If our brains are hardwired for stories, then mysteries must be the ones that gives us the biggest charge. Writers often delve into mysteries, or simply make them up. We seem to get a charge out of leading our readers down winding paths and leaving off at points that are unresolved.
Old mysteries range from crimes to puzzling precepts. Mysteries cling like fog to people and places. Writers can either fill in the gaps or further titillate the imagination. Old mysteries can become myth or hints of truths we never suspected.
The following stories are based on the May 20, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an old mystery in the current time.
Foxy Lady by Sherri Matthews
Rumours of a naked, red-headed woman living in the woods were rife amongst the locals at The Wooden Dog.
“I’ve seen her,” said Jim, gulping his ale. “Twice.”
“Probably George’s missus,” mumbled Burt.
“No -I heard she ran off with that toy-boy of hers to Spain.”
George spent his nights stumbling through the woods, half-crazed with desire for his long-absent wife.
And then, at last, bathed in moonlight, she came to him.
“Hello George,” she smiled, as she plunged a knife deep into his heart.
A vixen’s screams filled the air, awakening every villager. George’s body was never found.
Old Mystery by Rebecca Patajac
The door creaked open. Cool air drifted out from darkness beyond.
She took a step, and another, hand guiding along soft, dusty walls. Her other hand searched above.
A dim globe created great shadows behind piles of books, old chests and dusty boxes. She knelt beside a lone one, a lump forming in her throat, hand hovering over her stomach.
She lifted the lid and a tear fell, disappearing into a baby blue
Beneath, she saw a brass key and froze, remembering countless, frantic searches as she smiled, picturing the car in the room beyond.
Unravelling the Knots in Life’s Knitting by Geoff Le Pard
Rupert looked smug, Mary thought but bit her tongue for Paul’s sake.
Rupert took his time. ‘We know you were one of twins. I have found the birth certificate.’
Mary looked up. ‘Sharon?’
Rupert shook his head. ‘Katherine.’
Mary felt a huge sense of loss; she was so sure. Aunt Gloria said it was just Mary’s childhood imaginary friend.
‘Is she’s dead?’
‘It’s not that easy – it’s not an uncommon name – Katherine Johns.’ But he was smiling
‘What about adoption?’
Rupert pushed an official looking slip towards Mary. Paul nudged her, ‘Good grief, go on before we all self-asphyxiate.’
An Over-Spilled Pot by Ruchira Khanna
“Sheesh!” Tara shrieked as she ran to pick up the boiling pot from the burner.
“Now I not only have to clean this stove top, but also go clean up the house.” She agonized as she bit her lips and cursed herself for not being prompt.
While scrubbing those stains off the gas burner, she remembered her grandma’s words, “Make sure you never allow the contents of a pot spill over, cause that is an invitation to surprise guests.”
“Darn it!” she mumbled softly.
Tara was tormented by the above, “I hope her words don’t come right.”
St Gall: Monastery or Myth? by Tally Pendragon
“How it came to be here, in this 6th century context, is a mystery. That it was built at all, and to the perfect specifications of Charlemagne’s 9th century plan, is miraculous. That it overturns archaeological theories of technological capabilities during these centuries, we do know.”
Vanda turned from the image on screen, pressed a button on the lectern, and prayed.
“This artist’s impression shows how we think the buildings of the monastery looked … And this,” another image blinked into place, “is how it will look once it’s rebuilt. But for that I need money, and lots of it!”
He’s Gone by Sarah Brentyn
“That’s mind your own business is what it is,” my grandfather snatched the papers from my hand. “Hazel!”
“Yes, dear, what is…” her eyes widened. “Okay,” she inched toward me like she was approaching a wounded dog. “Okay.”
I didn’t want to but I did—I cried. “Poppy?”
He held me, told me he loved me more than the earth beneath his feet. “Those papers don’t change anything.”
“Gran?” I pleaded. “Daddy didn’t leave me?”
She hugged us both. “He’s gone.”
“The letter,” I squeaked.
“You were too young to understand. We killed him for you, baby.”
Exercise in Vanity by A. R. Amore
The historical society allowed a film crew access to the stone tower in Touro Park. Their purpose — shed light on “the mystery of its ancient origin”. Mel and Tom watched bemused from an adjacent bench.
“No mystery here at all,” remarked Mel.
“Sign says it all,” Mel gestured at the carved marble post. “Old Stone Mill.”
“Don’t you wonder, though?”
Mel pondered, “Not particularly.”
“How does it matter? It exists, right.”
Tom crumbled some bread.
“Mystery solved,” Mel added, pointing. “Besides that there is vanity; plain and simple.”
At their feet, birds fluttered eating scattered stale crumbs.
Climbing by Sarah Unsicker
Mountain climbing was more than a hobby for Jack. He designed mountain-climbing equipment. He taught rock-climbing classes in his free time. Marie had had no more concern about the Alps than she did about his favorite rock two miles away.
His partner, Sam, said Jack had a pained look for a second, and then let go. If he had a seizure, like the autopsy said, why was this the first time? Jack had never had his brother’s difficulties with seizures.
As Marie stared up the cliff wall, she squeezed their newborn son, fearing what was in store for him.
Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin
“That’s adolescence!” said my sister. “It’s their job to rebel.”
“It’s beyond grunts replacing manners and nicking lipstick from Boots.” Drugs, school exclusion, collecting her from police cells or A&E in the dead of night. The gun secreted under her bed.
“Faulty genes,” said my mother. “I said you were crazy to adopt.”
Bollocks, I thought, yet our girl seemed enraged. Were we naive to think a decade of love would cancel out four years of neglect?
“I did wonder,” said the social worker, when we finally tracked him down. “I’ll get the file. Sure you’re ready for this?”
Father’s Poppy Painting by Ula Humienik
A painting hanging in my father’s study figured large in my childhood. I remember its exotic golden yellow and crimson poppies on a background of burnt sienna and ochre. I remember days spent studying and copying it. I remember my mother constantly practicing Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in D minor. I remember father always gone on business. I remember the scent of Arfaj flowers wafting through the windows. Father’s poppy painting was the reason I decided to study art history at university.
One day when taking a class on famous stolen paintings, I discovered father’s poppy painting in my book.
Found by Norah Colvin
The officers looked friendly enough but still she tried to hide the tremble in her soul and tremor in her voice behind the blankness of her stare.
She’d opened the door just a crack, as far as the chain would allow.
“Marnie Dobson?” they asked. She shook her head. She’d not . . . ; not since . . . ; no longer. She shook again.
They asked her to step outside. With no other option she reluctantly unlocked and emerged into the glare of daylight.
“Marnie Dobson,” one said, “We are here to inform you . . .”
The Gift by Ruth Irwin
Sitting in her clear plastic box hanging by ribbon on the Christmas tree. Short brown curly hair, blue dress and smiling face. She was the most beautiful doll the two young sisters had ever seen. A gift to the youngest from their parents. It was very unusual for the parents to display gifts prior to Christmas Eve. The little girls spent long hours sitting looking at her longingly. Finally she was allowed out of her package and what fun the three had together. Sadly she disappeared without a trace. Where did she go? They searched for her into adulthood.
Evil Pajamas by Paula Moyer
Nine years old, Jean loved exploring her grandparents’ attic. The puzzles were fine; old photo albums, also fine. The good stuff, though, lay behind closed doors.
One afternoon, she discovered the storage shed. Dark and hot. What was this thing on a hanger? Then she saw. A white robe and pointed hood. A mask. “KKK” on the hood’s brow.
On the way home, she announced, “I found Grandpa’s white pajamas in the shed. But why did he need that funny hat?”
Now Jean knew. When she saw “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations, she felt called to make it right.
My Only Begotten by Roger Shipp
That worn leather book had set on the top shelf of the glass-enclosed mahogany bookcase for as long as I remember. The night before Grandmother passed away Dad had gotten it off the shelf, taken it into her bedroom, and closed the door. I had completely forgotten about it until now.
Organizing all the accumulations of one’s life for the final sale jars many memories. This book hasn’t likely been moved since Grandmother’s passing.
A silent reverence fills the room as I gently remove the book. A yellowed paper it sticking from its upper corner. Adoption papers…. But whose?
Aunt Mollie by Phil Guida
Mollie didn’t discover her real identity until 52 years after her birth. She was told she lost her parents a to fireworks explosion.
She was raised by her aunts & uncles all the while playing among her brothers and sisters knowing them as cousins.
Her Mother was proclaimed her sister and the secret was kept for 50 years, until the old man died and Aunt Tina spilled out the horrible truth of Rape and ignorance that bore Mollie.
Some 60 plus years have passed since that time. Mollie is also gone, yet her story still resonates within the family.
Charlie Chaplin by Irene Waters
“I’ve found a secret drawer in Dad’s bureau” Charlie’s daughter told her sister. They looked out at the mountains ringing Lake Geneva contemplating breaking in. Their excitement rose as they saw an envelope hidden in the back.
“This confirms Great-Grandma was a gypsy. Dad was born in a caravan. No wonder MI5 couldn’t find records of his birth.”
“But why didn’t he tell. He could’ve re-entered the USA but he let them believe he was a bolshevik.”
“Yes and he could’ve got that knighthood 20 years earlier.”
“Charlie Chaplin was not only silent in movies but also in life.”
Stories Left Untold by Charli Mills
“He was accidentally shot.”
“Strange,” I say, thumbing through my cousin’s album. Our great-grandmothers were sisters.
“Story goes that two cowboys got in a brawl, drew pistols and shot the saloon-keeper — my great-granddad.”
There’s a photo of my great-grandmother and her only sister, both smiling, holding hands. All five brothers stand behind them like an honor guard.
I hand him a newspaper clipping. It outlines his great-grandmother’s horrific demise…hair clawed out…fingers gnarled…face agonized… She died at 23, six months before her husband’s accident.
“Was she poisoned?”
We look again at the brothers and wonder at stories left untold.
The Penny by Larry LaForge
“Uh oh.” Ed’s heart sank as he felt the depths of the bottom drawer of his dresser—a place he hadn’t explored in decades. He knew immediately as his fingers touched the small, square cardboard and cellophane cover.
The 1909 S VDB wheat penny was the crown jewel of his coin collection—until Edna accidentally threw it out. At least that’s what Ed has claimed for the past forty years. And he’s never, ever let her forget it.
“Whatcha doing?” Edna asked unsuspectingly.
“Oh. Uh. Just straightening up these old drawers.”
“Find anything . . .”
“Nope,” Ed interrupted, perhaps too quickly.
Doppelgänger by Mercy.James.
“Dwayne, we’ve got a problem,” the deputy sheriff said. “While you was away fishing, Edna Bottle was picked up blathering, and is now being held over at LongState.”
Dwayne looked at his younger cousin, yawned, putting his feet up on the desk. “What’s it this time? UFOs in the corn fields? Devils over at the abandoned dam?”
“Nope. She claims she saw Mary Settler’s long-thought-dead daughter at the old cemetary, alive and reading her own tombstone.”
Dwayne’s booted feet hit the floor hard – he had buried that 8 year-old girl – she-bitch – 20 odd years ago – had no choice in the matter –
Set Free by Ann Edall-Robson
Papa had said, “He’s the man for you.”
At 17, she had wed the cruel eyed monster. He was 15 years her senior.
She had born thirteen children; and, still grieved for those that had not lived.
His callous words haunted her. “Another dead? Can’t you get anything right?”
She hated him. She would have done anything to get away. She plotted in her mind for things to happen to him.
At 82, she could still hear the shotgun’s thunderous boom. It was the day she had been set free.
If only she could find out who to thank.
The Fort by Kalpana Solsi
The courtesan swirled to the strains of the 16th century Indian music. Her beauty unmatched, she was the cynosure of the King’s lust while her heart strings were tied elsewhere.
The moon in its full glory witnessed to the fall of the helpless
courtesan from the fort ramparts into the deep moat by six pair
of evil hands.
I clicked the fullness of the moon with my cell-phone and looked
in the direction of the footfalls. There was no soul in sight.
Fear froze me. The folk-lore claims were true.
A loud thud was heard and the moat-water rippled.
Papa’s Hand by Pete Fanning
Papa grunted as Travis hopped up into his lap. The television was green with golf and a bowl of pretzels sat on the side table. Travis turned to Papa’s hand, examining.
“Tell me again what happened.”
“Well, we were out at sea,” Papa started. The boy’s wide eyes fastened on the nubs. He’d even touched them once. “The wind picked up and the clouds rumbled…”
Another head peeked over the armchair. “I thought it was on a safari, Papa?”
“Oh, that was this one.”
Papa wiggled the thumb stump. Grandma smiled. Safari sure beat “happened at the packaging plant.”
Between the Studs by Pat Cummings
We drove up to the old Koober place; its weathered siding and shingles were the reason we bought the ramshackle house. We set to work right away, ripping out planks, saving hand-made 19th-century nails for other projects.
I was taking down the wall of the only bedroom when I found it: an infant’s skeleton wearing a tiny bracelet. I shouted to my partner, “What did you learn about the Koobers?”
“Nobody’s lived in this place for ninety years,” he replied. “And it was just old man Koober and his dog for decades before that.”
Then who was this infant?
Hook’s Treasure by Sacha Black
Not quite daring to touch it, I sank to the ground, exhausted. I was inches from fame and fortune; Hook’s lost treasure chest. Its delicately carved exterior was blander than I expected, with just a single gold band edging round the chest.
“How did I ever find you?” I said slowly reaching for the lock.
I’d endured a decade of taunts while I searched for this box. “Pirate treasure?” they’d laugh, “you’re a fool. Curses and empty boxes, that’s all you’ll get.”
But I knew better. I lifted the lid. On a trove of gold lay a single hook.