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News & Features » August 2017 » “The Message” by Brenda McCray

“The Message” by Brenda McCray

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays. 

This week, a tarot reading presages an unexpected misfortune.
 
The Message
by Brenda McCray
Oklahoma City, OK

They found Clarette on her porch that morning, a wax figure in her robe, barefoot and clutching a nearly spent half-pint of brandy.

When Clarette had been young, and still a student, she had wandered over to a party at the residence of her beautifully eccentric neighbor, Ms. Vera Broyles. Clarette’s invitation had been wordlessly engraved in the strings of colored lights on Vera Broyles’ back patio, which rocked lazily in a fog of burning marijuana and in accidental syncopation with the crescendos of laughter that rose up above the delicate tumult of the Little River Band on the turntable. Clarette had knocked at Vera’s door, and it had been answered with the wave of a bell-sleeved wrist. Come in my dear!

Inside, the drink had flowed freely. Ms. Broyles had shared tales that seemed carved from fantasy, but which all who had known her the longest and the best had endorsed, enthusiastically, as being one hundred percent true.

Seated at a small table at the edge of the patio had been a woman, tarot cards spread out before her. Throughout that night, she was visited, one by one, by all of Ms. Broyles’ guests. After several beers and at least two shots of tequila, Clarette had found herself seated across from the woman for her own reading.

As her cards unfolded before her, Clarette had noticed a handsome young man among the otherwise middle-aged landscape, and their eyes had met as if tethered by an invisible string. Their moment was fleeting and was interrupted when the tarot reader abruptly stood, surveying the cards on the table. She reclaimed her seat almost as quickly as she had risen, and then, without explanation, swept the cards into a pile, tucked them into a jeweled box, and dropped the box into a patchwork bag situated at her feet.

The tarot reader approached Ms. Broyles with purpose. Clarette had seen them whisper and glance back at her before the tarot reader hurriedly departed. More whispers rippled out from around Ms. Broyles. Party guests studied Clarette from across the patio. It was eventually reported to Clarette that the tarot reader had seen something extraordinary in her cards, the exact nature of which was unknown. Clarette had been giddy with the knowledge that the cards had revealed something singular about her. Ms. Broyles’ guests regarded her accordingly the remainder of the night, parting for her to pass between them. Clarette read the incident as one which hinted at great romance between her and the handsome young man, or perhaps, a destiny of some especial importance.

Years later, Clarette still clung to the gypsy mood of that night, though she had encountered neither romance nor success since. Ms. Broyles had died, and Clarette had persisted in the ground floor apartment next door to the once-charmed scene of that memorable gathering. Clarette could discern not even a residue of anything mystical in the house next door which was now home to a mixed-breed dog who howled along with the noon whistle on Saturdays.

The night before she had been found, Clarette had been seated on her porch as was her habit. In her robe, like on any night, she had sat with her brandy, people-watching and listening to Stevie Wonder from a portable CD player.

Some nights, no people at all presented themselves for her watching, but on that night, Clarette spotted a man approaching. His greasy swagger foretold an uncomfortable encounter at least. Whatcha doin’, neighbor? Whatcha doin’? All alone and needing some company, I see. He neared, never slowing as he slid right up to Clarette whose mouth failed to form a protest. He reached for her bottle, and she swiped it away in an instant, that same moment knowing what the cards had shown on that night so long ago. The man sent his fist crashing into Clarette, catching her in the ear. He wrapped an arm around her, and with the other he drew a blade along her throat. He had meant to grab the bottle but had tripped off without it, down the block and toward the old school. Clarette, supine on the small porch, her spirit rising into the ether, heard the Little River Band playing as she cursed her magical thinking.

***

BRENDA McCRAY is an Oklahoma City criminal defense investigator and mother to a teenager learning to drive. In her spare time, she enjoys writing fiction, reading, and tasting scotches she cannot afford to buy by the bottle.

***

Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Aug 1, 2017

Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , ,



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