Our wishes have come true, because we have a new crop of shortlisted stories for The M.O.! Read these four sneak peeks on the theme of “Wishful Thinking,” then vote at the bottom for the one you'd most like to read on to The End. And of course, learn more about all the malefactors at The M.O.'s Rogues' Gallery.
- “Asleep or Afraid” by Peter DiChellis
- “The Currency of Wishes” by Kate Fellowes
- “What Price Glory” by Seana Graham
- “The Cocoon” by Louis Rakovich
“Asleep or Afraid” by Peter DiChellis
Jozef Keppler finally stopped twitching and gurgling. His flimsy makeshift hangman’s rope and the short drop from a stack of books hadn’t broken his neck, but choked him to death. And now he was still.
His eyes bulged like painted Easter eggs. His blackened tongue lolled and glistened through bloated purple lips. Saliva drenched the front of Jozef’s shirt and a puddle of yellow and brown fluid spread beneath his dangling feet.
His cellmate lounged on the top bunk bed, gazing at the ceiling, waiting for morning. Some men can handle prison. Others can’t.
The TV news announcement caught Detective Morty Dupar off duty, relaxing at home.
“Sunday’s top local story . . . Jozef Keppler, the so-called ‘Asleep or Afraid?’ burglar was found dead in his prison cell this morning, hanged by the neck with a rope made of bed sheets. Prison officials called it an apparent suicide.”
Dupar turned up the volume.
“The bizarre nighttime prowler burglarized homes after residents went to bed, and earned his colorful nickname by leaving a computer-printed note at each victim’s bedside, asking ‘Asleep or Afraid?’ with the question mark in red.
Keppler claimed innocence throughout his trial. A police spokesperson said…”
“Holy Jesus.” Dupar switched off the TV. He and his senior partner, Sergeant-Detective Hauser Blackburn, arrested Keppler last year. A jury convicted him. But peculiarities with the evidence had always troubled Dupar.
Maybe we got the wrong guy, he thought.
“The Currency of Wishes” by Kate Fellowes
Mallory Vogel reached into the pocket of her jacket as she approached the beautiful stone fountain in front of the museum. Fingering a penny, she paused to admire the beauty of the water's spray, creating rainbows on this sunny autumn day. Once upon a time, there had been fish in the fountain. But then the city built the new aquarium a few blocks away and off they'd gone. Mallory was glad—she wouldn't want to hit one on the head with her coins. That had to be bad luck.
Making her usual wish, she tossed the penny with a practiced flick of her thumb. She watched it settle among the others, wondering how many were hers. How many wishes on how many days? One day, she knew, her dream would come true. With a smile, she turned away, heading into the office building where she worked.
From her department on the third floor, she could see the fountain. She liked to watch the people who came and went every day, as she did….
A city truck from the Department of Public Works had pulled up by the fountain. Her heart took a dip. She knew what that meant. He was here to turn the water off in preparation for another long winter….
For supper that night, she ate a pizza in front of the television, catching up on the local news. When the museum appeared on the screen, she stopped chewing to listen.
“What Price Glory” by Seana Graham
O’Brian’s closing procedure at the pub he owned was a standard routine, except for one weekly deviation. On Thursdays, he didn’t immediately close out the till and take its contents to his office safe as he did all the other nights. This was because on Thursdays his daughter Vonda would call him from California. This appointment had come about only through long and careful negotiation. Thursday was historically the night of the slimmest takings, so he worried slightly less about getting the contents to the safe. And the hour the pub closed was the latest Vonda was willing to stay up in her time zone, as she had to get the kids off to school early….
At first, O’Brian had tried to close the till as he talked, but had soon realized that preoccupation with the money had distracted him from the more precious conversation with his daughter. So after a few weeks, he’d given up, and, shutting the drawer, would head back to his office to take her call. At some point after he’d done so, he’d hear Tom, the night janitor, come in, which was signaled by the sound of running water and the clatter of mops and buckets.
Late one Thursday night (though by now it was really early Friday) O’Brian walked out of his office, troubled….he hit the key that opened the drawer, only to find it empty.
“The Cocoon” by Louis Rakovich
Today, for the second time since my return, Gloria woke me up before going to work. Afterward I fell back asleep and dreamed about the cave. It wrapped around me like a cocoon, knitting strings of rock and soil over my face. I couldn't move; I waited patiently until the time came for me to get out, and then I woke up.
It's been four months since I left the cave. Gloria works for the both of us now, six days a week from seven to nine. But I don't think I'm deluding myself in believing she doesn't mind. I think I see a faint happiness in her, shining through the inconvenience and the late hours. I know there are pride and strength in her face, which weren't there before. This scares me.
Sometimes I think of going back to work, but I can't be outside longer than a few hours. The people on the street recognize me, or I imagine that they do. I know I didn't imagine the tall, tall man—a mountain of white skin and sharp bones—who put his hand on my shoulder at the coffee shop and said, “Hey, aren't you the guy…?” and then the voice faded from his throat. He coughed and looked me in the eye. He said, “Life is strange. Strange and dark.” He handed me his card. He was a pastor; his eyes glowed with the same heat as my wife's new face.
You can vote (once, you rascals!) until midnight on Wednesday, June 24th, and the following Friday, June 26th, we'll announce which story's been selected. Two weeks after that, we'll publish the selection here for all to enjoy!