Wednesday, August 15, 2018

August W.E.P. - Change of Heart

It's time for Write...Edit...Publish! It's been a long time since I participated, and I'm excited to be jumping back in.

Speaking of first times, it's also the first time I've done W.E.P. in conjunction with IWSG, now that the two have paired up!

The theme this time around is Change of Heart.

An Uninvited Guest

Jenny sat in her understated sedan, her cell phone held up to her ear. The house she watched existed in a flurry of activity: cars, bikes, kids, their friends. It exhausted her just observing them. Imagine living such a busy life, constantly running errands, driving kids places, picking them up. The single life worked out perfectly fine for her.

As usual, things calmed down at the Harris residence as dusk fell, everyone settled in for dinner and homework. It would only be a few more hours before the beds filled and the other rooms emptied, the youngest kids slipping off first, followed by the older ones in a stairstep of bedtime routines. Finally, the adults would drift off to bed, their bedroom light blinking out around 10:30.

At midnight, Jenny would strike. The serpent in the fold.

Her instructions were to make it look like a burglary gone wrong. She'd scoped out the house when it was empty (not an easy feat with a family of six living there). She'd gathered various possible weapons from inside the home: an old cord from a no longer used landline phone, a kitchen knife, duct tape and a wrench from the garage, and a few other items that probably wouldn't get used. Better safe than sorry.

The light went out right on time.

The night sounds of suburbia drifted through the windows while she waited for midnight. Crickets, distant car rumblings, leaves blowing in the breeze. The pleasant scent of grass drifted on the air currents.

She studied the house. At night its flaws weren't so visible. She could no longer make out the faded paint or the bald spots in the lawn. It looked almost flawless in the low light. Other than the gentle drift of the shrubs and the tree's branches,  nothing moved. Every door had been locked multiple ways, the windows properly closed and locked.

Every window but the basement one she'd broken yesterday to ensure it couldn't be closed. Chances are, they hadn't noticed it yet. If by some miracle they'd fixed it, she had other means of egress.

Her phone indicated it was 11:58. Close enough.

Jenny looked around to be certain no one hovered outside. Her car hid within a long line of cars, all parked along the curb, gaps left at driveways just in case the norms decided to go for a late night spin. The lights were out in every house. Even the exterior lights had been shut off by most of the residents. Didn't they know people like her took advantage of the darkness?

With no sign of humanity observed, she quietly exited her car, grabbing the messenger bag she used as a kit for these jobs. She'd turned off the dome light in advance, so she didn't draw attention to herself. Instead of trying to be sneaky, she strolled up to the house as if she lived there. Digging through her pockets, she expressed frustration through the climbing of her shoulders and her rigid movements. Hopefully, anyone watching would figure she'd forgotten her key.

The phantom key left unfound, she stepped off the porch and moved around to the back of the house, remaining tense, hands waving in the air as if she were ranting. In the darkness at the back of the house, she slowed, no longer putting the act on. Time again for caution.

She found the window still broken. No attempt had been made to fix it or block it closed, which told her they likely hadn't noticed it yet.

The cops certainly would when examining the crime scene.

Her pulse only now accelerated. Now came the time where everything could go wrong.

From her bag she pulled out a pair of leather driving gloves and put them on. She eased the window open, going slow to ensure it didn't creak.

No creaks.

Feet first, she eased herself through the window then reached out for her bag, from which she extracted her flashlight. She moved through the basement with quick, silent feet. Walking up the left edge of the wooden steps kept them from making any noise save a gentle squeak here and there. The door at the top of the stairs stood partially open, and they kept it well oiled, so it slid open without a sound.

The kitchen stood empty. As did the living room. It took no time at all for her to climb the stairs to the second floor, where all the bedrooms stood. Two of the doors were closed--the teens's rooms. Two others let out faint, amber lights, indicating night lights. The fifth was at the end of a hallway, the door open, no light spilling from it.

With any luck, none of the children would awaken, and she could be in and out in ten minutes. There were to be no casualties other than Mr. Harris.

She slipped into the master bedroom, easing the door shut behind her. Padding across the room, Jenny reached the foot of the bed. She crouched, waiting for her eyes to adjust the rest of the way. The bed shook gently as one of them adjusted their position.

Her pulse pounded raucously, and she breathed gently to calm it.

A small voice whispered, "Mommy?"

Jerking her gaze to the door, she saw it remained closed. Panic-adrenaline assaulted her veins. Where the hell was the kid?

Then the bed stirred again.

A woman's voice whispered, "Hush, go to sleep, baby boy."

Goosebumps rose on Jenny's arms.

This wasn't the deal. Traumatizing a grown woman by killing her husband beside her was a price she was willing to extract, but not this. This little boy didn't deserve to watch his dad die, to witness something most adults went a lifetime without seeing.

She slumped down to a seat at the foot of the bed, waiting for them to fall asleep so she could make her way back out the way she had come.

993 words.

Now for some links. Bear in mind I'm not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.

Accepting Submissions:

Gypsum Sound Tales is seeking horror/sci-fi short stories for Thuggish Itch, an anthology. The theme is Scientific. 1000 to 5000 words. Pays $5-$10 AUS. Deadline September 14. (You also have one more week to submit to their all-genre anthology, Colp, with the theme Sky's the Limit.)

18th Wall is seeking adventure, pulp, thriller, mystery, horror, and other speculative fiction tales for Overdue: Tales of Mystery and Adventure Returning History's Lost Books to Circulation. This is a shared universe collection. 4000 to 20,000 words. Pays quarterly royalties. Deadline September 15.

Corpus Press is seeking non-themed horror short stories. 2500 to 4500 words. Pays $.03/word. Deadline September 15.

Gehenna & Hinnom is seeking weird fiction and cosmic horror. 250 to 3000 words. Pays $30-$50. Deadline September 15.

Eye to the Telescope is seeking poetry in the theme of Witches. This will be edited by Ashley Dioses, who did a guest post on horror poetry for me in February! Submit 1-3 poems. Pays $.03/word. Deadline September 15.

Arsenika is seeking flash fiction and poetry. Up to 1000 words. Pays $30-$60. Deadline September 15.

Did you participate in WEP? What's your interpretation of a change of heart? Are any of these links of interest? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.

*artwork, ocal


  1. Wow.
    I was wondering whether our protagonist was human at intervals, the wondering about organised crime.
    I suspect that our protagonist misses family life more than she admits when the presence of a child can cancel/delay her mission.
    And would LOVE to read more.

  2. Makes you wonder what he really did to suffer her wrath. Or who wants him out of the way. Kids sure have a way of changing even a killer's mind.

  3. Wow, this one was an edge of the seater. I was afraid of the carnage after all that preparation, but so glad it didn't happen! Great entry!

  4. Hi Shannon - now I want to know ... did she escape/ get out ... did the little one remember seeing someone in the room when he woke up, what was the 'killing to be' for - would there be repercussions ... lots to find out here - very well written - now I need an ending! Cheers Hilary

  5. Fantastic story! I kept guessing until the end what it was all about.

  6. Dark, yet touching. What dastardly deed made her want to extract such a horrid revenge? Where did her change of heart come from? Well done.

  7. Murder in her heart
    A deed to do
    A death for hire
    Why no one know
    A change of heart with it
    She couldn't go through
    Rats, because of that kid
    Look at the money she blew

    nice story

  8. Great entry, Shannon. I was on the edge of my seat. There's a lot of backstory here you could explore. I love the slow reveal. This is one time parents could bless a child for coming to their room in the middle of the night, right?

    Thanks for sharing your story for the prompt. But like many more I'd like to know more...


  9. Hi,
    I am so glad your story had a happy ending. I have to admit as I was midway through the story I was so tense. I didn't want to see a family wipe out. So I went and read the ending to determine if i wanted to continue reading. The ending convinced me that you turned the story and you did an awesome job of turning it. Kudos to you. So I went back and read the whole thing.
    Excellent job, Shannon. It is very nice having you in the WEP.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

  10. A lovely build up, the hectic lifestyle during the day of the family and then the peaceful night descending but little did they know. Love the way the end plays out, very clever.

  11. My heart was pounding as I read her entering the house. At first, I thought she was going to rob the place--not rob them of their father & spouse. Wow! This was fantastic!!! I'd like to know more--why the father had to die, did she get out safely, what was it about the kid that made her back off. Very well done.

  12. Reminded me of the beginning of the movie Manhunter. Except she made a better choice.

  13. And that's why I have bars around my basement windows. I would never have noticed! Nice story.

  14. Very chilling and I worried she was going to kill the whole family. She did not seem like she had any reservations about committing murder. Liked this:'It would only be a few more hours before the beds filled and the other rooms emptied, the youngest kids slipping off first, followed by the older ones in a stairstep of bedtime routines.'I'm glad she had a change of heart. Makes me think I am right in keeping our porch light on at night. :)

  15. Many killers wouldn't hesitate even with a kid in the room. What I'm wondering is why only Mr. Harris. . .but I can guess a few reasons. Glad to see you in the WEP challenge!

  16. Great suspense and tension in this flash. I'd like to know the back story, why does she want to kill the father? But I'm glad she has a change of heart and it all ends happily, whew! Nice work.

  17. An interesting take on the theme. Creates a lot of suspense at a deliberate pace. Even though I will admit I wonder why she is only killing Mr Harris?

  18. Great slow build-up to that neat ending - I wondered what would trigger the 'change of heart'. Lots of great images all the way through to draw the reader in - love your style and I need to learn from it.

  19. I held my breathe anticipating the bloodshed about to unfold.
    When I heard the small kid's voice, I froze. Would Jenny go ahead with the plan anyway?
    Relief when she decided against it but also a bit of an anti-climax. Mixed emotions. Not saying that it's okay for the kid to witness anything horrific...
    Good job!

  20. This was so well-written, the details spot on and compelling. And that ending! Wow. I'm glad she decided not to go through with it. That little boy doesn't deserve to see something so horrific. I do wonder why she wanted to kill him in particular, though. Well done!

  21. This is really good. I was on edge wondering if she'd go through with it. Excellent suspense.

  22. The assassin having a change of heart. Nice. Excellent use of the prompt. You had my heart beating faster. Very captivating.

  23. You built up the tension really well. I wondered what her change of heart would be. Loved the way she confidently strode across the lawn seemingly hunting for her housekey.

  24. Ooh, love this. Felt tense reading it all the way to the end!

  25. Intriguing! Really makes you wonder what happened earlier to make her change her mind.

  26. Aww, I like her change of heart. I'm wondering now how she'll explain this to the people that hired her...and what the father did for someone to want to murder him!