One of the writers I follow on Twitter and whose books I’ve enjoyed, the always lucid and loquacious Chuck Wendig, is having a flash fiction challenge on his Terribleminds blog. Write a 1500 word story that is a mashup from two randomly generated genres, which include such gems as “Erotic” and “Medical Thriller”, which I am thankful to say I did NOT get, because… oh my fucking god, that would have been… well, interesting comes to mind. “Suction, nurse, we’re losing the patient!” Nurse Willow applied more lipstick and lowered herself again…
So I went hunting for our D&D dice which, as it turned out, were in the living room on the bookcase in prominent view, because that’s just how we roll (yeah, yeah, I see what I did there, so sue me for bad dad puns). After picking out my favorite D20 – because who the FUCK only has ONE D20, you slacker game-nerd wannabe – I made the following rolls:
#3 – Fairytale/Fable/Folklore
#15 – Heist/Caper
Well, right then, fair enough. It’s not the most original combination of choices, but it’s doable, and so 1490 some words later, here you go. Read it. Read it now! NOW!!!! And don’t forget to check out Chuck’s post (linked above) for more entries and give other writers your eyeballs, because that’s why we do these things we do.
The Sneak Thief
Inspector Willoughby pulled a tattered notepad from his coat and patted his pockets absently for a few moments until Mrs. Castingale handed him a pen from the ceramic goose jar on her writing desk where she kept them. He nodded his grateful thanks to her and smiled.
“Now then,” he began. “Could you tell me what happened?”
Mr. Castingale paced back and forth across the kitchen, stroking his thick beard. Willoughby noted his agitation, bordering on anger, but waited for the large man to speak. His wife said nothing, but watched with concern on her face.
“He’s a thief. A sneak. A no good, lowlife, dirty, rotten-”
“-Yes, yes, I understand all that, Mr. Castingale,” Willoughby interrupted. Not without a soothing tone of course. He knew how to handle big men with violent tempers. “I’m certain I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes.” Willoughby did not add that he would never be in the Castingale’s shoes for he took precautions to lock his doors and kept his valuables where they would be safe and untroubled by vagrants. “But if we’re going to be of any help I’ll need the full story, from ‘Once upon a time’ to ‘the end’.”
Castingale stared at the inspector, blinking rapidly, the second hand on the grandfather clock in the hallways outside the kitchen door ticking loudly in the silence. His hands were balled up into fists at his side and Willoughby thought with certainty that this man as much as any he had met in his years as a policeman was capable of brutish acts of violence that would end in death. But Castingale took a deep breath and released it slowly, and his fingers unwound as his shoulders slumped. Acceptance of the situation, Willoughby thought to himself. Has learned to control his moods. He jotted this thought in his notebook but never took his eyes off the man.
Mr. Castingale eased himself into a chair and his wife placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll fix you some tea, Aloysius,” she said, and gave him a gentle smile as he nodded.
“So?” asked Willoughby, the pen still hovering over the page.
“This is the second time you know,” he began, his eyes fixed on a spot in the table halfway between them. “The second time he’s crept into my home and done his filthy work.”
“From the beginning, Mr. Castingale.”
The defeated man shrugged. “I was asleep both times, and my wife out to the market to shop. He came in through the back door and I didn’t hear him sneaking in.”
“Nor could you with all that snoring you do,” said his wife, flashing the inspector a grin behind her husband’s back.
“Aye, I snore. Good of you to bring that up, as always,” Mr. Castingale growled, one fist thumping the table. “I’ve heard the devil about my snoring since we were married!”
“Well if you would see the doctor. . .” she began, but Willoughby shook his head and her voice subsided. They were getting off track, which the inspector wished to avoid.
“Please, go on Mr. Castingale,” he said.
Castingale waved his hand through the air, a gesture that seemed to indicate futility. “The first time he took a small bag of coins. Not a lot, a little loose change I keep for a rainy day. I wouldn’t have even noticed had he not come back again today.”
“How much would you say he took?”
“Oh, probably nine or ten gold pieces, plus a couple of silvers. Not much, but it’s the matter of the thing, you know? It’s about respect. A man’s home is his castle, and no man should have some little snot sneaking in it and taking his things.”
Willoughby wrote quickly. “And where was the purse located?”
“On the side board in the dining room.”
“Do you routinely keep your money pouches out in the open in this way?”
Castingale raised his eyes to meet the inspectors and his brow furrowed. “Now wait just a minute. If you’re suggesting that I’m to blame-”
“-No, no, of course not, Mr. Castingale,” Willoughby replied, raising his hand and patting the air with it to suggest he should calm down. “I am simply trying to ascertain all the facts so we can build a profile of the thief. Then we can act.”
“His profile is sneaky little bastard, that’s what it is.”
“Of course. So you’re sure he came in through the back door?”
“Aye, that I know for certain, he left it open when he ran out it the second time. I followed his trail through the garden. Cora’s got a fine victory garden out there now, don’t you love? He left the door open and his footprints were easy to see.”
“Did he circle back around to the road then? I noticed when I arrived that your home backs up to the edge of the cliffs.”
Castingale grunted. “As well it should. Best for home security I thought when I bought the place. Won’t no one come up on us from behind, I said to Cora, didn’t I dear. We’re on a cliff on a cloud, should be right as rain.” His wife nodded. “But no, that wormy little bastard had a ladder. A ladder!”
Willoughby looked at him over spectacles, doubting what he had said. “A ladder, Mr. Castingale? Up to a house on a cliff on a cloud two miles high?”
The man shrugged big shoulders. “Well, I don’t think he built it, per say. More like he growed it, if’n you catch my meaning.”
Willoughby shook his head, his pen scratching notes on the paper. “No, I’m afraid I don’t catch your meaning at all, Mr. Castingale.”
“It’s a vine. He grew a vine up from the lands below and he climbed it.”
“Quite the green thumb,” Mrs. Castingale chimed in. “I’d like to have that sort of skill, I would. My petunias look positively droopy.”
“He climbed a vine two miles tall?” Willoughby began to wonder if this was another insurance scam. A rich man hides his treasures and claims robbery to collect the funds. Very typical these days in tough economic times. He clucked his tongue at the thought.
“You can go out back and see it for yourself. There’s a big old. . . what is that thing Cora?”
“Right, beanstalk. There’s a big beanstalk that grows up from below, and I can tell you I never put it there. Plus I seen him scampering down it.”
“You saw the thief?”
“Aye, I saw that little shit, Jack.”
“And how do you know his name is Jack?”
“Oh come on now, they’re all named Jack. Jack Nimblepants, and Jack Nory, and Jack Jillson. They haven’t got a brain between them, no imagination, always using the same name. He’s probably Jack Nickelson or some such like that.”
Willoughby felt they were getting nowhere with this line of thought, and switched tacks. “So what else was taken, Mr. Castingale? You did say he came twice.”
“Aye, he come a second time, and that’s when I seen him. He took Cora’s prize goose, Mr. Cuddles.”
Cora gave a sniffle. “I raised him from a little egg, and he means the world to me. Beautiful snow white feathers and such a lovely honk when he’s happy.”
“He squawked when the boy done picked him up, that’s what woke me, see,” said Mr. Castingale, gesturing with his hands towards a box lined with straw that lay near the fireplace. “I followed his prints out to the vine in the back and saw him climbing down it, goose tucked up under his arm. That’s when I called you blokes.”
Willoughby wrote quickly, filling a page of the notebook. Something in the back of his mind kept whispering to him, a pleasant little tickle of sound that reminded him of an old melody he knew long ago. He cocked his head. “Do either of you hear that wonderful music?”
“Oh, that’s my singing harp, Myrtle,” said Cora, beaming. “She won first prize three years running at the Saint Genesius Church fair. She went second last year, but that’s because Doreen McCaffrey brought in her pet fairy, which I thought skirted the magical creature bylaw, but my protest was denied.”
“So why it is singing now?”
There was a thump from the back hall and the three of them turned to catch a glimpse of a tiny figure of a man hefting the huge harp and running for the back door.
“That’s’ him, that’s the little prick!” yelled Mr. Castingale, knocking his chair over as he leapt up and bolted after the thief. “Come back here you little shit stain, Jack!”
“Oh dear, I hope he watches his footing on that vine,” Cora said as she poured the tea. “He’s not the best of climbers, what with his arthritis and lumbago. Cream or sugar, Inspector Willoughby?”