I recently wrote this for NYC Midnight's 500-word Fiction Challenge. This was my first round submission, and I placed in the top 10 in my group to move on to the second round! This was definitely a good exercise for me. For anyone who isn't familiar, the challenge divides participants into different groups where you're assigned a genre, an action, and an object that you must incorporate into a story that is no more than 500 words. My genre was horror, action was breathing in second hand smoke, and object was a glass jar. There's definitely a lot of things I'd like to change about this little story, but I'm leaving it as is because I'm pretty proud of the fact that I placed with it.
“Has there ever been anything that would lead you to believe Vanessa would hurt someone?”
The overhead fluorescent lights hum. It’s too bright in here.
Stephanie focuses on a stain on the carpet.
“Steph! Check these guys out.”
Stephanie looks up from her glass jar of lightning bugs. Vanessa is jogging towards her with her own jar, but instead of lightning bugs, it holds two large, strange looking insects. Stephanie has to strain her eyes in the dark to make them out. She thinks one of them is a grasshopper. The other she’s never seen before.
“What the heck is that?” Stephanie asks, something about it making her shiver.
“A praying mantis, duh.”
Before Stephanie can ask where she even found it, the so-called praying mantis corners its companion.
“Watch. Watch.” Vanessa is staring at her jar, green eyes glimmering. Somehow, the praying mantis gets its jaws around the grasshopper’s head. Stephanie jolts back. Though the lid is on the jar, she can still hear a crunch. She looks to her best friend again.
Vanessa is grinning, almost…pleased.
Stephanie shakes her head. “No.”
The detective sighs and slides a couple pictures on the table. “You sure? ‘Cause this is what we found in her basement.”
“You’re crazy! You know that?! I didn’t do anything to her! All I said was-” He cuts off with a scream as Vanessa yanks off another fingernail.
“We know what you said. And it wasn’t nice. Was it, Steph?”
Not taking her eyes off David, she shakes her head.
“Steph,” David begs in a whisper.
“Tell her you’re sorry.”
“Couldn’t hear you,” Vanessa teases.
“I’m sorry, okay?”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorryyyyyy-” The end of his last sorry drags out as Vanessa sticks a vice in his mouth and starts viciously cranking. His jaw creaks and cracks before snapping louder than anything Stephanie has heard. David’s cheeks stretch inhumanly far, and now that the cracking has stopped, there’s only the sound of ripping and tearing. The muscle and tendons shred into pink strips like silly putty.
His jaw is nearly touching his chest, and blood won’t stop pouring down his neck. It’s almost silent in the basement now. Stephanie’s not sure when the screaming stopped.
She stares at the photos.
Vanessa tosses her gloves into the trash as Stephanie watches blood drip onto the floor. “Hey, don’t worry. I’ll clean it up.”
Stephanie finally looks away when she hears a quick flick and puff from behind her. Vanessa takes a drag of her cigarette and blows in her direction. Breathing it in makes Stephanie want to choke and vomit.
“Ness, you know I hate it when you smoke.”
Vanessa just winks and chuckles. She holds out her pinky, and Stephanie hooks her own around it.
“I’ll ask again: has Vanessa ever done anything that would lead you to believe she would ever hurt someone?”
Stephanie looks the detective in the eyes. “She’s my best friend. And we look out for each other.”