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The Devil's in the Details · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Ripping Up the Pieces
Jade Stein slid the stacks underneath the counter, her hands expertly navigating their way to the leathered hands in front of her. The pair sat in a quiet diner. It was three o’clock and the only sounds were over the obnoxiously loud speakers blaring out song after song, and an annoying host to pair it all together in the eerily empty floor. A waitress came over to ask for refills. They politely declined. She leaves.

The man in front of Jade is not important. He is dressed with a typical face and typical body and typical clothing, and, most of all, an unimposing face which could betray nothing, even if his body was burning to ashes as his flesh was sliced to pieces.

Sliding the two stacks of ten grand into his leather jacket, the man puts his hand in his other pocket, grinning, and sets down thirty dollars. “Lunch is on me.”

Jade is antsy now, about to scuttle out, when the man attempts to calm her with a downward motion of wise hands.

She hisses. “What do you mean ‘stay here’. We’re going to get caught, Hayden.”

Jade tries to leave again. Grabbing her purse, she scooches out of the booth, awkwardly. Hayden grabs her wrist, and with a voice that could kill, he deadpans, “you ain’t goin anywhere, missy. If you leave now, the deal’s off. Now, since you’re already standing, go to the ladies room for a couple of minutes, pull youself to-fucking-gether, and get your ass out here.” He smiles the whole time, letting her wrist go calmly.

She recoils in surprise, but only a little. Her legs threaten to give out.

A few minutes later she returns, calmly, and eats whatever he ordered. It’s hot odors fill her nostril with putrid ingredients mashed together. It was like she was at boot camp again. He leans back and speaks.

“Do you know why I chose here?”

She shakes her head, messing with the food; it was the least she could do without tasting the repugnant thing. “No, and I don’t like it. It’s… disgusting.”

He smiles, yellowed teeth and all. “Perfect for whatever kind of devil’s deal we got going on... here.” He motioned in her general direction, showing off a myriad of rings on all of his fingers like some sort of gold-plated abacus. Jade wondered if he could actually calculate with those things.

“A disgusting place for a disgusting deal.”

“Look, Hayden, what’s your goddamn problem?” She raised her voice.

“I just like seeing you squirm for a good-“ he looks at his watch, “-fifteen minutes.”

She squirmed.

No further reaction. “Tough crowd,” he mumbles.

Tick tick tick.

He sips his coffee. “What’re you gonna do?”

She raises her head and brushes her long, black hair out of her eyes. “What do you mean?”

“When you get the money, dumbass. After I fucking-“ he made a slashing motion with his thumb over his exposed, fragile neck. “Yknow?”

She made a face. “You don’t have to put it that way.”

“Listen lady, that’s the best way I could put it. You want harsher? Stab her twenty times, force pills down her throat, smother her face in a pillow, kill her. You want more?”

“I didn’t pay you to be an asshole.”

“And I didn’t get paid to have to deal with a dimwit like you. Look, if I ever get caught doing this shit, I bet my life it’ll be with this case. God, I can read the headlines now: ‘Hitman Found After Rat Arrested for Murder of Sister.’ Isn’t that sweet?”

They quieted down as the waitress snatched the thirty dollars up. She came back after a couple minutes of silence and slammed the receipt down, smacking on her gum as she talked, one hand barely hanging onto a pot of coffee and the other planted firmly on her waist. “Have a nice day, folks. Come back Friday for our life saving deals.”

Hayden hummed. “Thanks darlin. Have a wonderful day.” He growled at her as she went. She flipped a bird his way. “God, I love this place.”

When he turned back, Jade was no longer in her seat, but standing, almost clamoring to get out, smoothing out her slim, black dress, running a hand through her hair.

“When do you think I’ll get the reward on the investment I just put in?”

“Soon. Very soon.”




Jade wasn’t very happy.

It had been two months now, and the bank had been on her ass about payments since day one. Grabbing her old, old TV remote, she threw it across the damp, messy room littered with pill bottles, letting it clatter to the ground unceremoniously.

Thousands of fans whirred around her, becoming the only thing she could hear, more black noise than white. She had had to give up AC for now, and water was next on the list. Picking up her home phone, she punched in the number again, stuck it on speakerphone, and waited. She wasn’t even sure that if he had picked up she would hear him over the chaos.

Full voicemail. Please call back later.

She was so angry she could kill.

After a few minutes of screeching and ripping at her hair, she heard a ring at her phone. She rushed to pick it up, slapping it away in the ruckus, hitting it to the floor, putting it on speakerphone and getting on her hands and knees to hear.

“It’s done.”

A wave of relief like she had never felt before washed over her. It was like a vice releasing its hold on her neck which made her world spin silly, and now she could breathe. She could see.

Jade slumped down on the side of her greasy couch, taking a deep breath. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.”

“Don’t get so excited, Jade. You’re the first suspect on the police’s list. You remember your alibi?”

She looked towards her front door where transparent glass shone bright against a black security camera. “Yeah.”

“And make sure you don’t look too surprised when they come knockin’, doll. I want you alive.”

She stood on shaky legs, giving one last goodbye before deleting her history on her phone, resetting it, and then attempting to delete everything again. A few hours later, as she was making dinner, the police showed up on her front door.

Her smiling face at the door was soon replaced by weeping eyes. Ones which were inconsolable by the police as she cried without restraint and without veneer.




Jade sat at the edge of the cage, peering into the beast within. It cawed.

Hopping around, it sang an ugly song, mimicking the broad, expansive house. Jade felt naked in here.

The ceiling was too high, and the walls too smooth. Anything could be hiding behind the drywall, anything could be lurking behind those grand stairs.

The movers were moving Harper’s, her sister, stuff out in mass boxes brimming with computers and wires and and entire box full of chips- any and all. Jade moved her hair into her face as they passed, her attention suddenly grabbed by the crow facing away from the haul of her dead sister’s (previous) belongings.

Cocking its head at the intruder, the crow pecked forward at Jade with a soft croak. She swatted at him, cursing.

“Fuck off, Alan.”

“Caw.”

She gathered herself up, smoothing out her outfit, and turned around to stand face to face with a shockingly tall man dressed from head to toe in detective garb that looked like he crawled straight out of a noir film, and decided he would get lost in the middle of Phoenix. He was young and sparky by the looks of him. Good for her kind of investigation. Too eager.

He adjusted his hat and trenchcoat.

Yes, trenchcoat.

Smiling, he stuck out his left hand. “Hello Ms. Stein, I am detective Ian Heath.”

She went to grab with her right hand, gave a laugh, and then shook with her left. What did that mean, oh god, what if Hayden is right handed too? What if he thinks I murdered her?

“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

Her puffy eyes brightened. “Oh, sure.”

He motioned for her to sit on one of the only couches not covered by tarp or being hauled out of the humongous building. The living room was much smaller. Things were able to be reached. She liked that.

“I wanted to ask you a few things about her, as you two lived together your whole lives.”

She gave a little nod of approval.

Glancing at his notes, he wet his lips and began at the very beginning. “What was it like, growing up with her?” His pen clicked.

“Well, she was the best. Everything the oldest child is: headstrong, a leader, caring. Full ride to any private school of her choosing. The life of the party, too. You should’ve seen her at any and all weddings. Man, that girl could dance.” Jade involuntarily let a tear slip, catching herself by surprise. “You know that bird there?” She pointed and he squawked.

“Yeah?”

“She always had a blast telling people that he wasn’t named after the poet, but Turing: Alan Turing. Then, once they didn’t understand, she’d go into this twenty minute spiel about him.”

“She sounds like a wonderful person.”

“Yeah, she decided to adopt him on a whim after she heard the shelter was looking for someone to take him in. Something a bit different than a dog, don’t you think?”

He politely laughed. “Yeah.” He let a small pause tick by. “What about you?”

She snapped to, trying to keep her breath steady. “I have a little world of my own. I guess now since this has happe-“ Jade curled away from the open room. “-happened I have a bit more to add to my own little world. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

He scribbled something onto his paper. Anything. Everything. “What do you do, Ms. Stein?”

“Odd jobs, but right now I have a steady one at a construction site on the interstate which lets me live just a couple of blocks from her house.”

He scribbled more, this time longer than usual. She leaned over. He leaned back.

“Do you have any relatives?”

“No.” Furniture snagged across the hardwood floor, screeching to not be dragged away.

“Who gets the house?”

“I do, but I’m going to sell it after this whole fiasco.”

He furrowed an eyebrow. “Would you care to answer why?”

“Too much for me, personally. I like my four hundred square apartment. Bottom floor. Close to work- just perfect.” Her voice steadied out, and she gave a little shake. “I should go now. I don’t like being here.”

“I understand, ma’am.”

No, you really don’t.

He put a soft hand out. “Just one more question before you leave, Ms. Stein.”

“Yes, sure.”

“What were you like growing up?”

A pause. “What?”

He talked a bit louder over the sounds of moving furniture. “When you were growing up with Harper, what were you like?”

“I was the rowdy younger sister and I fit perfectly into the role. We were close knit at firs-“ she tried to pretend it was a slip up and cough. He didn’t buy it.

“At first?”

“Yeah, at first. As we grew older, I didn’t like being around the family and they didn’t like being around me, so I lashed out.” She spewed hot air. “Fights, illicit things, yknow, the rebel teenager. D student.” Jade waved it off and combed her hair back from her face. “I’m better now: group therapy, a steady job, some friends, a diploma.”

“Congrats.” No hint of sarcasm tinted his lips.

“Thanks. It means a lot.” Nor hers.

The detective stood up after a moment, possibly regretting his next question. “I’m sorry, but I just remembered I’m supposed to ask: would you be willing to take care of the bird from now on? In her will it says Harper wanted you to take over everything, including… Alan here.”

She thought about it.

Hard.

On one hand she wouldn’t have to take care of that infuriating thing, but on the other, the police’s noses would be out of her hair and back into their pile of bullshit.

“I’ll make sure he gets to a good home, Ian.”

He smiled.

She smiled back and took hold of the cage. “We’re going to have fun, Alan.”

She could have sworn he laughed.




Alan did not know the definition of fun.

Jade’s definition was staying completely and utterly out of the limelight, even in its dark, obscuring shadow if she could. No technology. Nobody looking at her through little holes like Alan’s bloodthirsty gaze.

“Why won’t you stop?” She had screamed.

Alan, being a bird, did not respond.

It figures that her sister became somewhat famous in her short but rather effective life because now at least a small posse of news reporters followed her everywhere she went. Every walk, every movement, every piss documented on their fuzzy, knowing machines.

It was her third day stuck in her apartment, all the drapes shut and windows locked, and it was beginning to smell like bird shit. Alan, at some point or another had decided he had had enough in his cage and began shoveling heaps of bedding out from the cage. And at some point or another, she let him out of his cage because- what else are you going to do?

She swore her hair turned gray overnight.

Attempting to pet him was futile. Attempting to spray him with water was also futile, so she instead let the chaos wash over her in heaving monsoon waves.

Right now he sat quietly like a bomb unknown on the other side of the room. She stared the bastard down, thinking.

Suddenly, she was aware of her front door again as the news rapped once more on it. She cringed wholly, only her eyes flicking over to Alan who just cocked his head and went back to preening as if he hadn’t been screaming for the past twenty four fucking hours.

Her head wound itself into a knot again. What if the news came in and they knew already. What if it’s the police and they’re coming to arrest me. I can’t be arrested. That can’t happen. That interview I must have been too telling I must have been too eager. What was he writing? Hayden said I would be fine. That we would get out of this together.

The person on the other side of the door knocked again, this time much harder and Alan flew, cawing over head, causing her to duck for cover under her kitchen table.

It’s them. It’s the police. They’re out to get me. They know. They know. They know.

With silent, bated breaths, Jade crawled over to the front door and peered in on the offender. It was a fedex man here for her to sign a package.

The package.

She breathed a sigh of relief and reached for the doorknob.

“He knows.”

“Wha-“ She whipped around, slamming her back onto the door, noticing a lack of feathers flying and spotted Alan sitting perfectly on his perch in the middle of the room. “What the hell?” She said to no one in particular.

Turning back and shaking her matted head, she opened the door still a ratty mess. The fedex guy looked mildly shocked, but he’d seen worse. “Sign here.”

She glanced at her camera outside and signed with a flick, quickly snatching up her package and slamming the door on his face.

Now she was as light as Alan, scurrying over to her one computer turned towards the wall, blocked off from the rest of the room. It booted up, making that high pitched startup noise. Alan tried to mimic it.

Opening the box, she took out a small flash drive and plugged it into a separate device which allowed her to download files on her computer temporarily and then be lost forever to the void. Completely. Utterly. Lost.

She usually would have let it be and do it’s magic, but this was the most entertainment she had in days, even though it was technology. Having no connection to the WiFi, she had to make do with surfing her downloaded files and pictures and soon to be deleted videos, shuffling through all of them in a continuous cycle. At one point the crow had landed behind her, mesmerized by the bright, pretty screen that buzzed in front of him.

She opened one video file.

There was a video of her and Hayden walking around town. Out of every street camera and every small, hidden shop, there was clear, black and white footage of them conspiring.

Perhaps it was because of the heat, or the fading adrenaline running through her veins, or maybe the fatigue of taking care of Alan, but she foolishly decided to look further into what the government was really doing, not fearing what she would find. Scrolling over to the top right corner of the computer screen, she opened all of the files, spreading them out on all four, beige corners.

There was something about them that she couldn’t quite figure out and she dug further, completely enraptured in technology for one of the first and last times in her life. There was a knock at the door.

“He’s here.” Came a whisper from behind her.

Screaming, she took off, banging her leg on the edge of the table, falling face first into pill bottles and bird bedding. “Who said that? Reveal yourself!” She flipped around and up, not caring who was at the door- they just needed to help.

She slammed the door open and Detective Heath took a hearty step back from the smell, too shocked by this than to even start to ask about the screaming. Jade had to blink a few times, adjusting to the fact that one minute ago it was three pm and now she could see the stars. The detective was still wearing that stupid getup.

“I don’t mean to disturb, Ms. Stein, but do you have a moment to come down to the station?”

She chewed air for a while. “I-“

“You might want to close your door, too, or you might let the bird out.” A hollow caw echoed from inside. She quickly closed the door behind her, one hand glued to the knob.

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t come.”

“Are you sure? It’ll just be a moment. We could talk here if you wanted?”

Comply comply comply.

“Yeh, that would be better.” Opening the door, she remembered via Ian’s reaction that the apartment smelled like actual acidic shit. “I apologize with all my soul, detective, I’ve been trying forever to find Alan a home and Harper’s death has really hit me hard.” She tried to make that sentence sound seamless.

Alan squawked back from one tiny, unlit corner of the room. It sounded eerily like “liar!” Too much so.

… It was the bird.

Giving fearful glances to the back of the room, she led him to the couch, shivering. If Ian had noticed, he had shrugged it off, here to answer some long awaited questions.

Suddenly, Alan dove and perched himself on Ian’s shoulder. She gasped, her eyes bulging, and tried to shoo him off, but Ian said that he liked birds and used to own one. So he stayed.

And observed.

Her black eyes never left Alan’s- at least he was in sight now. And just as the detective was about to speak, the crow bent over in front of his face and spoke with clarity as clear as daylight. “What is he here for?”

“Wha-?” The vice was on her again. She wasn’t free. It was an illusion.

The detective shuffled his notes around, not taking a moment to peer up from them. “Oh, nothing, Ms. Stein, just clearing my throat.”

“Could you make this quick, detective? I want to go to sleep soon.” She tapped her legs.

It was as if he had nothing better to do than make her life harder than it had to be- the bird and the detective both. He finally found his page. She watched the bird.

“Now, I have to ask you about getting a high school diploma. You said you got that, right?”

“Of course?” She was confused.

“And you also said that you went to group therapy?”

“Yes.”

“And when was the last time you did that?”

Oh no. “Last year.”

“And why did you stop going, Ms. Stein?”

“I don’t want to answer that question.”

“We could do this here or at the station. Please answer me.” Jade remembered why she didn’t like him.

“They didn’t like me and they kept staring. I wanted them to stop, and the best way was to get away.”

He frowned, showing crinkles of age on his otherwise smooth face and scribbled down something with that damn pencil again.

The crow peeked over his other shoulder, slinking from side to side. He leaned over, turned his head completely sideways, and spoke again with the voice of a man.

“What’s he hiding?”

“What do you mean?” she whispered.

Ian flipped to another page. “It says here that your sister worked for the government’s computer database. Is that correct?”

“Yes.” She spat, betrayal filling her mouth.

“Did you take ten grand out of the bank a couple of months ago?”

Her eyes got just a bit wider. “I don’t see how that pertains to the case.”

“Please answer my question.”

She gulped. “Yes.”

The crow looked over Ian’s head. “He knows.”

Ian started again. “And it says here that you took it to start up a new business?”

“Yes. A small one that me and my friend, Hayden are going to fund the rest of with our own money.”

He smiled. “Ah. Your friend, Hayden. How do you like Hayden?”

Alan peeked over again. “Who is Hayden? Who is Hayden?” He squawked.

“Uhh-“ She felt so weak. “He’s my friend. We’ve been friends for about a year now, and he listens to all my problems and tries to help.”

“And where did you meet him?”

“Group therapy.”

He glanced around the room, put his pad away, and stood up. That’s when she saw it. A small protrusion from the chest of his trenchcoat and a bigger one at his hip.

The crow mocked her. “Of course he would bring a gun to kill you, silly head. But what’s that?” As he spoke, he leapt off of Ian’s shoulder, cornering her from all sides.

Her heart raced and she struggled to keep a grip on reality, her vision beginning to resemble a cave’s.

But Ian kept going. “One last question before I go. When was the last time you took your medicine?”

A voice cackled behind her. Ian pulled out a manilla folder with medical records expertly pinned together and threw them onto the coffee table matter-of-factly. Splayed on the table were the entrails of Jade’s medical history: pills, diagnoses, therapy, therapy, therapy. It was all there.

“Where did you get these?” She screeched. “It’s against the law! Get out of my house!”

He stood his ground, hand holstered over his weapon. “I had a warrant and a definite cause because ten grand gone missing and a dead sister tend to look pretty suspicious.”

“I can prove I’m not guilty.”

“How?” His hands never left his holster.

“I have an alibi, come, look. My camera was on all night. It’s on all day every day.” She almost collapsed getting up, but led herself over to the porch. She didn’t know what to do. She was caught. Donezo. She almost fainted just opening the door and her heart almost leapt out of her chest when she opened the door to Hayden standing right there, smiling.

In almost an instant Hayden ran over the detective, pummeling his into oblivion, grabbing for his gun. They both fell in a tangled knot and rolled, scrambling for their lives for the holster which unlatched itself and shot out from his coat, one another’s fingers scratching and clawing for any sort of hold on the pistol flying through the air.

Then one caught it.

One fired.

And one died.

Looking towards the onslaught, Jade gasped, clamping her hands over her mouth and running towards Hayden lying on the ground. He held the pistol in his hands, and it was heavier than she thought when she took it from his fingers intertwined and stuffed it into her belt.

They walked away from the dead detective on the ground and sat next to each other on the slowly deleting files and scrolled, their bloody fingerprints staining the mouse a brilliant red.

They watched the videos, satisfied that they found what they were looking for when Alan popped in. He stood on the massive computer and bent his whole body forward, blocking the screen, and pecked at it.

“You aren’t in these.”

“What?”

“You aren’t in these, dear.” With that, he flew away.

She watched stoically for a while, eyes unblinking.

Then, she realized there were no videos of her. Alone.

The videos they both wanted deleted were of them scheming Harper’s murder. But only he was focused on. Videos of Hayden wherever he went. Harper may have abused her governmental power, but she did it for…. Jade.

God. Harper wasn’t taking videos of Jade because she wanted to report them to the authorities, she did it because she was with Hayden. Her eyes were clear for the first time. He wanted her money. Jade’s money. He didn’t care if she or anyone else was hurt, they were his pawns and he was the king to be protected from damnation at all costs, even if it was lives at stake. Ten grand stolen, and blood stained red on her fingers.

Alan cackled. “Hell has one more opening, or two.”

She almost puked, a deer in headlights stare locked onto the buzzing screen for five long minutes. She didn’t do all of this horrible stuff for the greater good. It was- It was-




When the police arrived, the door was flung wide open, flies already starting to gather in grand hoards at the entrance. Three bodies lay inside and one black eyed crow who cawed rather indifferently on his perch.

“No vacancy.”
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#1 · 1
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I really like how this one handles how it builds up its suspense. You do a great job of progressively adding new layers to the situation throughout the story, and what begins with a pretty straightforward premise genuinely feels like a tangled mess by the time the climax comes around. Nicely done!

Now, I will have to note that not all of these layers/elements feel as resolved as the others in the end. Things like the bird or the schizophrenia reveal don't quite feel like they completely pay off. Their inclusion doesn't feel very impactful to the plot or to our understanding of the characters, at least to me. So while they do a great job from a mood perspective of adding to the feeling of convolution and confusion during the climax, on second and third read-throughs, they're elements I tend to gloss over.

I know that this piece isn't really trying to wrap things up with a tidy little bow by the end of things, so I think it's really up to you if and how you want to address my qualms with the payoff. Thank you for writing this!
#2 · 1
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To be blunt:

All the grammar and usage issues made this extremely difficult for me to read. I'm not even sure what happens at the end because I simply couldn't get the words on the screen to resolve themselves into sensible sentences.

The problems start right at the beginning. The first paragraph is all in the past tense, but paragraphs 2 through about 10 are in the present tense. The story then pops back and forth between the two for a while before finally settling into the past tense. We're told that the man across from Jade has "a typical face and typical body and typical clothing," but then we're told that he has on a leather jacket and has "a myriad of rings on all of his fingers." That doesn't sound typical to me.

I also had POV problems. We're in Jade's point of view, but when she leaves the scene between paragraph 7 and 8, we don't go with her. This would be the perfect opportunity. author, to let us in on her thought processes so we can get to know her and what's going on with her.

So I'm sorry, but I couldn't get past the language barrier to read the story itself.

Mike
#3 ·
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I think there's a good bit of suspense built up through this piece, but it could definitely be improved. There are a few parts, like Baal said, where you have the opportunity to explore Jade's thought process a bit more and provide some background earlier in the piece that could do a better job to hook the reader. Still, I enjoyed the build-up to the ending and the reveal, even if it was a little muddled.
#4 ·
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First off, agree with Baal Bunny that the grammar and usage was distracting, especially near the beginning. Making sure to fix that would go a long way towards improving the immersion within your story.

I will disagree with Baal, though, in that I was able to get past the barrier because I enjoyed where the story ended up, which is an achievement. While the beginning couple of scenes are a little confusing to grasp, the story becomes more cohesive as it progresses. Would definitely have to agree with Bachi on this one.

I think the crow was a really nice touch. Out of the very limited horror that I've read, I immediately thought of Poe, and this showed even further as Jade's mental stability slowly degraded a la Tell-tale Heart.

Agree with other commenters that is more description needed. The final couple of reveals needed a little bit of rereading in order for me to draw a full picture, and I think some parts of the story were also extraneous (for example, some of the detective's questions). Overall though, I really enjoyed the story, so thanks for writing it!