I’d just not noticed. I’d read the whole day through, and yet not once had I felt hunger pangs, thirst, or the need for a restroom, so enthralling was the tale.
As I made my way back toward the path, I spied one stray sheet in a prickly bush. I reached in to grab it, jerking my hand back with a swear as the pointed end of a leaf pricked me. I stared at the blood swelling to a bead on the tip of my index finger, and then I watched in fascination as the scarlet drop fell onto the white page.
Trying again more carefully, I retrieved the paper. It was the title page with my own name listed as author and my own blood splattered over the black ink.
Fearing the magical text might disappear, I rushed to a shipping center to make a copy. Then I hurried home and scanned the pages into my computer, running them through every plagiarism program I could find. Nothing hit. It appeared to be an original manuscript, and it appeared to be mine.
I emailed it to my agent before I went to bed, and I awoke to a frenzy of interest.
Everyone who read it—from my agent to the subsequent publisher to the readers who couldn’t buy it fast enough—wanted more.
Almost overnight, my life became a whirlwind of book tours, appearances, and never-ending travel. I had more money coming in than even I had imagined possible, and yet, I had no time to spend it because everyone wanted a piece of me.
My advance for the sequel was generous, and I arrogantly sat in front of my computer for a week, maybe more, thinking somehow I could produce it. Eventually, I accepted the reality and headed back to the trail to beg for assistance once more.
For five days in a row, I sat in that field, pleading. I offered more than I had to give, but nothing materialized. I swore I’d do anything, whatever was asked, and still, the air held no pages.
On the fifth evening, I returned home, defeated, and began to pack for a trip the next day to meet with a studio regarding a movie adaptation of the first book. I’d hoped to tease the sequel as well.
When my suitcase was filled and I’d showered and prepared for bed, I turned on my laptop to print out a boarding pass, and there it was.
The screen opened to the manuscript, complete on my computer, just as though I’d written it myself.
I read all night, finishing minutes before my alarm went off. The detective was even snarkier and cleverer, and though the villain’s debauchery and vile acts were unconscionable, it made for great reading. Riveting, in fact. I couldn’t stop scrolling.
Somewhere in the maelstrom of success that followed the second release, my creativity began to flow like a faucet turned on at full pressure. The words to the third installment came so easily that the story told itself as I typed. It was, without a doubt, the best writing I’d ever done. I’d not only met the expectations set by the previous two books; I’d surpassed them.
During the tour for the third book, I was seated at a bookstore signing in front of a seemingly endless line of readers waiting for a signature and a forced smile.
I’d grown weary of these events. My luxurious penthouse sat empty as I traveled, as did my sprawling oceanfront villa. My impressive collection of high-performance automobiles waited in a dark garage, but I had no time to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
The signing was almost over when I first spotted two men standing off to the side in ill-fitting suits. The line had been cut off already, so the end was near. Close enough, in fact, that I’d already started to fantasize about the gorgeous redhead who’d slipped her phone number in the book before she slid it across the table for me to sign. She’d leaned over with an eager smile, her voluptuous breasts inches from my face.
As the last of the readers inched forward and the men remained, I grew irritated at the distraction. They were obviously law enforcement, and based on past experiences at these types of events, I knew they likely fell into one of two categories: fans of my detective who couldn’t be bothered to stand in line or critics who sought to inform me what I’d gotten wrong. I’d learned not to let the latter get to me. If they’d taken the writing personally enough to be offended or put off, then obviously, I’d engaged them and done my job.
They stepped forward as soon as the last reader had gone.
“Mr. Preston, can we speak with you for a moment?”
“Sorry. I have dinner plans,” I lied as I gathered my pens and put them in my bag. I’d planned to call the redhead and invite her to my suite, but dinner wasn’t on the agenda. Still, I didn’t want to be rude, knowing officers made up a good percentage of my reader base. “How about we walk out to the parking lot together? That gives us a few minutes.”
The other man cleared his throat. “It might be best if we speak in private.”
Flashing his badge, he introduced himself as an officer from Seattle.
Seattle? But I was in … where was I? Hell, the cities all ran together on tour. Atlanta? Yes, I was certain I was in Atlanta.
The first man showed his badge as well. “And I’m Officer Thierry from Portland.”
I let the bag drop from my shoulder back onto the table. “What’s this about?”
Thierry frowned. “Like Officer Bullock said, it would be best to talk in private. The manager loaned us a conference room at the back of the store. It’s right this way.”
Despite the circumstances, I wasn’t nervous yet. I’ve never been to Seattle or Portland, so I knew I hadn’t done anything to get on their radar. Right up until the questioning started, I still thought they were fans or disgruntled readers. Or perhaps they wanted my advice on a case.
But then the world began to close in on me with the first question Officer Bullock asked.
“Did you write the material in the first book of your current series?”
So, this is how it would unravel. Somehow, they knew I was a fraud. The ruse was over, and now, I’d lose everything. Hell, I might even face jail time. How could it be that I wasn’t even certain what the penalties were for plagiarism?
“Yes, of course, I did,” I said, struggling to swallow my fears and maintain control of my voice.
“Did anyone help you write it?” Thierry asked. “A ghost writer perhaps? Or maybe a source who provided the material? The facts of the cases. The procedures. The logistics.”
The room grew too warm, and I wedged two fingers inside my collar and pulled at it to loosen it.
“No. No one helped. What is this all about? As I m-mentioned, I have a pressing engagement, a d-dinner. I’m expected.”
Bullock looked to Thierry, who nodded, and then he pulled a large manila envelope from his jacket.
He began to lay out the most gruesome photos I’d ever seen in my life. My stomach roiled with nausea, and my hand clamped over my mouth to shield against the bile that rose in my throat.
It only took me seconds to recognize the murders. The words I’d written—um, published—were all there in a gory display. Not nearly as artistic to look at as they’d been to read.
“What is the meaning of this?” I managed to squeak out between my fingers. A slick sheen of sweat covered my skin, and it took everything in me not to bolt from the room.
“These are evidence photos,” Thierry said. “Cold case files from a series of murders that took place across the Pacific Northwest several years ago. Murders whose trails went cold. Never solved. We started collaborating on these cases when we found a striking number of similarities.”
Bullock leaned forward, his eyes narrowing. “Imagine my surprise when I cracked open your book last weekend and began to read details never released to the public.”
The fear that overcame me was absolute. They weren’t questioning me about plagiarism. They were asking me what I knew about murders. Murders I’d claimed to write about.
“It, um, m-must be coincidence,” I stammered as I wiped the back of my hand across my brow to prevent sweat from dripping into my eyes. Could I look any more guilty? Damn! “I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest. I’ve never set foot in Washington or Oregon.”
“Then, how do you explain these murders showing up in your book?”
“I don’t know. I just, um, well, I…” My mouth fell open, but my mind was as blank as it had been that day in the field when I’d been searching for words.
“Tell us who your informant was,” Thierry said. “Who gave you the details? Who told you about these murders? If you give up your source, then we can pursue the right suspect. But absent of that, we have no choice but to consider that our most likely suspect at this moment … is you.”
I shook my head as the depth of the trap I’d walked into became more evident. Those pages had come to me from thin air. Even if I did admit I wasn’t the author, I couldn’t prove where I’d gotten them. I had no defense. No way to explain.
I was screwed.
“I think I need to speak with my attorney,” I whispered as I struggled to breathe.
Bullock gathered the grisly pictures back into the envelope. “Then this conversation is over. For now. We’ll be in touch, though. You should know that we’re already looking at the other books for any matches.”
The plot twist of my own life had been revealed, and somehow, I hadn’t seen it coming. I’d made the deals so eagerly that I’d never considered what would be demanded in return. And now, the books I’d bargained for would serve as the nails in my coffin. I’d reached my final chapter, and it was time to pay the devil his due.
After you have left a comment for one (or more) of today’s authors, telling us what you think of the story or this blog event, click HERE to enter to win one of our SEVEN prize packs! (One entry per day.) Enter now through midnight (ET) November 1st. Winners announced on November 2nd.