Art:Mystery SHORT Story Contest
Mystery SHORT Story Contest was a familiar contest run by Jacquilynne of the Looterati in the Mariner's Muse section of the YPP forums during February 2005. Authors had a hard limit of 2000 words to tell a mystery story set in the Midnight Ocean After one week of judging, Hellequin was awarded an tan monkey for his entry , reproduced in it's entirety below. In addition, three runners-up each got to pick form either a short trip, a collection of short swords, or a collection of short skirts. After entries to the main contest were posted, another contest was held where entrants could take any of the stories and shorten it to under 200 words.
Hellequin's winning entry
The blade was a thin line of moonlight against the inky black of the grimy alley, its edge gleaming ethereally as it pressed into the side of my neck. Fetid breath that reeked of old cheese wafted by my face as I looked into one glinting eye, as cold and purposeful as the steel at my throat.
"It be a short trip, lad, where ye be going" croaked the voice from the darkness, "but I dinnae expect ye'll find it pleasant."
The blade pressed into my neck, harder, drawing out a drop of crimson and I choked out a gasp, not daring to swallow or even breathe too deeply for fear of that dread edge.
"No one can save ye. No one can help ye. Ye be all alone, and now - ye die."
* * *
"Ye should be careful out there, mate, folks been' dyin' 'round these parts. Nasty folk stalkin' the alleys, killing womenfolk and the like."
Laughing, I thanked the guardsman and adjusted my jacket, turning the collar up against the blisteringly frigid winds. I smiled to myself and unconsciously put my hand on the short sword hidden under my jacket; I didn't think I'd have too much trouble with any back-alley murderer. As I walked in the direction of the local tavern I took a deep breath of the salty air.
It was a cold night. Not many people would be out, I thought. A chilly night like this required the company of either a woman or a fire, and the tavern was a good place to find both. I waved to an old bearded man who sat outside the tavern, seemingly impervious to the cold and wind, his one good eye looking at me vacantly as he nodded in acknowledgement, a pipe clasped unlit between his teeth.
Taking a seat by the bar I ordered a tankard of grog and settled back with a contented sigh, feeling the warmth of the bodies radiating around me as I scanned the crowds of people. Idly I touched the short sword in my jacket again, feeling its reassuring weight pressing against my side, and smiled.
* * *
"Me daughter, ya bastard! Me daughter!"
I choked and squirmed before I realized what held me and froze. A grimy hand turned me around and pushed me against the wall, the blade held in its companion hand still pressed against my adam's apple.
Fate, it seemed, had a sick sense of humour.
* * *
"Ye gods, it's cold!"
The man who had just walked into the tavern rubbed his hands and blew into them, his nose lit up like the fire which crackled merrily in the hearth. He was greeted by the laughter of some old salts in the corner whom were obviously his friends, and, his face bunched up in a crooked, toothy grin, he walked over to join them.
I turned away from the interruption and resumed looking about the tavern. Sailors and dock workers alike huddled around the fireplace, downing grog in an effort to ease the chill from their bones. Comely barmaids flitted about the tables like butterflies, laughing and darting to avoid grasping, drunken hands. The warm sounds of jesting and boasting mingled with the general noises of clanking tankards and chattering patrons; it was another cold, blustery night on the town, and everyone was making the most of it.
A girl in particular had caught my eye; perhaps a daughter of some rich merchant, I thought. She wore a short, velvety skirt that rustled and swished silently as she moved, her eyes glinting in the firelight. She stood out amongst the riffraff, her long, auburn hair swirling as she danced to a bawdy tune being belted out by a group of enthusiastic onlookers.
She saw me looking, and smiled. Smiling back I picked up my tankard and wandered over to the crowd that had gathered around to watch her dance. When her dance finished, she walked over to me. Wordlessly she beckoned me towards the door and I followed, stepping out into the cold night. The move from the warmth to the windy chill was jarring, but I barely noticed it as I followed her, the wind tousling her hair and blowing that ever so short skirt invitingly about her legs. Tonight, I felt, was going to be a good night.
* * *
I felt something was amiss the instant I stepped into the alley. She was gone, a flurry of movement and I was alone in the darkness, listening to the sounds of her fleeing footsteps. I cursed under my breath, spitting all manner of foul utterances against women, the gods, and the darkness. Gasping and panting, I leaned against a nearby wall in an effort to catch my breath. Too late I noticed the moving shadows and felt something cold press against my neck.
* * *
"So, how far to yer place, cutter?" she said playfully, playing with the buttons on my jacket as we stood nestled in a doorway, pressed against each other in an effort to stay out of the wind. I smiled.
"It's just a short walk from here, lass. I'm sure ye'll find it pleasant." Taking her hand I led her out from the doorway and we walked out into the cold night. It was dark, the moon trapped behind a veil of clouds, and the wind whipped and howled through the narrow streets of the port town. There were storm lanterns hung on many of the street corners, but the weather was cold enough that the harbor master hadn't bothered coming out to light them, so the streets were dark and poorly lit. I knew precisely where I was going though, having made this trip many times before.
I felt her become apprehensive as we left the main streets and began wending through alleyways, her hand gripping mine more tightly and her eyes darting about nervously, her body pressing closer to me. I felt my sword press into my side as she pushed against me, jabbing my ribs uncomfortably, but I ignored it, not wanting to call attention to the hidden blade.
As I walked, I became aware that something wasn?t right. Below the howling of the wind was another sound. Pulling the girl closer, I frowned and strained my ears to catch it. There, barely audible over the gale's howl: a shuffling, steady sound. She sensed my apprehension and I felt her hand squeeze mine hard, her fingernails digging into the flesh of my hand so that they almost drew blood. I tightened my own hand around hers reassuringly.
* * *
Tap. Tap. Tap. Footsteps again; that same pattern of shuffling steps. It couldn't have been a coincidence. I frowned and considered turning back, but the woman on my arm didn't seem worried, which made me feel more at ease.
"Don't worry, lass. It's just a short trip, and I'm sure ye'll find it pleasant."
She smiled at that remark, brushed a lock of hair from her eyes, and followed me as I stepped into the alley, her hand releasing from my own and resting lightly on my arm as we turned the corner.
* * *
I quickened my pace and pulled her down another back street and stopped. The sound of footsteps, clear now against the background wind, echoed louder. The girl whimpered a little, her eyes wide, her whole body trembling now with fright. I pressed my hand against her mouth and pulled her close to me, hiding in the shadows, listening. I felt her heart pounding in her chest, her body quivering with abject terror rather than cold.
Silently, we waited, the footsteps echoing against the loose brick walls around us. Slowly, they became more silent, fading, quietly, until finally they were lost again in the sound of the wind. I finally pulled my hand away from the woman?s mouth to see that she was sobbing, her breath choking in her throat as tears streamed down her face. Softly I took her chin in my hand and smiled at her watery eyes.
"Don't worry. We're all alone here."
Still smiling, I took a handful of her red hair and pulled it gently back, exposing her neck, and drew my blade from my coat with my other hand. Her eyes widened and I murmured to her, my voice barely carrying over the wind's dispairing wail, "It's a short trip, from here to infinity. Enjoy it."
* * *
The woman was pretty enough. Not stunning, but eye catching, and she had a way of moving that made me sweat. It seemed almost too easy when she came over to me, whispering sweet nothings into my ear. Smiling, I bought her a drink, made a toast and began planning on how I could get her outside.
* * *
Sighing contentedly I worked my way back home, winding through the cross-streets and alley ways that I knew so well. Precious few people were out on nights like this; only those who preferred the darkness and solitude, like myself. I waved to a passerby, who looked at me curiously and nodded in acknowledgment, a pipe clenched between his teeth. Something about him struck me as familiar, but I dismissed it, my mind heady with excitement and my body pumping adrenaline.
"Good to see ye back, sir." The local watchmen addressed me. "Nasty night out, tonight. All manner of dangerous folks could be about. A distinguished gent such as yerself shouldn't be out."
I smiled, nodded and wished him a warm evening, for which he thanked me. Slowly, I climbed the stairs to my house and entered, savoring the feel of the creaking wood beneath my feet and the smell of the salt-aged timbers. Never had I felt more alive.
Tonight, I felt, had been a good night.
- 1st - Kmf
- 2nd - Piplicus
- 3rd - Nothingfire
SHORTer Stories winners
- 1st - Steinhauser
- 2nd - Cthorpe
- 3rd - Evania
- 3rd - Pcbunny