Spies Like Me

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When a retiree suspects his neighbor is involved in a gunrunning racket, he sets out to obtain evidence to bust up the operation.

An NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Challenge entry.

Prompts: Spy/an arsenal/a string trimmer

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My mission is simple, if I choose to accept. Get undeniable proof that my neighbor is hoarding guns and ammunition in his backyard shed and selling them on the black market. The only problem is I’ve been retired for thirty years and gathering evidence might be difficult. My knees barely handle tottering down the garden path and don’t even get me started on my walking stick. But I wasn’t a quitter in my day and I won’t quit now. My new neighbor is involved in a gunrunning racket and I’m determined to shut him down.

I know a cover when I see one. My neighbor pinned a sign to his front gate claiming he’s a motorcycle mechanic. Open all hours, it says. He can’t fool me. Who gets their bike serviced at eleven o’clock at night? Assembling guns, more like it. His clients are a dead giveaway. Leather-clad bikers sporting skull and cross-bone emblems. In and out from dusk to dawn. No one ever comes during the day. Rarely see my neighbor, too. If I do, he’s on his phone, talking so fast it’s gibberish to my ears. I wave like a flag flapping in a howling wind but he ignores me. Probably tells his contacts not to worry about the senile coot who lives next door. That makes me snort tea out my nostrils. He has no idea who he lives next to.

Makes it hard to get proof, though, not being able to sneak over at night. My only chance is to clear a path through the asparagus fern in the corner of the vegetable patch and peek through the shed’s back window. Haven’t used my garden tools in years, but I find an old string trimmer that might do the job. It’s hard wielding the trimmer without the support of my cane, but the result is better than I expected. I cut that fern at ground level; couldn’t lift the trimmer head any higher. Not a stalk remains. Now to peek over the fence and take some shots with my trusty happy-snap camera.

Haven’t used my camera in years, either. The last photo I took was of my beloved Patsy, God bless her patient soul. Remembering how to use the zoom is a problem for a fella with an addled memory, but the shed backs onto my fence so looking through the window is easy. Can’t see much through my glasses. Can’t see much past the cobwebs, either. Something looks like a disassembled bike but it’s parked next to a pile of long boxes the right size for a rifle, and many smaller boxes the right size for ammunition. I aim the camera, take some shots. They’re blurry, but editing should fix that. Now to call the agency and send this evidence through.

Doc answers the phone. He was assigned to me the day I retired. Top bloke. Has an office inside a medical clinic. Great cover. At my age, I can visit anytime, no questions asked. I tell him what I saw and promise to bring in the photos, but maybe he should send out a team ASAP because my shopping nurse only comes on a Tuesday. He nods through the phone and instructs me to take the red pills after dinner.

No way. Those pills muddle my memory. Procedure, I know, in case my cover is blown and I’m forced to divulge details about previous covert operations. It’s never come to that but you can’t be too careful in my line of work. Still, I want a clear head when my neighbor gets busted. So I ditch the pills, and peer out the kitchen window, and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Something’s wrong. Three days go past and the only people roaring into the neighbor’s property are the bikers, always at night, as regular as my bowel movements. Looks like we have a snitch. Never did trust Doc. But if he’s a turn-coat, this calls for drastic action.

I phone a friend.

Denny Walker, ex-CIA. He’s holed up in a nursing home, his choice, incognito, you get it. But he has contacts. So I call him. Tell him what’s going on next door. Denny will come through. He’s never let me down, yet.

Denny failed. Had a bad turn, the nursing staff said. Damn these crooks are good. Can’t trust anyone now, not if they got to Denny. Looks like it’s up to me.

I have a plan. It’s so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it first. I take my string trimmer down to the back fence and toss it behind the neighbor’s shed. Then I call the local police. Tell them my neighbor stole it and has it stashed in his shed. One patrol car turns up. Two rookie constables question me, then hop over the fence and search the shed.

I got to hand it to those boys. They shoot out of the shed like cats out of a cannon, guns drawn, hollering into their radios for backup. What followed brought nostalgic tears of joy to my eyes; I’m so glad I didn’t take those damned red pills. A helicopter dropped in a SWAT team. The neighbor got dragged away in handcuffs. The shed got wrapped in that yellow crime scene tape, and box after box of rifles and handguns and ammunition, some assembled, some in parts, were carted into an FBI weapons disposal truck that trundled down the driveway. Seen nothing like it, not since I retired, anyway. And had a front-row seat right here on my porch.

Yeah, my eyesight might be fading and my knees wobble more than I’d like, but I still got it. Spies like me, we never retire. But I’d better ask one of the boys in blue to fetch my trimmer. It’s still behind the fence and dang if I can reach it.

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‘Spies Like Me’ is my first round entry in the 2021 NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Challenge and placed 5th in my group.

Dark Drabbles July

I enjoy the challenge of writing drabbles (exactly 100 words) and last month I participated in another monthly drabble challenge by Black Hare Press. The July Dark Moments theme was ‘WAR’ with the following criteria: Can have medieval, modern day, science fiction, supernatural, gangs, speculative fiction vibes, armies of ants, Alice in Wonderland. Conflict between opposing factions. WAR.

With the usual roundabout of ideas to pick and choose from, I settled on conflict with an unseen enemy. Only 12 drabbles are selected for publication each month, and I’m happy to announce that my story “Dual” was accepted. You can read this story online by clicking on the hyperlink below:

DUAL

A Black Hare Press Dark Moment Publication

Dual adjective having to do with two or having two parts

As opposed to

Duel noun a fight or contest between two people, using swords or pistols

Easily confused.

Like my main character.

Though both are relevant.

DARK DRABBLES

I have a new writing addiction. Drabbles. EXACTLY 100 words to depict a complete story, a challenge I thoroughly enjoy. I love exploring the complexity of human nature through horror and speculative fiction, and writing drabbles is a quick way to keep my creativity fresh, and my word count tight.

To kick off my new addiction, I answered a submission call from Black Hare Press. They run a monthly drabble challenge DARK MOMENTS for online publication. The June submission theme was “PURGE” with the following criteria:  What happens when there are no consequences, no law enforcement, no judgments, with a particular call for stories about or including revenge, no consequences, blood, rage, no judgement, no laws. DARK.

Perfect.

As always, I like to look past the obvious and tackle the topic in a different way. The result was a story about a town that loved football. And about a character who doesn’t. Only twelve drabbles are accepted for each submission call and I’m pleased to say that my drabble, ‘CLEAN SHEET’ made the cut.

If you like short dark stories, you can read my drabble online by clicking the link below. I hope you enjoy.

CLEAN SHEET

Accrual

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I feign sleep when Mother raids my purse. I left my pay packet, but the clinking coins still make me cry. Dressed in excuses, she takes the car. I listen for its return, for the cap cracking, the yelling at Dad’s photo. His leaving keeps me awake till dawn.

Mother snores, another empty bottle full of blame she won’t drink. I bin it before heading to my first job. On the way out, I collect the other pay packet I hid at the front gate. I’ll bank it before my second secret job. Soon, I’ll have enough to leave, too.

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“Accrual” – NYCMidnight 100 word Microfiction Challenge Round 1 – Group 72 – Prompts: Drama/hiding money/gate – Placed 7th/63 (approx)

New Story/New Anthology

I have a new story coming out with the fabulous Redwood Press, a new publisher of all things fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Their first anthology, The Lost Librarian’s Grave, will be released October 1st, 2021. It promises a collection of “horror and weird fiction featuring tales of doom, magic, revenge, premature burial, madness, betrayal, ghosts, gargoyles and more, set in vistas ranging from today in the house next door to forgotten cities drowned in time past or burning in spaces between future ages.”

My story, The Jump, found its way into the pages. For a sneak preview of what to expect, follow this link:

https://redwood-press.com/2021/07/18/the-jump-by-pauline-yates-dives-into-the-pages-of-the-lost-librarians-grave-horror-and-weird-fiction-anthology/

Metaphorosis Magazine June 2021 Edition

All the stories from the month, plus author biographies, interviews, and story origins.

Table of Contents

  • The Secret Keeper — Pauline Yates
  • Satyajit Ray’s Beard or the Lack Thereof — Abhijato Sensarma
  • The Stranding — Maud Woolf
  • The Nocturnals II — Mariah Montoya

Cover art by Max Pitchkites.

Available as a pocket-sized (4″x6″) paperback and an e-book.

30 Stories in 30 Days

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During April, Writers Victoria ran a fun Flash Fiction competition. Each day, they released a new word prompt and participating writers had until midnight to submit a story up to 30 words.

I decided to use this contest to challenge myself to complete a story every day. I’m pleased to say that I succeeded, but it wasn’t an easy ride. I started with lofty optimism, but creating a new story every day was a strain on the creativity, and not all words were easy, like Day 13, as you’ll see. By Day 20, I’d had enough, and never wanted to write again. Luckily, that mood only lasted three seconds, and I bounced back with renewed enthusiasm and pushed through to the end.

Below are my thirty stories. They range from fun, to thought-provoking, to ridiculous, to possibly wasted ink, but I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. You’ll find more stories, plus the daily winners, on Twitter @Writers_Vic #WVFlashFic21.

Day 1 – Crease

He was a crease in her life she couldn’t iron out. She cried. She begged. She left. He stalked. When he threatened, she invited him to dinner. To discuss. To kill.

Day 2 – Develop

“It takes years to develop a memorable story. Characters have a whole life, too.” Holding my mentor’s words in my mind, I pick up my pen and continue to write.

Day 3 – Segmentation

Viscid temptation,

Sharpened knife, Segmentation,

Tangy, citrus bliss.

#Haiku

Day 4 – Blossom

Strange how slime grows on the moon rock when I touch it. For life to blossom, it must draw sustenance from somewhere. Too late, I realize it’s feeding on me.

Day 5 – Hands

His hands snake around my throat, leaving me numb, breathless. But I’ve never felt more alive. Free to haunt, I’ll stroke his neck, take his life. Like he took mine.

Day 6 – Illuminate

I’m unsure about my new boyfriend. Cold hands. Pale skin. But I love how the candlelight illuminates his eyes. Mesmerizing. It makes me wish he’d nuzzle my neck.

Day 7 – Crumple

I smile for my children’s sake, but forced by illness to leave my home of fifty years makes me crumple like the newspaper they wrap around my memories.

Day 8 – Renew

I study the painting Leonardo left for restoration. I can’t see any damage to the portrait. But the woman’s mouth is too straight. Grabbing a paintbrush, I renew her smile.

Day 9 – Open

Years of marriage open our eyes to irritations that threaten our commitment to each other. But true love is magical how it soothes the rough, making us blind. 

Day 10 – Pop

“At 6000 feet, pull the …”

Pop. The pressure in my ears explodes, drowning out my last instruction. Then I’m freefalling, screaming, was it the red cord, or the blue?

Day 11 – Elaborate

Furious at the obscene payment, he holds up the incriminating bank statement. “Care to elaborate?”

“I’d love to.” Meeting his glare, I slip on my new red lace lingerie.

Day 12 – Unravel

An involuntary crunch threatens to unravel my string of lies, but he doesn’t hear and keeps searching. I offer to take out the rubbish; before he finds the candy wrappers.

Day 13 – Manifest

No amount of imagination will make a story using the word ‘manifest’ appear in my mind. Sighing, I turn off the computer and go outside to weed the garden.

Day 14 – Scrunch

Lured by the promise of eternal youth, I creep into the witch’s lair. I stop, hearing brittle bones scrunch beneath my feet. And run, when a baby wails.

Day 15 – Consciousness

I glare at my reflection. “You’ll never be me. You lack my consciousness.”

My doppelganger smirks. “You’re right.” Reaching through the mirror, it stabs its finger into my temple.

Day 16 – Burst

Curious, I poke the cotton ball, wondering how it got stuck to the wall. My finger sticks. Then thousands of baby spiders burst from within and run up my arm.

Day 17 – Learn

“You will learn a new skill, but it will end in tears.” Wishing I’d read my horoscope before my ice skating lesson, I shove another pillow beneath my broken ankle.

Day 18 – Explore

Like a vulture drawn to rotting flesh, the predator circles its prey. Detecting sustenance, it lands on light feet, creeps forward, eager to explore for oozing eruptions—

Swat.

“Damn fly.”

Day 19 – Reveal

You sort my belongings into keepsakes and trash, but hesitate on finding a diary. I should have destroyed that. It reveals your real mother’s identity, and the secret we kept.

Day 20 – Origami

“Yes, Mum,” I say into the telephone as another paper plane sails across the living room. “He loves it. Origami is the perfect birthday present for a five year old.”

Day 21 – Expand

Breathe in. Breath out. Expand. Contract. Pull in. Push out. Through time. Through space. Sun warm. Moon cold. Dieback. Renew. Unfurl and change. Forever rearrange. Rejoice. This thing. Called Earth.

#EarthDay

Day 22 – Emerge

At the first hint of teenage rebellion, I send my wayward daughter to a dystopian world. She emerges, a changeling, eyes shining with hero’s triumph, and helps attack the dishes.

Day 23 – Unfurl

Mid-winter, ferns unfurl, confused by warmth from a creature’s false sun. At dawn, the creature smothers the flames and moves on, ignorant of its evolutionary disruption; the ferns’ icy demise.

Day 24 – Letter

Dear Writer,

We regret to inform your submission, “Let’s eat Grandma”, has been rejected. We strongly suggest you learn about comma placement before submitting elsewhere.”

Kind regards,

Editor, Cookbook Creations

Day 25 – Unwrap

Dad hovers with garbage bags and Mum pretends to smile while we unwrap all the Christmas presents, bar one. That gift is for Tommy, another train set—ageless, like him.

Day 26 – Display

In a spectacular cosmic display, all the planets aligned, causing a kaleidoscope sky and a red ring around the Sun. It was precision timing. While cameras clicked, they arrived, unnoticed.

Day 27 – Betray

Betrayed by the promise of a ‘forever home’, Mishka dug a bed in a pile of newspaper next to a dumpster. A warm hand reached out and patted her nose.

Day 28 – Become

“That colour becomes you,” said the shop assistant when I tried on the hat.

She was right. Caught in the rain, the colour leeched and turned my whole face blue.

Day 29 – Discover

Determined to discover the identity of the midnight cookie thief, I hid a motion-sensor camera in the kitchen. The photos revealed another shocking discovery. Apparently, I sleepwalk.

Day 30 – Unfold

… it can be a painful process, this dredging up subconscious notes about life, but only by exposing raw emotions can the notes unfold and release the hero that someone needs …

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