Someone Else is Living Here

Your kids love watching CSI, so you buy them a forensic starter’s kit for Christmas. They begin running simple, fake experiments, collecting DNA, and dusting for fingerprints around the house. When you look at all of the powder and prints they pull, you find there are more fingerprints there then just you and your family’s. Whose are they?

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

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129 thoughts on “Someone Else is Living Here

  1. James the Great

    Amanda twisted out of the living room. I could hear her sobs echoing down the hallway.

    Marie stood up to follow her but I stretched and blocked her way. “I’ll get her, honey. We just gotta let her air out a bit. Like paint drying.”

    Marie had been in the hospital with on and off cancer for most of the duration of Amanda’s life, so she was still trying to get the hang of parenting after her breathtaking recovery. She frowned at me, “I guess… like paint… do you have a metaphor for everything child-related?”

    I smiled. It was hard to look at that beautiful olive-skinned face without remembering the painful visits to the hospital. Without remembering I was the luckiest man alive. “That was a simile. But yes.” Marie rolled her eyes and I decided that the paint had dried.

    Amanda was a worrier, like me. She didn’t believe in coincidence and, more often than not, was reduced to tears by her nauseating fears. I tried to act strong in front of Marie, but like I said, I’m a worrier. I didn’t doubt Amanda’s superior intelligence for an eight-year-old. If she said she found an unfamiliar fingerprint in our home, I was concerned.

    I found her at the foot of the stairs. “Hey Amy,” I smiled and sat down next to her. Held her in my arms. I sang her a few Swedish lullabies I was sung when I was a child. “Ghosts don’t exist. Monsters aren’t clever enough to hide under my baby girl’s bed. No doubt if there’s somebody in my house my baby girl’s gonna find out who it is, aren’t you sweetie? Wanna do an investigation?” Amanda smiled and nodded. She loved detective work, wanted to be Sherlock Holmes when she grew up. Minus the fedora. This year I’d finally had enough money left over from Marie’s medical bills to buy her the forensic kit she’d been biting my head off for.

    I followed Amanda to her room upstairs and she pulled up another chair so we could sit together at her desk. “Show me the prints.” I said.

    She showed me a series of note cards, each stamped with a fingerprint and the corresponding family member’s name written next to it in blue ink. The last card was unmarked.

    “Where did you find this?”

    “Your bedroom.”

    Uh oh. I was starting to develop a hunch. “Where exactly?”

    She took me down the hall to the master bedroom. “On the doorknob, your nightstand, and the bathroom doorknob.”

    I opened the door and pulled back the white comforter on Marie’s side. I found a pile of short black hairs. No one in my family had black hair.

    “Go get me one of your evidence baggies Amy.”

    “Why Dad?”

    “Just do it.”

    She came back about a minute later and I scooped the hairs into the bag. “Now go to your room and pack all your stuff up. If it doesn’t fit in the spare backpack the grocery bags are in the hall closet.”

    “What’s going on Dad?”

    I put my hands on Amanda’s shoulders. “Do you trust me sweetie?”

    She blinked, clearly confused, back up at me. “Yes Dad but-”

    “Then it’s all gonna be okay.”

    She left to pack and I did likewise, shoving some clothes, my phone, my life savings and a few photos into my backpack. None with Marie though. In case she forgot, I packed a few paper lunch bags for Amanda’s panic attacks.

    I took deep breath, tried to compose myself, and slipped downstairs.

    Marie wasn’t in the living room anymore. She was in the kitchen. I held up the evidence bag. I could hear her breathing tighten.

    “Who was he?”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    “Really? You’ve been out of the hospital for two weeks and you’re already cheating on me and lying to me?”

    “He visited me everyday at the hospital.” Marie was beyond her facade of stupidity. “You didn’t.”

    “Maybe I was to busy RAISING OUR DAUGHTER?” I shouted.

    “He bought me chocolate cake everyday from the hospital cafeteria. What did you do? Sit at home and watch TV?”

    “No. No Marie. We sat at home starving because we had to pay your medical bills. And you aren’t the least bit grateful. My daughter and I are leaving.” I was steaming now. “I don’t know where we’ll go. Anywhere you aren’t going to let your fucking boyfriend break into.”

    Maire sniffled. “Before you said ‘Our daughter.’ She’s my daughter too.”

    “Not anymore. If you wanna fight for custody, see you in court. If you don’t, I’ll never see you again.” Amanda was ready now. “Amanda we’re leaving.”

    Marie said nothing but followed us onto the porch. She didn’t even look at Amanda.

    We just walked away. Just like that. Down the middle of the wet street. I heard Amanda take a deep breath, and I braced myself for one of her panic attacks. Amy’s a fragile girl.

    But when I turned around I saw Amanda flip a rude hand motion at her mother, who recoiled like she’d been slapped. I could feel myself smiling. That’s my girl.

    But the oddest thing is, even today, four years later, no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop loving Marie.

  2. SummerStarr

    Janet was preparing her living room for her monthly book club meeting. She was so excited to be the host for the evening. Everything was almost in order except she noticed that yet again her mother’s urn, that was sitting on her coffee table, was slightly off center. She simply pushed the urn back to the center again and continued her inspection. This seemed to happen quite often but Janet always assumed one of her children must have bumped it.

    Meanwhile, upstairs her twin sons, Aiden and Max were playing with their new forensics kit that she had bought for them. They loved watching crime shows and they loved having the opportunity to put their crime solving skills to work. At some point, pretty much every inch of their home had been dusted for fingerprints. There was even a handy little kit that allowed the boys to take the fingerprints of all of their family members. That way, they could compare the fingerprints found throughout the house to the ones taken from themselves and both of their parents.

    After a successful book club meeting, Janet instructed the boys to get ready for bed for the night. While they put on their pajamas and brushed their teeth, she began picking up some toys in their room. She came across their fingerprint kit. She noticed how all of the fingerprints they collected via dusting were neatly matched up to the fingerprints collected from each family member. She smiled as she thought about how passionate her boys were about their new skills. Then she noticed something odd. One fingerprint was labeled with a question mark. That must be the print of a family friend she thought to herself. She tried to forget about it, but something kept telling her to find out where this mysterious fingerprint came from.

    “Boys!” she called out to them, “This fingerprint with the question mark next to it: Where did it come from?”

    “Oh” Aiden said, “I think it was on grandma’s urn.”

    “Yeah it was really weird”, Max continued, “It didn’t match us, you or dad.”

    “That’s weird” she said.

    She put her boys to bed and settled down in the living room with her husband. As they sat together and watched television, she couldn’t help but wonder why in the world there would be strange prints on her mother’s urn. Why would any of her friends ever touch her mother’s urn? As she sat there staring at the urn she started thinking about fond memories of her mother. When she was a child, she and her mother were really close and she couldn’t help but remember how her mother used to tease her about her obsessive compulsiveness.

    When Janet was a young girl she had a cute little tea set. Six tiny white tea cups lined with pink roses across the top would be arranged in a perfect circle around a little tea pot. The tea pot always needed to be perfectly centered. Janet couldn’t stand it when her tea pot was moved. She remembered how every now and then her mother would come in and slightly push the tea pot off center.

    “Moooooom!!!” Janet would whine as she pushed the tea pot back to the center.

    WAIT A MINTUE! Could it be? No way! Janet shook her head and continued watching television with her husband.

  3. Icabu

    Emily knew the big fingerprint the kids found on the underside of the stair railing with their CSI kit belonged to Joe, and it made her heart weep.

    The memories rushed over her. He’d fought the intruder that night long enough for her to escape to the neighbors with the kids. The police had told her it was a miracle that Joe had survived two shots to his chest long enough to turn the gun on the intruder and shoot him through his cold, evil heart.

    She touched the film covering Joe’s dusty print, remembering the warmth of his touch. A shiver ran through her when she realized this print could very well have been left on the rail that fateful night as Joe crept down the stairs after hearing noises. Could it have survived there for nearly two years?

    Lying on her bed, the print tucked away in her jewelry box, she closed her eyes. In what must have been a dream she opened her eyes to find Joe standing in the doorway. It looked more like a dusty image of him than his solid form, much like the fingerprint.

    “Joe.” She breathed his name, fearful of the image vanishing.

    “I’m still here, Em, protecting.”

    She smiled, the comfort of that knowledge warming her.

    “Em, you need to move on. So I can.”

    Her heart shuddered. “No…”

    “It’s time.”

    Immediately Emily thought of Bill and the date she’d broken with him tonight when the kids had shown her the new print they’d found. She’d claimed an upset stomach and Bill volunteered to take the kids to a movie instead so that she could rest.

    “I can’t.” Tears finally came as she knew she had to let go and move on.

    “What we had will never be gone, Em,” Joe’s vision said in that inarguable calm tone he had.

    She nodded her head. Joe would never be out of her heart, but she could feel a little room opening in it, the squeeze loosening a small measure.

    “The kids,” she whispered.

    Joe’s hand went to his heart. “Always.”

    Me. She’d only thought the word as she watched the vision of Joe begin to fade as his hand patted his heart.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    “What are you doing?”

    Startled, Emily dropped her dust rag. When she picked it up the new gold band on her left ring finger glinted. “Just some overdue cleaning.” She gave the stair railing another wipe, top and bottom.

    “Joey’s ball game starts in an hour,” Bill said.

    “Then I’ll go get ready.”

    Reaching for her favorite earrings, she noticed the small square of film covered cardboard and pulled it out. It was blank.

  4. jonesk639

    If I found out that there are more fingerprints, I would ask my kids if they had anybody else over the house because it may be their friends finger prints instead of a strangers. If the annomoyous finger prints dont belonge to my kids friends, then I will contact police authourites to see who the strange finger prints are.

  5. ness5389

    Today was the day I was finally going to go in to my children’s bedroom and clean it out. It had been seven months and thirteen days. It was time. I had tried many times, always stopping at the door. Once I even had my hand on the doorknob. But I can’t bring myself to walk in. I know what I will see and what I will not see. I’ll see clothes, clean and dirty mixed together, scattered all over the floor. How many times have I told you to fold and put away your laundry? I’ll see papers crumbled up and erased on. Your homework goes in your backpack, not on the floor! Movies and CDs out of their cases. That’s how they get scratched and ruined. The empty bird cage. Shut that stupid thing up while I’m trying to get work done! I also know I won’t see my ten year-old, Cassie, laying on the bottom part of the girls’ bunk bed, painting her nails. I won’t see my seven year-old, Charlotte, sitting on the floor with her legs crossed as she brushes her favorite doll’s hair.
    Last Christmas, Cassie got her own bedroom. My husband, Frank, moved our office to the finished basement and let Cassie pick out all new furniture. She had informed us that she was too old to share a room with her sister and needed her own space. Charlotte was devastated. She had worshipped the ground Cassie walked on since she was able to walk herself. Anything Cassie had, Charlotte had to have one too. Cassie would start liking a band and then Charlotte would want a shirt of the same band. Cassie wanted her hair cut a certain way, then a week later I was taking Charlotte to the salon to get the same style. So naturally when Cassie started religiously watching some CSI crime show, there was Charlotte right there beside her watching it too. Cassie would get irritated and call her out on it, Charlotte’s feelings would get hurt, and I would have to play peacemaker.
    While Cassie got her own room, Charlotte got an amateur forensics kit. We spent a lot of money on it so it wouldn’t seem so baby-ish. I thought it might distract her from the heartache of losing her sister to the room down the hallway. I was right. Charlotte dusted for fingerprints through the whole house with that damn noisy parrot on her shoulder. One day, the bird got loose in the house and Charlotte was in tears. She cried about how her bird had left her and soon her sister was going to also. Charlotte swore that the parrot kept calling her the wrong name (Margaret). I told her that maybe he had heard the name on the television and just kept repeating it. She wanted to go through the woods behind our house to look for the bird but knew she couldn’t unless my husband or I went with her. There was a very steep drop off that we were always worried the girls would fall off if they went out too far alone.
    It was three weeks after Christmas and a week after our parrot went missing. School was back in session and the girls got off the bus to come home alone since my husband and I were both at work. I can still see police cars and news vans lining my driveway when I came home. My husband had come home to an empty house, the girls nowhere in sight. Worried, he checked outside and eventually went to the woods. They were found at the bottom at the cliff, where we had told them often not to go near.
    My hand reached for the doorknob, grabbed, twisted, and pushed. I walked into the quiet, cold room and looked around. Everything was right where the girls had left it. I sat on the bottom bunk and rummaged through the papers on Charlotte’s comforter. It was all from the forensics kit we had bought her. The last thing before buying her funeral dress at least. I looked at the lists of fingerprints and identity matches she had made. Charlotte, Cassie, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Sara…At the bottom of the list was a question mark. Rooms the unknown fingerprint had been found in were mostly my bedroom and my bathroom. There was also long blonde hair found in the same rooms. No one in our family had blonde hair.
    I stood up and ran outside, through our backyard, and into the woods. I ran up to the drop off and just stood there, looking down. My girls were smart and responsible. Had they found out something they weren’t supposed to? I know it sounded almost psychotic of me to think my husband was cheating on me and my seven year-old daughter found out about it, told my other daughter, and my husband killed them once they confronted him about it.
    “I’m sorry,” I heard my husband say before I felt the force of his hands on my back. Here I come, my baby girls.

  6. miamgima

    “Hey Mom,” Ann’s voice traveled from across the house, “Come here and look at this.” I walked from the living room to my daughter’s room; expecting to see her sprawled on her bed, ready to show me a video about dogs and babies on her laptop. Instead, she was standing above her younger sister’s bed.

    I walked closer to see the forensic starters kit my husband and I had given to Maria for Christmas. In Ann’s hands were cards of fingerprints labeled with the name of the person whose fingerprint it belonged to, the date it was found, and the location in which it was found. The whole family was familiar with these cards as Maria made it a point to try and get the fingerprint of every guest and family member at the Christmas party. “What are you doing with Maria’s things?”

    “Look at these ones,” Ann handed me three cards dated within the last two weeks. They were all labeled “Home” but had no name. “Whose are these?” I looked at Ann suspiciously and gasped, “Are you trying to tell me you had a guest over?”

    “No!” Ann snatched the prints out of my hand. “I haven’t had anyone over these last two weeks!” She turned the cards around in her hand and whispered, “They don’t match anyone else’s fingerprints.” She spread out Marie’s entire fingerprint collection to confirm that the unknowns did not match any other prints. These CSI shows must be too much for them, I thought. Ann, at fourteen, began watching the shows two years ago, roping in her then eight-year-old sister for the glorious marathons of murder, sex, and forensic science. Jordan and I should be stricter about what the children are watching on television, but we were both raised in lax environments and turned out just fine. My parents would argue otherwise, especially in regards to my older brother.

    To the unaided eye, the fingerprints looked like all the rest: whirling and swirling like an impossible maze. But the detail on one of the fingerprint cards was fine enough to see a thin line disrupting the natural flow of the print. My body drained itself of warmth and I became aware of how fast my heart began to beat. “Do you remember Uncle Mikey?” I turned to Ann. “I want you to pick up your little sister at church school.”

    “But I can’t drive since I only have a permit. Plus, I thought Dad was picking her up.” Ann said worriedly, “And yeah, I remember him.”

    “I want you to go to Maria’s church school and then wait for Dad. Tell him that Uncle Mikey is visiting and he’ll know what to do.” I began to walk towards the front door finding the car keys to give to Ann. She looked at me and was ready to send forth a barrage of questions. “I don’t want to hear anymore questions. Just do what I told you.”

    Ann left wordlessly and I watched from the window as she drove away. Immediately, I heard footsteps walking around the kitchen. Mikey, with his frail body and thick messy hair, was standing at the stove, burning the three cards containing his fingerprints. “That was fast.” I mumbled to get his attention.

    “The church isn’t that far, right?” His voice sounded gravelly, “Why is she there anyway? Mom and Dad’s suggestion?”

    “You haven’t spoken to us in two years.”

    “I didn’t know you wanted to speak to me.” He dropped the charred papers into the sink and ran water to push the remains into the garbage disposal. “I didn’t steal anything from your house. Well, I just got some food. Like oranges and apples.” His spindly fingers wrapped around a kitchen chair and he sat at the table. “Look, I know you lost your job and you have Jordan working overtime.” He was feeling his scarred fingers as he spoke.

    “I don’t have Jordan doing anything. He’s doing it for Ann.” I remained standing, hoping it gave me a sense of authority.

    “Okay fine, he wants to be the breadwinner of the family. It’s not enough. Not for Ann. Do you want a job?”

    “The cops are coming.”

    “I can leave by myself,” Mikey’s hands rested on the tabletop, pale compared to the dark wood, “I can come back if you want a job.”

    “Can you just tell me what you’ve been up to?” I was trying to change the subject. I already knew what he doing, having been in the same business back in college.

    “I have a friend living a couple houses down the street. I guess I’ll know your answer by the end of today.”
    He got up from the kitchen table and headed out the back door. “I’ll see you later, maybe. If not, I’ll see you in a month.” I watched as he hopped the fence into my neighbor’s backyard. Grabbing a towel off the kitchen rack, I wondered what time the police sirens would become audible. I began wiping everything Mikey touched.

  7. gr00s

    The cracked sign behind the dusty wardrobe read: ‘Lost in a sea of torment, the mind boggles… infinity, prosperity, the mind of the mad that is sane.’ – the Cat

    “Pros… perity… prosperity.” Joshua rolled the word on his tongue. The black powder he had dusted on the sign revealed no fingerprints, except his own. Joshua shrugged and lowered his head to stare at the treasure he had dug out of his grandpa’s wardrobe. He held up his magnifier. The green beetle, impaled by a needle like the other insects, had jagged pinchers. His little sister stomped into the room, her huge rain boots reaching well above her knees. Tabitha squatted beside him, sighing. “I can’t find it,” she muttered and stuck a finger up her nose. She wiped the slimy bugger on her dad’s white t-shirt. Joshua looked at her through the magnifier. “The Cat, Trixie, we have to find the Cat.” He gaped at the sign. This one, too, like the charred note under their grandpa’s gramophone and the engravings on the silvery harmonica, had also been signed by the Cat. So far they had found only one fingerprint, but it wasn’t human. “A cat print,” said Tabitha, or Trixie as everyone called her, nodding to herself. She looked out the greasy window.

    The setting sun sank behind the rolling, green hills. A flock of sheep bleated in the distance, distorted under the gusts of wind that howled through the naked trees. Joshua pushed himself to his feet, his magnifier aimed at the weathered floorboards. His little sister picked up the powder and duster and sprang in front of him.

    “A cat print!” Trixie gaped wide-eyed at the imprint, twice the size of a normal house cat. Joshua peered at the attic hatch. Trixie bit her lip, an eagerness gleaming in her brown eyes. She crawled up the staircase, dusting one step after another. They found five cat prints.

    The hatch slammed open. Joshua and Trixie stuck their heads up into the darkness, only broken by a dusty beam of sunlight that shone through a hole in the wall. Trixie gasped. A big, black cat stared at them from the back of the room. Joshua climbed the last step, his sister right behind him.

    “Are… are you the Cat?” Trixie asked. The Cat licked his white paw. “You must be the genius of the family, I take it.” Trixie twitched her nose, folding her arms. The Cat coughed up a hair ball, and Trixie smile pleased. “Oy,” said the Cat. “It’s not me who’s mad. Wake up! Wake up, you little brat…”

    …Joshua opened his eyes, heavy from the amount of glue he had been sniffing. His sister sat on her dirty bed, staring out the barred window overlooking the dark roof tiles and smoking chimneys. The warden, Fritz the Cat, scowled at him for a moment, then slammed the iron hatch shut. Joshua brought the sweet-smelling bag up to his mouth.

    The sign read…

  8. snuzcook


    “Scotty, what have you been into? You got black smudges all over the woodwork.”

    Scotty pulled his eyes from the computer screen and looked up. “Nothing, Mom.”

    “Nothing? Show me your hands.”

    Scotty turned both palms up, looked at them himself first, then held them up for inspection. They were clean. His mother looked skeptical.

    “Well, someone put these smudges all over the doorway, and your Uncle Rick will be here any minute. Turn off that computer and clean up this room. I don’t want him to think I’m raising a slob.”

    Scotty closed his laptop and stowed it on a shelf, along with messy sheaf of papers and his school backpack. He wandered down the hall toward the kitchen, where his mother was wiping black smudges from the white enamel woodwork of the doorway. The kitchen was filled with the aroma of his uncle’s favorite pot roast.

    The door bell rang and Scotty ran to the door. “Hey buddy! You cracked the mysteries of the universe yet?” Uncle Rick held out his hand, palm up, and he and Scotty exchanged a complicated series of hand slaps that ended with a fist bump and burst. “Niiiiice.”

    Scotty’s mom said, “Scotty, why don’t you wash your hands. Dinner’s almost ready.”

    Scotty sighed. His hands were already clean. He dragged his feet down the hall to the bathroom. He was drying his hands when his mother called from the kitchen.

    “Scotty! Get in here right now!”

    His mother was steaming. Uncle Rick looked at him with a ‘you’re dead meat and I can’t help you’ expression. “What have you been doing? Look at those fingerprints!” Scotty followed her accusing finger to a cluster of black smudges covering the white door frame. As they watched, the smudges seemed to multiply, one at a time, first on one side of the doorway, then on the other.

    “What in the world?” Uncle Rick crouched down beside Scotty to the look more closely. As they watched, one of the smudges seemed to slowly diminish, as if it were being erased. “Now that’s seriously weird.”

    Scotty suddenly ran down the hall.


    He grabbed his laptop, threw himself into a sitting position on his bed. He started typing furiously.





    YES! HOW?





    Scotty opened a program he had been running. He made a quick adjustment to the code. He quickly saved, then returned to the prior screen. A small window opened in his view, and a shadow took shape.




    Scotty raised one hand and wiggled it in a wide arc.

    I SEE YOU!





    Scotty smiled. He could hardly wait to show Uncle Rick.

  9. Layne

    There they are again, the children, spreading that powder over the house, those little brats. It’s forensics, Auntie June , they say in their baby bird voices, cheep-cheeping into the air then puffing out powder over all the clean furnitures like droppings squirted from their bottoms.

    And I clean it up again, like I’m paid to do. I smile and pat them on their yellow heads, saying Good, babies. You so smart, babies. Try to be careful, babies. But they ain’t, those carefree doves. They ain’t never careful.

    And that’s how I’ll catch ‘em.

    See how they suck their bony fingers, wipe at their noses, get that forensics powder all over their good Sunday jimmies. Dusted hair, dusted babydolls, dusted beds. Moms and Pops, their big glinting smiles for their good, smart finches, cooing, Good, good. Look what you did. You’re sure to be the President, the Scientist, the Doctor someday . And to me they say, Clean that shit up, Auntie.

    So Auntie cleans it up. First, I get my hands on the strong stuff down from the pharmacy, kills city rats as big at turnips. Then I get into those sleuth kits and I do some rearranging, some switchery.

    One-by-one, they drop from their perches. One-by-one, the little chirps are cut smart and the silence, clean, clean silence takes the house.

    And I dust, smiling, making sure I clean that shit up.

  10. Doug Langille


    It took a lot of effort to get the fingerprints just right. Even a little too much would ruin them. Too little and they’d never find them at all. It was Christmas morning. It had to be perfect. I didn’t have a lot of time to get this ready.

    Tommy was first down the stairs. His face was a sticky mess of ribbon candy and chocolate. Ah, breakfast!

    “Cindy, Cindy! Santa was here!”

    The eight-year-old’s senior and wiser sister, at the advanced age of ten, took her time.

    “It’s too early”, she whined, followed by an lengthy yawn. She almost tripped as she hit the landing. “Where’s Mom?”

    “She’s making a coffee. She said we couldn’t unwrap anything until she could open both eyes at the same time.”

    I watched my kids banter back and forth, exploring the presents and trying to guess what was in each. Brenda came shuffling in the monster feet slippers that I used to wear, nursing her mug of precious joe. She looked like crap. My girl hadn’t been sleeping well these days.

    Then began the flurry of torn paper and laughter as each gift was opened with the excitement that only kids can have. Brenda and I looked on quietly. At last it was down to the final big box. Brenda was dragging her heels on this one. We picked it up back in the summer, figuring the kids to go bananas over it.

    “Go ahead. Open the big one, kids. It’s from your father and I.” Brenda sat back on the couch and crossed her legs yoga-style. The tears were welling up in her eyes. Her feelings were always hard to read, but I was certain I understood her heart this time. I moved to sit next to her and watched the kids rip and tear the paper.

    Tommy was jittering and almost yelling. “A real crime lab kit! Cindy this is crazy! We can be science detectives just like on TV.”

    Cindy was beaming from ear to ear. She looked over to the couch. “Thank you Mom and Dad. This is awesome.”

    “You’re welcome,” said Brenda quietly.

    “Enjoy, kids.” I was eager for them to start practicing. I wanted them to get the secret message I left on the coffee table. I looked down in front of me. It was like it was in invisible ink. I was almost as excited as them. Brenda just let them go. They needed no encouragement.

    “What do we do first, Tommy?”

    “Let’s dust for fingerprints.”

    “What do we have for exemplars?”

    Brenda got up and walked over to the mantle and pulled the card we made with the stamp pad right after we picked the kit up. “I have mine and your dad’s right here.”

    The kids busied themselves making their own ten-cards. It wasn’t long before they were ready.

    Brenda said, “Start with the coffee table. There should be lots of prints there.”

    I chuckled to myself. I knew the table was clean except for my surprise. Tommy sprinkled the powder and Cindy twirled the brush just like the team on ‘CSI’. The look on their faces was intense and focused. Such professionals! I hovered over their shoulders as Brenda filmed it on her phone. A rare smirk tickled the corner of her mouth. I was left wanting to kiss her with abandon.

    The room went quiet as the message on the table made its ghostly appearance. The kids checked the cards to see who left the message.

    “I love you too, Daddy” said Cindy.

    Both the kids ran over and hugged their mother. She hugged them back, holding them tight and close. It was as if she tried to will the pain away.

    “I miss him too,” she whispered, her cheeks streaked with tears.

    I regarded my family one last frozen moment. They would be okay. It was time to close the curtain and fade to black. I faded too.

    1. don potter

      The beginning reminded me of Christmas when I was a kid. The warm story had me hooked on the family being together until the end when I realized the father was gone. The final sentence brought a tear to my eye when the closure was complete. Nice tale.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        This is a tender, powerful and emotional story. The last sentence hit like a brick wall. I wasn’t expecting it. I realized how lucky I was to have both of my parents at Christmas until my Father was 76. I still miss him and It’s been quite a long time but he’s in a lot of my stories of Avalon, where I spent my summers as a kid.

        My last time at Avalon, I was only eleven, yet the memories are so clear and so intense. Kerry

  11. gr00s

    The Cat

    The cracked sign behind the dusty wardrobe read: Lost in a sea of torment, the mind boggles… infinity, prosperity, the mind of the mad that is sane. – the Cat

    “Pros… perity… prosperity.” Joshua rolled the word on his tongue. The white powder he had dusted on the sign revealed no fingerprints, except his own. Joshua shrugged and lowered his head to stare at the treasure he had dug out of his grandpa’s wardrobe. He held up his magnifier. The green beetle, impaled by a needle like the other insects, had jagged pinchers. His little sister stomped into the room, her huge rain boots reaching well above her knees. Tabitha squatted beside him, sighing. “I can’t find it,” she muttered and stuck a finger up her nose. She wiped the slimy bugger on her dad’s white t-shirt. Joshua looked at her through the magnifier. “The Cat, Trixie, we have to find the Cat.” He gaped at the sign. This one, too, like the charred note under their grandpa’s gramophone and the engravings on the silvery harmonica, had also been signed by the Cat. So far they had found only one fingerprint, but it wasn’t human. “A cat print,” said Tabitha, or Trixie as everyone called her, nodding to herself. She looked out the greasy window.

    The setting sun sank behind the rolling, green hills. A flock of sheep bleated in the distance, distorted under the gusts of wind that howled through the naked trees. Joshua pushed himself to his feet, his magnifier aimed at the weathered floorboards. His little sister picked up the powder and duster and sprang in front of him.

    “A cat print!” Trixie gaped wide-eyed at the imprint, twice the size of a normal house cat. Joshua peered at the attic hatch. Trixie bit her lip, an eagerness gleaming in her brown eyes. She crawled up the staircase, dusting one step after another. They found five cat prints.

    The hatch slammed open. Joshua and Trixie stuck their heads up into the darkness, only broken by a dusty beam of sunlight that shone through a hole in the wall. Trixie gasped. A big, black cat stared at them from the back of the room. Joshua climbed the last step, his sister right behind him.

    “Are… are you the Cat?” Trixie asked. The Cat licked his white paw. “You must be the genius of the family, I take it.” Trixie twitched her nose, folding her arms. The Cat coughed up a hair ball, and Trixie smile pleased. “Oy,” said the Cat. “It’s not me who’s mad. Wake up! Wake up, you little brat…”

    …Joshua opened his eyes, heavy from the amount of glue he had been sniffing. His sister sat on her dirty bed, staring out the barred window overlooking the dark roof tiles and smoking chimneys. The warden, Fritz the Cat, scowled at him for a moment, then slammed the iron hatch shut. Joshua brought the sweet-smelling bag up to his mouth, again.

    The sign read…

  12. don potter

    How excited I was to get a chemistry starter set one Christmas long, long ago. My first experiment was to duplicate the smell of rotten eggs by cooking up Hydrogen Sulfide, which my mother believes to this day ruined dinner that year. This past Christmas the kids asked for, and got, a CSI kit for beginners. Oh how things have changed.
    Throughout the Christmas vacation the junior sleuths dusted the house for fingerprints, collected DNA samples, and ran experiments as described in the instruction manual. They never told me what they were looking for, but the kids were very committed to their work and recorded the findings in an online journal.
    “What have you discovered so far?” I asked one night at dinner.
    “There’s a set of fingerprints we can’t explain,” Jason, our eldest, said.
    “Yeah, we have a ghost or something living here,” Kristen, the middle child, announced.
    “Do ghosts have fingerprints?” My wife quipped as she joined us at the kitchen table.
    “I’m not sure they even have fingers,” I added.
    “We’re serious. Why are you making fun of us?” Jason asked.
    “Something strange is going on,” Kristen concluded.
    “If you conduct your investigation the way the CSI book tells you to, I suspect the mystery surrounding the unexplained fingerprints will be solved,” I said.
    “Tell us when you have the answer,” my wife said. “Now who wants seconds?”
    The kids did not want more to eat. They put off dessert until later so they could return to their investigation.
    “Take Alex with you,” I said.
    “Why? He’s too little to help.”
    “He’s your baby brother; that’s why. Teach him how to be a CSIer like you,” my wife shouted as the three of them dashed up the backstairs of our old farmhouse situated on the edge of what was once a Civil War battleground in Northern Virginia.
    Before we finished washing the dishes, the children tumbled down the stairs. Jason was waving my iPhone and the other two were bursting with excitement.
    “Look, here’s who the prints belong to.”
    “Yeah, and it is a ghost.”
    “It’s my friend,” the young one said with pride.
    “The ghost was playing with Alex’s ball. I took a picture and checked the prints with the others found around the house. They match,” Jason stated.
    “Let me see,” I said.
    The image on the screen was frightening. My wife responded to the look on my face and took the phone to see what had paralyzed me. She froze as well at the sight of a Confederate soldier in a bloodstained gray uniform sitting on the floor in our baby’s room and playing with the boy’s toys.
    “How come no one ever saw this ah, ah, man before?” I asked.
    “Ask Alex,” the older ones said in unison.
    I did and now I must ask, “Do you know anyone who would like to buy a charming old farmhouse in historic Northern Virginia? I’ll throw in the ‘caretaker’ at no extra charge.”

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Very clever response to the prompt, Don. I really like your crisp, writing style. And the last line about the ‘caretaker’ is great. I have to ask about your starter chemistry set . Did you have the recipe for gunpowder? Mine did! Kerry

      1. don potter

        Kerry, thanks for the kind comments. My first chemistry set was a cheap one from Woolworth’s. Came in a flimsy cardboard box with not too many experiments — rotten eggs, invisible ink that sort of stuff. A couple of years later, I graduated to a Gilbert Chemistry Lab. Don’t remember the gunpowder formula, because I would have tried that for sure.

    2. jhowe

      Good story Don. I could feel the excitment of the kids as they tumbled down the stairs with evidence in hand. Nice effective shift from past tense to present tense at the end.

  13. Mo

    “No toys at the table.” I chimed the reminder as I laid the lasagna in the middle of the table. The kids had been hustling about the house testing out their new and most favored toy, the CSI kit, through out the whole day and constantly called on their father and I to come look at their latest findings or explain how to use something appropriately. “Their not toys Momma.” Zaine assured me. I raised an eyebrow as I sat down at the end of the table, “Oh really now? Then what are they?” I questioned.

    “Fengas!” Esperanza shouted happily. Zaine nodded in agreement and with a serious purse of his lips refused to look up from the piece of paper displayed in front of him as he spoke, “Yeah, fingerprints. We got yours, momma, and daddies, we even did our own but…” he ventured and I waited patiently for him to continue. Dean had no inclination however and pushed our son along with his statement. “There’s two that aren’t…from us.” he finished.

    I feared robbers, serial killers, or things of the unknown creeping in the corners of our home and gently asked to see the two unknown prints. Dean quickly rounded the table to lean skeptically over my shoulder. He huffed irritably saying, firmly, “Don’t joke like that boys.” but I could feel the relief overflow through him as he straightened his posture, glad like I was that it didn’t seem to be anything serious. But, I wasn’t convinced as my husband. In one pinched grasp I held the swirling labyrinth of lines that, if you looked hard enough, connected together to make the form of a tree, in the other was a less complicated graph but swirled gracefully into a seven legged snowflake. Both of the symbols almost unnoticeable in the small oval frames that indeed resembled fingerprints.

    “Momma, whatcha think it is.” Kaiden whispered, as if scared to upset his father who thought they were just playing games with their new toy, but it wasn’t a question. No. My son expected me to know all the answers in the world to ease his nerves. I patted his hand, offering him a piece of garlic bread as a distraction, ashamed that I couldn’t give my son an explanation and scared because I wanted one just as bad as he did.


    It was later that night, Dean flipping channels and me trying unsuccessfully to focus on a book, that I brought up the fingerprints again.

    “Dean, what if someone’s been in the house?” I enquired. My husband looked at me, apparently surprised that I was still stuck on the subject. “Like who? You’re boy friend?” he scoffed playfully barely turning his attention away from the TV. I frowned snatching the remote from him and switching the system off, “No. Like a robber or a stalker or…or I don’t know your girl friend.” I said, the last thought hitting me harder now that I considered it. What would be there names? Sequoa and Snow Angel?

    Dean rolled his eyes at me sitting up on his elbows. “I’m not that stupid, besides, I don’t have the money for a divorce lawyer.” I hit his shoulder; the names of the girls becoming coupled with hair colors and styles, body shapes…gosh after three kids had I really become that unattractive for him to resort to cheating? My thoughts were a world wind of trying to pick out habits and changes in his personalities to accomdoate my accusations. What if the kids were home when they-Oh, God!? What if they just thought she was a “friend”? What if-

    “Oh, no, no, please ma’am, don’t think such things. We’re sorry for being late but you we were sidetracked in Siberia and-” turning towards the voice I froze. Scrambling back I pressed against Dean only to find he was as rigid with fear and confusion as I was. At the end of our bed stood two small, barely much bigger than a bar of soap, floated two small figures. One, with her long pink hair tossed over her shoulder and uneasily rolling her lip piercing between her teeth, glared at the other who with eyes as yellow as the sun stared happily at the two of us. This was a dream…or had the boys tampered with out food?

    “Oh, no, no, ma’am. See we’re Keeper-helping out Santa for the time.” the yellow eyed one said cheerfully.

    “E-Elves…?” Dean stammered. The girl flicked her pink hair over her shoulder and fixed my husband in a firece glare that might have matched the intensity of my own when he did something to spark up my anger. “No, elves are wretched things, always hobbling about stealing and being con artist. It was you humans who mixed us up; adults I might add who forever ruined our name. We’re Keepers.”

    The yellow one frantically nodded, “Oh, yes, yes! Keepers! Born with the souls of each and every child. Making sure they at least have some happiness, yes, yes. I’m Kaiden’s Keeper, he calls me Ninja as of now.” Ninja flipped in the air and I guessed the little thing did match my sons bubbly character. Dean once again spoke up, “So you’re-” the girl gave my husband no time to voice his guess of whose Keeper she was. “Zaine’s Keeper. Barbie Zilla is my name.”

    Before either of us could question this Ninja begun to buzz around our room. “Oh, dear, dear you have our Christmas prints-how we help Santa. Good thing we didn’t leave the Halloween prints, Grim would’ve had all our fingers! Oh, okay, okay so could you give them back to us so we could leave?” Barbie Zilla grumbled about dumb brothers and zipped over to me. “Where’s Esperanza’s…Keeper?” I asked hesitantly still doubtful this was real. Barbie Zilla smiled warmly at me and informed me Gigi, a name I recalled my daughter squealing quite often, had gone back to give her report but wouldn’t answer anymore of my questions and begged I give her the prints as they didn’t want to cause anymore trouble than Ninja had already stirred up by exposing them.

    Seeing her distress I plundered through my nearby nightstand for the prints I’d taken from the boys in a effort to rid their minds of Christmas monsters under their bunk bed. Ninja took them from me gratefully and even went as far as to lay barely felt kisses on our fingertips, leaving a warm imprint of a angel on my thumb and a bow on Dean’s. Before leaving Ninja and Barbie Zilla turned back to thank us and added, “Next year they’ll be two more Keepers coming to visit.” and as they spoke these words my eyes felt heavy, a warmth spread from the angel on my fingertip and spread to my belly, and whilst slouching against my husbands whose arms wrapped around me I fell asleep.

    Dreaming of children I didn’t recognize but loved just as much as if I’d given birth to them; a green skinned fellow and a red haired girl fluttering about their shoulders.

    The only thing to assure Dean and I that the night before was real and the dream I had may have been more than just orange juice effecting my unconsciousness being the dimmed marks of a bow and an angel.

  14. jen

    ‘Maybe it’s Mr Rogers’ says Penny.

    Her and Mum fall about laughing, and I feel my face get hot. I’m not allowed to talk about Mr Rogers anymore. If I do Mum says I’ll go back to Doctor Ray. Even though Doctor Ray says Mr Rogers is nothing to worry about. He says Mr Rogers is something my mind made up cos Dad isn’t around. Mum didn’t believe this; she says it’s all an attention thing and if I carry on having friends she can’t see – then she’ll stop seeing me anymore as well. Stupid Penny and her stupid fingerprint kit

    ‘Well maybe it’s Mum’s boyfriend’ I say.

    Penny and Mum stop laughing.

    ‘The one that was here Saturday night’ I finish.

    Mum picks up our dinner plates. I haven’t finished but she takes it anyway and leaves the table to go to the sink.

    ‘You’re such a dick.’ Penny hisses. ’Why don’t you go cry in your room with your pretend friend’

    She stops for a second and a moon grin grips her face.

    ‘You know I’m not surprised your only friend is invisible, probably too embarrassed to be seen with you’ she says and the big smile turns into a thin one.

    I get off my chair, push it under the table and head to my room. I know it isn’t Mum’s boyfriend cos he only went in her bedroom and left without saying hi. Mum thinks it’s a friend of our cleaner, but Maria is too scared of Mum to bring anyone here with her.

    I open my wardrobe and Mr Rogers steps out.

    ‘It ok to talk?’ he says

    I nod; I give him a little smile.

    ‘Got you in trouble again?’ he says. He gives me a toothless smile, but his eyes look worried for me

    I nod and shrug. I’m always in trouble. I give him a wider smile so he knows I don’t mind.

    ‘You took a bath today?’ I say, that’s where Penny got her mystery fingerprint from.

    He nods.

    ‘Good.’ I say and we both laugh.

    ‘I don’t wanna get you in trouble son.’ He says. ‘It’s always great seeing you but maybe I should be leaving. At least for a while’

    I start to nod and stop when his words reach my brain. I look down to my shoes, my eyes get wet and itchy.
    My throat knots in painful lumps; I swallow a few times to clear it. I want to be brave.

    I smile up at him but my eyes are still filling up. The suit he’s got on, I got it from the box in the attic, is the same one as the photo I have of him. And after the bath he looks almost the same. Except now he has no teeth and his hair is long and he’s got that beard. But the eyes are the same – same as mine.

    ‘I wish you could come with me’ he says.

    ‘Me too Dad’

  15. KrystalStar

    It was a simple enough idea: the kids love science. Science encourages learning. Learning is good. Therefore, buy the kiddie forensic kit that was on sale and hope it keeps the kids entertained for the two-week vacation with the entire extended family. Sure enough, Jayden and Mike loved the chemical reactions and Amber was covering the entire house with fingerprint powder. Granted it’d be better if she wasn’t covering my grandmother’s house with fingerprint powder, but she’s old enough to be able to clean up after herself.

    Her reaction to being told to wipe the dust off the walls was the completely expected, “Moo-oom, I know!” I have to wonder how all 12 year olds magically know how to adopt that tone that drives parents the world over completely insane.

    I took a deep breath and forced a calm tone. “So, have you found anything interesting?”

    “Nah, just all of our fingerprints and Mawmaw’s and Uncle Mitch’s and these are probably Aunt Kasey’s.”

    Interestingly, I could tell the differences among the fingerprints as she pointed them out. My brother’s are wide and clearly outlined, despite the inexperienced powder coating them. My grandmother’s are light, sweeping, like she brushes her hands across things instead of grasping them firmly.

    As I surveyed the scope of the powder-coated disaster in the kitchen, I noticed two small hand prints above the doorway. “Do you know whose those are?” I asked, pointing them out.

    Amber looked at them briefly and then shrugged. “They’re probably baby Drew’s.”

    It was likely, I agreed. The hand prints were about the right size to be an 18-month-old’s and any of the taller people in the family would be able to lift him high enough for him to be able to touch that part of the wall. But that did not explain why the hands were then walking their way up the wall and on to the ceiling.

  16. la vie en rouge

    “Mummy, this is my favourite best present. I’ve been finding fingerprints just like they do on the TV. Look.”

    Katy holds up the paper for my approval, beaming. I was expecting her to be a bit too young for that investigation kit, but she’s very bright for her age after all. On her head is her brother’s toy policeman’s helmet, dropping down low over her blue eyes because it’s meant for an older child. She’s taking her detective work very seriously. I pull her onto my lap so she can tell me all about it. She wriggles to get comfortable and snuggles against my shoulder as I lean down to look.

    “Show me what you’ve found then.”

    She points at the page with her chubby finger.

    “That one’s off your teacup. Daddy helped me, and he said I had to be careful because it’s china and the china’s… fragile.”

    She pronounces the word carefully. Dan must have just taught it to her. We compare my fingers to the powdery mark and work out that it’s the print of the right index.

    “Aren’t you clever? And what about that one? Whose is that?”

    “That’s Daddy’s. I got it off his mobile phone.”

    “Oh… you didn’t get powder all over it, did you?”

    She giggles and squirms.

    “Maybe just a little bit… Then I tried Hoover’s food bowl – but it didn’t work.”

    “Well, Hoover doesn’t have fingers, does he? He has paws. Maybe the kit doesn’t work on them. What’s that one?”

    Even under the outsized helmet, I can tell that her brow is wrinkled in perplexity.

    “Don’t know… It’s not yours, and it’s not Daddy’s, and it’s not Grandma’s, ‘cause I asked her already…”

    Strange. I try to help her solve the conundrum.

    “Well, where did you find it?”

    “On the end of my bed, right next to where the presents were. So I thought it was going to be mine, ‘cept it’s not, because it’s too big and it doesn’t look like any of mine.”

    She’s right, it is a mystery. Unless… the print must have got there at the same time that the presents arrived. No one else has been in her room. She just needs a little help to work it out.

    “Well think… if the fingerprint was on the end of your bed, and the presents were on the end of your bed… then maybe it got there when the presents did. Now, who was it that came to bring you the presents? I bet you didn’t see him, did you, because you’re a good girl and you were sleeping.”

    Her eyes open wide and her mouth gapes as begins to realise the identity of the extraordinary person she’s managed to fingerprint. It’s not every day you manage to get a magic print like that to keep. She stares up into my face for the confirmation that it could really be true.

    I wink at Dan. Katy doesn’t need to know just yet that Santa Claus is really Mr. Brown from next door.

  17. JRSimmang

    Second response, a little less sci-fi, and a little longer.


    The day after Christmas, our youngest son Eisler covered the entire first floor in graphite powder. I immediately regretted getting him that Crime Scene set. It was my last big purchase, though. This was a thin Christmas as it was; it’s painful being laid off in November.

    “Oh calm down, dear.” Francy patted my arm. She saw the look on my face. “He’s happy, finally.”

    I sighed heavily, choked on some of the airborne dust, and coalesced. “You’re right, hon.” We were all still getting used to our oldest son’s absence. He moved to Colorado before Christmas with his new girlfriend. I thought it was about time. They’d been together for a few years already.

    Eisler compiled our fingerprints in his “database.” I had extra time, so we put together profiles for everyone. We found Eisler’s, Francy’s and mine, and Ellis’s. What we didn’t expect was the six other sets.

    “Dad, who do you think they belong to?”

    “Don’t know.” I was actually enjoying this free time, so we started to look into what kinds of people they were. Two of them had radical loops, probably male because of the size. We had a thought that perhaps these people were the easy going ones of the family. They were the ones who really tied the family down to earth. “Like you dad!”

    Two of the other ones had Peacock’s Eyes, perfectionists, decisive, “like mom for sure.”

    I laughed.

    One had tented arches, fiery and spontaneous, “definitely like you, Eisler.” And he frowned.

    The last one was unusual. The fingerprint was just an imprint, no lines and completely solid. “Now why would that happen?” I asked Eisler.

    “Not sure, dad.”

    New Years was coming up and this printless person was biting at me, chewing at me. I didn’t have work to keep me occupied, so I had to find out who this person was. On December 29th, I went to the public records and tried to find out who was in our house before us. Micro-fisch was still a thing, so I scoured the newspapers in the library.

    I went back every day over the week.

    “Honey, did you find anything?” Francy said to me before pouring her coffee into her travel mug one morning.

    “No. Still nothing. I have pictures of the people, but there’s nothing substantial.”

    She looked into her mug, steam slowly coiling around the mouth opening. “I meant about your job.”

    She left me that morning at the breakfast table, thinking about what she said.

    I sent my resume out to a few colleges and universities, good work for an out-of-work cop. At two o’clock, I went to grab some lunch, but I wasn’t hungry. There on the counter was one of Eisler’s slides. That fingerprint. I picked it up and held it between my fingers.

    I set out early the next morning, travelling down the streets, calling people who cropped up in the photographs, and knocking on doors. The couple that was in the house before us were just down the street. Their fingerprints matched two of the three sets.

    My last stop took me thirty minutes out of town to the outstretched hand of a guy named Hoof. He was a tall man, burly, with a bushy beard. He invited me in for a cup of coffee when I mentioned my house.

    “Hoof? Interesting name,” I said.

    “It’s a nickname. Got it while I was in the Yukon.”

    “Yukon.” We made small talk for a few minutes.

    “So, how can I help you, Carl?”

    I told him about the CSI kit and the fingerprinting. “So, you see, I’ve been driven nearly mad trying to find out who this person with no fingerprints is.”

    He considered this for a moment, then lifted his hands. “Like this?”

    I stared. I couldn’t help it. My white whale, here.

    He chuckled. “Yeah. It’s strange. Glorious thing, though. I have a special file at the DMV.” Then his eyebrows stitched together and he frowned.

    “Is there a story?”

    He looked me square in the face. “Of course. Your house burned down a long time ago. My hands were seared clean when I tried to pull my family out. My daughter was the only one who got out.”


    “I rebuilt the house after the fire, trying to reclaim a part of the family. You got a family, Carl?”

    “I do.”

    He leaned in and put a hand on my shoulder. “No matter how smooth your hands get, you can never wash them totally clean.”

    We finished our coffee and chatted a while longer. When I got up to leave, we shook hands again. “Get a job, Carl. It’ll do you good.”

    – JR Simmang

    1. Kerry Charlton

      You hit this story, running hard, JR. and it never slowed down. I’ve read it twice so far and I’m ready to read it a third time. It’s a powerful set of words and leads the reader in all sorts of avenues. I haven’t figured which direction I want to head to in your writing. I’m waiting for other responses to see if I’ve hit the nerve of your tale. I’m not telling yet. Kerry

      1. jhowe

        OK Kerry, now you have me wondering about the nerve of the story. First of all, I loved the names JR came up with: Eisler, Ellis, Francy and Hoof. Very unusual and likeable. The nerve though; I sensed the tension between Carl and Francy over the out of work issue and about Ellis moving away. Then there was Hoof’s burned off finger prints and his guilt about not saving the entire family. Pretty intense stuff.

    2. don potter

      Guess Hoof rebuilt the house and the prints were his and those of the family that perished. He hoped Carl would get a job so the pain of the subject would not have to be revisited. Whether this take on the story is right or not, I enjoyed the storytelling.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        This is how I figure the story. Since most finger prints evaporate after 24 hours and the title of the story is “Windows Down”, I think Hoof went in the house to have final closure over the fire and checked on Carl’s family.

        He may have felt guilty from the fire because he accidently started it when he fell asleep, smoking a cigarette.

    3. JRSimmang

      First of all, thank each of you for your input and feedback. Secondly, I must admit that I write, as I think all of us write, for the story. You’ve all added something amazing that my story couldn’t have been on its own, your own interpretations. Kerry, Howe, and Don, you’re all right in discerning the guilt of the characters, and, to be honest, it never occurred to me that Hoof would have revisited the house to ensure Carl and his family had settled in.
      Again, thank you all for the feedback. I cannot measure its impact.

  18. loadsafreckles

    Karen peered her head around the door to Conor’s bedroom.
    “I’m heading off to work now honey”.
    Conor didn’t look up from his book.
    “Becky is downstairs with Karl and John. I will be back after my shift ok?”
    He didn’t reply.
    The commotion from downstairs interrupted her.
    “Mom, Mom, guess what?”
    “What?” she replied as she entered the kitchen.
    “Becky asked her Uncle to help us with the fingerprints”.
    “My uncle is a police officer. He is going to look at the “suspect fingerprints”, she winked at Karen.
    Karen smiled, “I hope you guys thanked Becky?”
    “Thank you Becky” they both shouted at the same time. Karen looked at the mess on the kitchen table. The forensic kit had kept them amused for hours.
    “Conor is in his bedroom. I will be home about 10. If you need anything…”.
    “Its fine Mrs. Olson”.

    On the drive to work, Karen cried. The past two months had been tough. Karl and John, aged 7 and 5, seemed to be coping but Conor was her biggest worry. He sat in his room day after day, barely speaking to anyone. She worried all evening.

    There was excitement in the house as she arrived home.
    John ran up and hugged her leg. Karl joined him.
    “Mom, Officer Nolan was…” Karl started.
    “He helped us” John interrupted. “He helped us with the…”.
    Karl put his hand over John’s mouth.
    “Mom, he said the fingerprints belong to a man”.
    Karen looked confused, “What man?”
    “He said we need to look for more clues”.
    “Clues”, John repeated.
    The two of them dashed off upstairs.
    “Has everything been ok?” Karen asked as she took her coat off.
    “Yes, they have been on an investigative mission all evening” she mocked.
    Doors and drawers were slamming upstairs as they ran from room to room upstairs.
    “Conor?” Karen asked.
    Becky shook her head, “Stayed in his room”.
    Karen signed.
    A noise that sounded like a stampede came from upstairs. They both looked up at the ceiling.
    “I don’t know what to do with him” Karen sat at the kitchen table and ran her hands through her hair.
    “He just needs more time” Becky consoled.
    Karen frowned. “Is it a bit, quiet?”
    They both ran upstairs. Conor’s bedroom was empty.
    They could hear a voice down the hall from Karl’s room. It was Conor.
    They stopped in the hallway and listened.
    His voice was shaky as he read the words.

    “My Darling Boys,

    I am sorry I left so quickly and without saying goodbye. God sometimes needs people urgently for important work. He asked for me so I could help him with a very big job, so I had to go.

    You were very clever to figure out the fingerprints were mine. God allowed me one last visit while you were sleeping last night so I could leave you this note and give you one last kiss goodnight.

    Don’t worry about me. Heaven is a beautiful place. I miss you all so much and I think about you every day. God knows that asking me to come and work for him was unfair but he says you are strong boys and will be ok. We have a very special room here with a big screen where I can have a look to see how you are all doing so know that I will be looking out for you all.

    Conor, as you are the eldest I am putting you in charge of man things. I know you will do a great job looking out for your brothers because you are a fine young man and I am always proud of you. But never forget that if you need any help to ask Mom. She will be there for you.

    Boys always remember that I love you with all of my heart and even though I am not there in front of you, I am always looking down on you. I am so proud to say you are my boys.

    Big hugs and kisses to you. You are in my heart forever and ever.


    Silence filled the house. Karen gently pushed the bedroom door open and saw the three boys sat on the floor, Conor holding the white sheets of paper.
    When they realised she was standing there they all ran and hugged her. She squeezed each of them tightly and looked over at Becky.
    “Thank you” she mouthed.

    1. jhowe

      I must admit, I thought the letter was from the dad until you let me off the hook at the end. I was feeling a little uncomfortable about: how did he write a letter, how could he leave prints…. I loved the ending.

  19. W Brown

    Her daughter Kate had desperately wanted that children’s fingerprint kit. She was fascinated by crime shows, such as Law & Order and CSI.

    After opening the kit with barely contained excitement, Kate asked Rachel, “What should I try first?”

    “Umm, well – I know, how about the doorknob? There’s probably a lot of prints on that,” Rachel said.

    Once Kate had used the kit to get the prints from the doorknob, they realized that there was a set of prints from someone other than the two of them.

    Rachel pondered that for a moment. I guess I didn’t clean off the doorknob after all, she thought. She would have sworn she had cleaned it after it had been installed, just three days earlier.

    Later, Rachel, who happened to be a little OCD when it came to germs, wiped down not only the doorknob but also almost every touchable surface in the house.

    That night she woke up suddenly but quite sure why. She thought maybe there had been a noise, maybe overhead, on the roof. She strained but didn’t hear anything. Then, thinking maybe Kate was possibly the source of the noise, she went to check on her. It wasn’t Kate, though. Kate was asleep in her bed.

    With a sense of unease, although she wasn’t sure why she was uneasy, Rachel went back to sleep.

    “Mom! Mom, give me your fingers again!” Kate said enthusiastically the next morning. Rachel mused about how much fun Kate was having. She re-fingerprinted Rachel and also the doorknob again.

    That evening, after returning home from dropping Kate off at a friend’s for a sleepover, Rachel sat down on the couch. Her gaze fell to the coffee table and the fingerprinting kit that Kate had left sitting there despite her assurances to her mother that all of her toys had been put away.

    Rachel grabbed the cards and for some reason she decided to take a look at them. She saw the one with three sets of prints on it. That must be the one from yesterday, she thought. Then she looked at the second card. Her heart lurched and her breath stopped. It had three sets of prints as well. Shaking at the ramifications of that, she told herself she had to calm down. She must have missed it when Kate took the 2nd set of prints yesterday before Rachel had cleaned the doorknob. That had to be it. She looked at the box. How many cards did it contain? Ten. She counted the cards. Ten. How many were used? Two were used – one from today, one from yesterday.

    But that couldn’t be true. Because if it was true, then… She couldn’t finish the thought. She did a quick mental review of yesterday and today. She was right. No one else had come into the home besides the two of them. No one else that they knew about.

    He watched her on the monitor. The feed was coming from the hidden camera. What’s that she’s looking at? He looked at the lid of the box on the table. He watched her as she took the cards and went over to the doorknob, staring at it. In an instant, he knew he had no time left. He flung open the door from the attic and headed quickly and quietly down the stairs.

    She walked over to the table and picked up her cell phone. She dialed 9-1-

    He made sure she didn’t push the second 1.

    1. don potter

      Nice job. The story was appeared to be child’s play until the child left to play. Once the adults got going the heat was turned up. Who was that guy? Probably doesn’t matter.

  20. slayerdan

    “Five hundred years.”

    “Five hundred and twenty three to be exact,” Jonas replied, a somber discord in his voice. He looked up as he slid back in the oversized leather chair. He met the gaze of his mentor and benefactor, Lazarus Long, and felt the knot in his stomach tighten. He knew the outcome here would not be favorable.

    “You’ve ran countries. Orchestrated wars. Designed governmental coups. You helped find the cure for…” Lazarus booming voice trailed off as Jonas interjected.

    “DAMNIT!” he said, jumping from the chair and pounding his fist on the giant steel desk between them,” I know what I’ve done! I don’t need a history lesson here,” he finished, his hands trembling as he stared at the possibly the most dangerous man on the planet. He backed away from the desk and made his way to the window. Tears welled up in his eyes as he looked across the remnants of the East Bay, almost fully vaporized in the Uprising of 2301,

    “What do you feel you need then, Jonas Gray? Or do you have another name you would prefer?” Lazarus asked, his deep voice alive with both concern and ambivalence.

    Jonas felt his icy stare, the stare of a man that had seen a thousand years. The freak of God and nature that had survived more than a hundred books could chronicle. Jonas had let him down. He let a simple slip, a simple desire to make his children happy, possibly destroy all he had built in this life.

    “They are my kids Lazarus, my children,” Jonas allowed the tears to flow freely. He had a strong desire to die, to cut out his own heart, to let his children think him dead in lieu of the alternative.
    If only he could die.

    Jonas had found the old boxed up items in some ruins. He knew his childrens’ nostalgic love of the old shows would make it the perfect gift. They spent hours laughing at the archaic methods of collecting clues. Three months ago, Christmas waqs the best they had ever had. He now hated that he underestimated the imagination of his children. That using a box of old toys over 400 years old,his own children would lift his fingerprints from around their home and do a database comparison.

    A comparison that yielded matches over 400 years old. Matches that will bring questions.

    “You’ve lost children before Jonas,” was all Lazarus replied.

    “To war and old age you cold, goddamned machine!” he yelled as he turned to face Lazarus,” not by just walking away.” He wanted to go to his children, grab them and take them and run and hide. He knew that in the remains of the world they now lived in, there was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. The home of Lazarus was the safest place he could be.

    The safest place his children could be.
    “You will care for them and find them a place of position?” Jonas asked as he stood in the shadows of a third story walkway, peering down at his children.

    “They will be fine with me. Do not return here for 90 years Jonas Gray, unless I summon you first,” Lazarus said with enough hint of emotion that Jonas noticed.

    He turned away as tears once again covered his face.

    A last look over the walkway, Jonas took the first step of the longest walk of his 523 years.

    1. calicocat88

      This is my kind of story! I could feel your MC’s intensity, his desperation. Poor guy! And what an interesting one as well…I’d like to know who this fella is. You could do some damage with a MC like this guy. In my opinion, you should continue with this story. Whichever direction you’d go would turn out really good. Great job!

    2. Observer Tim

      Interesting; though I have to admit Lazarus Long is my absolute least favourite of Heinlein’s characters. I am also a bit curious why he would want to hide his immortality from his children and could not explain it away by other means.

      Ah, the vagaries of the human mind …

    3. Observer Tim

      Interesting, though Lazarus Long is my personal least favourite of Heinlein’s characters.

      I am curious why Jonas couldn’t find another explanation for his kids, and why having old fingerprints around the house would be such a disaster. But there’s a lot that’s not said yet…

    4. slayerdan

      Thanks for reading. Lazarus was Lazarus in name only…..homage to an immortal… was Gray, a nod to Dorian. Immortals strive to not be noticed generation and Jonas did things in the past the current city state governments would be interested in….plus the basic question of how do the fingerprints of someone long dead just appear? I went over on words but didn’t want to do 200 more to offer more back story. The basic outline is there. And I do plan to bring Jonas Gray back. When the prompt is right. 😉

  21. tmcasler

    “Mom, look at the finger prints we found!” Emery bounced up and down from excitement as she pointed to the forensic kit spread out on the table.
    “Wow, very cool honey. Did you solve the crime then?”
    “No,” Connor broke in just as excited, “We opened a mystery!”
    I smiled at my 12 year old son who swore he was going into the FBI when he grew up. He certainly had the brains for it. I played along, “A mystery! Well, I do love a mystery. What is it?”
    “Who the ghost is.” Emery stuck her chin up as if daring me to question her statement. She was in the precious transition from liking ponies to liking boys, and I was trying not to force her to stay a little girl. However, she certainly was old enough not to believe in ghosts. Before I could question them, my son began to explain.
    “See mom, we were able to tell the different fingerprints apart. Look,” he motioned for me to hunch over the findings with him, “that smallest finger print is obviously Emery’s and the little bigger one is mine. The next one there is yours. Then there are two really big finger prints. So see? A ghost.” He smiled in triumph.
    “Hun, why can’t both of those big finger prints be daddy’s?” My voice sounded reassuring like a mother’s should, but my stomach quickly knotted itself. Guilt does a funny thing to a person. It makes every other person a judge and prosecutor, and the littlest things damning evidence. It makes you sweaty and paranoid while you desperately try to keep your lies in order. It makes your panicked mind regard an extra finger print equally condemning as a misplaced pair of boxers.
    Emery gave my arm a little push, “Mom, you’re not even listening.”
    “I’m sorry, what?”
    “They don’t look the same. We don’t know which one is Dad’s and which one is the ghost’s, but they are different.”
    Connor grabbed a magnifying glass from the kit, “I can’t wait till Dad gets home! He can help us look for the ghost. We are gonna search everywhere!”
    As if on cue I could hear my husband’s car pull across the gravel of the driveway. I started to hyperventilate and I heard Connor whisper to his sister that I must be afraid of ghosts. Could they really tell if the finger prints were someone else’s? What if they dusted in our bedroom? I heard my husband enter the front door. I heard my children run up and explain the mystery to him. I heard them make their way to the living room where I stood. I heard as my son concluded that they could 100% conclude that another man had been in our house, and frequently. I slowly turned and met my husband’s gaze, and then in unnerved voices we both exclaimed, “I can explain!”

  22. PeterW

    What do you tell your kids when they find Steve Buscemi’s fingerprints in your house?… The Steve Buscemi, who had lead roles in Resorvior Dogs, Fargo, and the Sopranos. And there is no mistake about the fingerprints; the forensic kit is the best amateur forensic kit available on the market today. You did a lot of research before spending nearly one grand on it; you’re that kind of dad. It was designed by 3M and famous forensic-scientist and pioneer David R. Ashbaugh. Its manual has hundreds of photos of dead bodies for examples, and over a thousand pages of forensic history and technique. You had to carefully remove the blue-light before putting it under the Christmas tree because you didn’t want the kids searching for semen stains in the master bedroom, and despite this, Kelly, age 10, confirmed semen on your bed using a multiple of swabs, followed by RSID strips, and then reconfirmed using an acid phosphatase test (at this point Karen, mom, decided the master bedroom was off-limits to investigation). So when Kelly finds Steve Buscemi’s finger and palm print on her bedroom wall and also on the wall of Matilda, age 5’s, bedroom, you know for sure that Steve Buscemi has been in your house, and you have to explain this to your kids.
    Image, you and Kelly and Matilda sitting their staring at Steve Buscemi’s mugshot, mongrelesque and pathetic on the computer (but those forlorn big blue eyes). The FBI’s data says he has been arrested and briefly detained for tax fraud and procession of marijuana in Fresno, CA, date May 25th, 2006. Then Matilda bursts into tears and says, “Daddy, It’s a monster,” and Kelly looks stricken.
    So you, while trying to keep calm yourself, sit Matilda on your lap, and explain to the kids ‘monsters don’t exist;’ you tell them that you planted the fingerprints there yourself. You gently remove Matilda’s thumb from her mouth and suggest they go play with Matilda’s new dolls, and Matilda’s tears now dry, happily scampers off.
    “But Dad,” says Kelly, whose eyes are still wide; who can tell something is up.
    “Please, sweetheart, go play with your sister,” you tell her; then you begin lock down the entire house. You check the attic, the basement, under the beds. You latch all the doors and windows, pull all the curtains tight. You’re panicked, because Steve Buscemi, whiny guy in Armageddon, good friend of Ethan and Joel Cohen, narrator of Broardwalk Empire has literally violated your home, has been in your daughter’s bedrooms. You call the police quietly from the bathroom. They say that they will be over tomorrow morning.
    But late that night you can tell he is there. You feel the Buscemi presence. Its sends chills all over your body. You leave a gently Karen’s snoring form, arm yourself with a Westminister Fly-weight Five Iron, and head out into the darkened house. You find him in Kelly’s bedroom.
    There he is— skinny, horrible ugly, incredibly obnoxious in every role he has played— hand against the wall, looking—sad, snivelly, bugged-eyed—over a sleeping Kelly.
    “Steve,” you say,
    You approach, cocking the Five. “Steven.”
    He holds up a hand, but continues staring. And for a second, you are about to bash in the head of one of Hollywood’s most prolific stars. But then he says, surprising not whiny, surprising not at a high canary-like pitch, “You have a really nice, family.”
    Then he looks you in the eye, his thin, dirty mustache trembles, “You’re a good father,” he says, “you’re doing a really good job.”
    You let the Westminister Five drop to your side. Steve Buscemi is harmless.
    He says, “I’m going to leave now,” then timidly, “do you mind showing me out?”
    As you lead a sad, hunched, gray-haired Buscemi to your door, you don’t know what to say. Buscemi starts to move in for a hug, but then pats you on the back. He says, “Don’t worry, man. I won’t be back. I just had to see…”
    As he disappears into the night, you manage to say, “Steve, I really liked you in Barton Fink.”
    The next morning when Kelly asks you who Steve Bushy is, you tell her, just one of my friends. Then, Kelly heaves the forensic kit on the table and tells you that she needs practice ballistic tests. She wants you to fire grandpa’s antique hunting rifle in the house. “Ok, sweetheart,” you say.

      1. PeterW

        Yeah, read it again… tell me what you think of the second (put more like first) person narration or perhaps leave some advice in terms of writing (like for inst. sentence structure); anything at all would help!

  23. bk78

    As I trudged up the stairs, my hips rose and plummeted unevenly from the broken heel of my shoe. The white, cheaply-painted banister was polka dotted with prints from the ashy powder Adrian had dusted all over the house. My hands were already stained black by the time I turned the brass handle of the bedroom door.

    My shoes thudded heavily against the interior of the trash can as I tossed them on the bed of used Kleenex and the condom wrappers leftover from Eric’s visit last Friday. A small run was beginning in the toe of my stockings, on top of the chipped red-polished toenail. My eyes caught sight of familiar sooty polka dots creeping along the lip of each dresser drawer and coating the surfaces of the ikea picture frames that sat atop the piece of antique furniture.

    Emerging from the bathroom with a damp towel in hand, I wiped away the black layer of dirt on my dresser that Adrian had left on boxing day. In seconds the towel was filthy. It needed to be rinsed, but instead, I set it on the surface of the dresser and picked up the ikea picture frame that housed the photograph of Tanya and David’s wedding. My blackened fingers left new sets of prints that matched the ones revealed by Adrian’s detective kit. I watched, hypnotized by the arcing swirls and spirals that met in the middle like a modified bulls-eye, each spot an individual hurricane speckling the sheet of cheap glass.

    The spots on the second frame—the one containing the photo of me, were larger. The picture was graying, coated in dust that was more authentic and permanent than the soot from Adrian’s detective kit. The prints were different too. They were not stormy, rounded whirlpools like mine, but blurry, less distinct arches, punctuated by creases in the skin.
    My arm reached out involuntarily. Slowly aligning the tips of my fingers with the ones Christopher had left behind. I noticed the wetness on the front of my shirt before I realized I was crying. I fell to the floor. Shaking in hollow, quiet sobs, the emptiness of the bedroom pressed up against my chest and stayed there like bricks being laid upon my ribcage.

    It had been eleven months and thirteen days since Dr. Steinberg had called. The phone on my nightstand had been replaced. So had the sheets, and the rug, and the nightlight. The second bedside table had been sold months ago to a Vietnamese woman off Craigslist. Meaningless objects cast aside in the name of pain and illness and despair. Peering through my tears, I saw the glass of the frame had cracked. The woman in the photo, who had once been me, appeared to be crying too. Streaks of dirt smeared as real tears washed away Christopher’s fingerprints. Tragic raindrops erasing the shadows of a hand I never again could touch.

  24. jhowe

    From a crack in the wall a faded figure peered out and shook his head. The damn kids were dusting for finger prints again. He would have to tell the others about this and he didn’t relish the thought. The figure began to wither and shrink slowly into the depths of the wall. The others would now demand that drastic steps be taken and he was not looking forward to carrying out their wishes.

    “Look at these prints,” Peter said.

    “They’re like the prints we found on Dad’s desk,” Gary said as he analyzed the images Peter had pulled from the front door glass surface. The twin boys marveled at the curvy cartoon like images so unlike the elimination prints they had taken from family members and friends with access to the house. The new prints looked human but in an exaggerated, comical form.

    “Let’s get some more,” Peter said as he eagerly organized the equipment in the kit they got for Christmas a few days earlier. The two boys started to comb the old house interior, dusting, brushing and searching for prints to lift and enter into the booklet that came with the kit. They were beginners at the forensic process and concentrated on easy surfaces like glass and smooth wood furniture.

    There was no shortage of prints as it turned out. Every surface they analyzed contained multiple caricatures of finger prints that baffled and excited the boys. “Let’s call dad,” Peter said as he picked up the phone receiver.

    “No,” said Gary. “Let’s wait till he gets home. He hates it when we call him at work.” The boys continued to gather more and more prints from all over the Victorian house. As they worked their way to the end of the upstairs hall they came to a door they hadn’t noticed before.

    “What the hell?” Gary said putting his hand on the round knob that appeared to be drawn on the door with ink or dark gray paint. In fact the entire door seemed to have been drawn onto the wall.

    “Don’t go in there,” Peter shouted. “I’m calling Dad.” As Peter sprinted down the hall Gary turned the knob and pushed the door into a room that shouldn’t have been there.

    “Hello?” Gary called out into the darkness. He felt around for a light switch as he stepped in. He found the switch and flipped it up and a naked bulb dangling from a frayed wire lit the room that couldn’t possibly be real. He took a couple of steps and the door behind him slammed shut and started to fade. Gary grabbed for the knob but it shrank from his hand as he tried to turn it. He shouted for Peter but his voice squeaked like he had inhaled from a helium balloon.

    From a gap in the darkened interior of the wall cavity Gary saw Peter walk down the hall and stop at the animated hallway door. “Don’t go in there!” Gary called but his voice was just a high pitched raspy whisper. He pounded on the plaster boards but his hands were like glove shaped balloons and they made hardly a sound. He watched in horror as Peter turned the knob.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Good horror story. JHowe. The tension builds steadily and your description of what was happening to Gary was intense. That’s the trouble with Victorian homes; bad electricity, rotten plumbing, no airconditioning and evil spirits.

    2. calicocat88

      Yikes! Twilight Zone! Great story JHowe 🙂 I felt the panic as Gary seemed to be vanishing into nothing and then his brother honing in on the same fate. Spooky! Good description as well.

  25. Kerry Charlton


    An ancient turnstyle bridge still separated Avalon, a small barrier island on the Jersey coast, from a brackish bay. As Laura and I drove across the wooden planks on the bridge, my mind drifted back fifty years to when my brother Bill and I had fished off the bridge pilings, for channel bass.

    “I can’t believe you bought this house without a walk through,” Laura said.

    “The cottage was a foreclosure; besides I spent my summers here in the fifties.

    However, I hadn’t told Laura everything. The sales agent had cautioned me,

    “The last owners had quit making payments and abandoned it. They were tired of the poltergeist keeping them awake at night.”

    I didn’t take him serious at the time, but as we drove closer to the cottage my doubts soared. The raised beach house needed a serious coat of paint, outside screens to be replaced and the overgrowth of vines and weeds needed attention. It gave the same appearance as I remembered it as a boy.

    I started to relax until I stepped inside. A slight chill arose and I looked at Laura to see if she felt the same.

    “What do you think?” I asked.

    “It’s darling,” she said. “I’m decorating it in my mind.”

    We rented a condo for a few weeks and started sprucing the cottage up. The first day, I knew I was in trouble; my tools kept wandering off. And then I thought of Dad. He was always misplacing stuff and it seemed ………………….. No, it couldn’t be. He’d been gone for thirty years.

    Laura kept shagging tools for me and she appeared edgy. I suggested we walk the beach that afternoon. As we traveded by the shore from Avalon to Stone Harbor, a trek of four miles, waves danced and crashed on the beach. This had been my Father’s favorite pastime by the sea.

    I noticed barely discernable foot impressions in the wet sand by Laura’s side, keeping pace on our walk.
    I didn’t mention the oddity and if she had noticed the foot prints, she gave no awareness of them.

    Out of nowhere, Laura broke the mood,

    “Why’d you turn the radio on at five this morning?”

    “Me? I didn’t hear anything.”

    “Don’t mess with me Bill.”

    Everytime I heard Dad’s name, I winced slightly even though I was a junior. There were little things Laura hadn’t noticed.

    The morning paper had been read and refolded for the last week before I got to it. And then, there were the
    damn icetrays I put back in the refrigerator without filling them, one of Laura’s biggest nit picks. But it had stopped three days ago. All the trays had water to the brim and it hadn’t been Laura who filled them.

    I knew he was here and I think Laura felt the same and hadn’t mentioned it. She had a great relationship with
    Dad, as he had always admired beautiful women. So I put them both to the test.

    One thing I had emulated my Father doing, was drinking cheap bourbom from a shot glass. I opened a bottle of Old Crow one night, placed it on the kitchen table, surrounded by three shot glasses. And I went to bed early that night.

    At three in the morning, I crept down the hallway, peered through the kitchen door and saw Laura, lifting a shot to a ghostly image of Dad. I slipped into the chair next to my Father and filled my glass.

    “Here’s to the three of us,” I said..

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I’m with you on the memories. Some times I worry I might forget something and then when I write about my past, it all coming rushing back. I’m glad you enjoyed the trip. Kerry

  26. RJ Miller

    This is the second of these exercises I’ve done, and I keep bumping into the 500-word limit, so once again I feel like my ending is kind of rushed, but here goes.

    “The Last Dinner”
    Authentic Fingerprint Powder! I chuckled as I glanced at the description on the box. When I was a kid, I’d wanted to be an adventurer, blasting bad guys with guns and chopping them to pieces with swords. Lucy’s kids, on the other hand, much preferred to imagine themselves as doctors. Or architects. Or, apparently, detectives. Especially James, who was the most inquisitive of the three. Personally I wished they’d be a little less brainy and a bit more active. Play some sports, maybe. But it was Christmas, James wanted the detective kit, and as the soon-to-be stepdad it was my job to deliver. So, the detective kit found its way beneath the tree, along with the chemistry set, erector set, and the three-dimensional Statue of Liberty puzzle.

    The kids were thrilled with the gifts, of course, and Lucy seemed thrilled with me. That, really, was the point of all this, after all. Our first holiday together. Lucy, the kids, and I were finally starting to feel like a real family, and the phrase “You’re not my real dad” hadn’t been uttered in nearly two days.

    While Lucy prepared dinner, James began his first investigation, which almost immediately led to two riots. The first began when Amy, the oldest, discovered her diary covered in fingerprint powder. But that fight was mere child’s play compared to the three-way standoff that unfolded when James triumphantly announced he had found Billy’s fingerprints not only on Amy’s diary, but on several of her dresser drawer handles as well. It took nearly an hour, but I eventually arranged peace between “the creepy, snooping pervert,” “the obnoxious little tattle-tale,” and “the over-dramatic psychopath,” all before dinner. Just call me Stepfather of the Year.

    We were halfway through the slightly overcooked turkey when James announced he had also “dusted” in our master bedroom, and his grin seemed to stretch from one end of the table to the other as he explained to Lucy that the evidence proved her “secret stash” of chocolate bars was not a secret to me. Obnoxious little tattle-tale, indeed. I suddenly doubted my decision to ground Billy for a week. But James wasn’t done yet. “I found another set of prints, too. They’re not yours, and they’re not Mom’s. They look like a man’s prints, though. They’re all over the nightstand, and on the bedpost, too.”

    I was transfixed as a dozen emotions flickered across Lucy’s face: fear, doubt, anger, perhaps even a hint of shame. Shame, that was it. In that instant, I knew. There was another man.

    I wanted to say something, to tell her we’d work it out, but I never had the chance. She picked up the carving knife that sat next to the turkey, and turned toward James, who would be the first of us to die. “Your brother’s right,” she whispered, her voice a strange, wavering mixture of malice and regret. “You really are an obnoxious little tattle-tale.”

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Your story starts out easy and at the same time, draws the reader into a familiar plot of a step-dad and three children. And then the plot thickens, turning to the worst evil imaginable, a mother killing her own.
      Good response on the prompt. I enjoyed the read. Scary!

  27. Observer Tim

    I stared at the results in disbelief. My family had owned the house for decades! We were a good 10 miles out of town, and we hadn’t had visitors in six months. The kids were home-schooled, and we ordered our groceries online and had them delivered to our mail drop at the end of the road.

    It all started when we got Emily the forensics kit: you know, the one they advertised last Christmas. The whole family were wild fans of CSI, NCIS, and all those ‘cop science’ shows. A junior forensics kit was the kind of thing she could have hours of fun with. And she did.

    Emily, 8 years old, dusted the attic and found a treasure trove. She was a whiz, and had assembled fingerprint profiles for us, my parents, and my brother and sister, based on latent prints lifted off various pieces of junk in the attic. She even had a couple of prints that I think were my grandfather’s.

    Now that she had reference samples, Emily had started dusting the main floor of the house. We couldn’t look across a room without seeing black powder. But even that was only a nuisance; the problem was what she found. It was my brother Brian’s prints, along with those of his wife Mary and son Tyler. That was strange enough given that they hadn’t been up in over a year, but the worst of it was they were dead.

    Brian and his family had been coming up the mountain to visit us for Christmas when they lost control of the minivan on the icy road and went into Shuyler’s Gorge. They pulled the three burned bodies out of the wreckage on Christmas Eve. We still observed Christmas, for Emily’s sake, but it was pretty subdued.

    And yet here were Brian’s fingerprints on a brass table lamp that had been polished three days ago.
    I’m a rational man, and I didn’t believe in ghosts before all this started. But this left me at a total loss. I tried to e-mail my sister Kate, but the connection was down – again. It had been pretty spotty for months.

    Later that day I saw my first apparition. It looked like Tyler playing among some boxes in the living room. He was semi-transparent. I called his name and he looked around, but didn’t seem to notice me. I tried a few more times to get his attention but he ignored me. I’d heard ghosts often don’t react to the living.

    Emily made a game of running back and forth through Mary’s ghost. She apparently talked to Brian about it, but we couldn’t hear a word either of them were saying.

    That night Elizabeth screamed when spectral Brian laid down in bed next to her and put his arm through something a bit too personal. We were both so shaken we slept on the couch.

    The next morning Brian and Mary started shifting the furniture around and bringing boxes in from his car. The Chevy sedan he’d owned for years.

    Then I finally remembered: I was the one driving my family home in the minivan.

    1. calicocat88

      I did not see this coming! Great suspense and you kept the reader asking questions throughout the entire story. I liked this 🙂 Such a spooky vibe here and you did it delicately without forcing the eeriness. Great job!

  28. calicocat88

    (No, you aren’t crazy. I’m trying to get to know a group of characters all involved with each other so bear with me when you see familiar names.)

    The violin sounded like wet wires. Angelica sat cross-legged on the floor in the middle of the living room, tuning. She wanted to suspend herself around the neck with one of those strings. Her children weren’t going to let her get away with that, though.

    “Be careful before you hurt yourself,” her three year old Charlie was on the couch playing with her Barbie dolls, levitating them, making them move how she wanted while she clasped her tiny hands together and made strange voices for them. It was sickening to watch her children play each day unaware that their lives were barely hanging by a thread.

    The locked clicked on the front door and Robin came into the trailer with a bag of groceries.

    “What took you so long?” Angelica didn’t bother looking over her shoulder. She knew one day the wrong man was going to walk through that door and she wouldn’t do anything to stop him.

    “They were out of goat’s milk,” Robin said, stomping his boots on the mat. He sat the bag on the table and then came and stood over the couch watching Charlie float around her dolls. “How long has she been at it?”

    “Not long,” she said. “She’s been getting better at it every day. Barely an effort.”

    “It never was an effort,” he bent over and kissed Charlie’s curly head. She jumped and all her dolls fell to the floor except one that flew and hit Robin in the face.

    “Sorry,” she said in her happy voice and then gathered up her things and ran to the back of the trailer to her room.

    “Why the hell is she so jumpy?” Robin said, a red line growing along his jaw.

    “She has to be,” Angelica said and tested out her violin. It was still flat. “I’m not raising her to be ignorant of what she was born into? She’s always in her own world to begin with.”

    “If I’d had known you’d get pregnant that night—“

    “Don’t,” Angelica was off the floor, tossing the violin on the recliner. “Don’t say a thing.”

    “I’m staying away from her, but how is keeping me a secret going to make our daughter safe?”

    “If Christian has anyway to learn about her existence he’ll find it,” she said. “He’s already after Shane.”

    Robin muttered bitterly, “Maybe he just wants a relationship with his son.”

    “Maybe he wants to make me suffer,” Angelica stared harder. “We’ve been running for three years, Robin. I’m tired. I want Shane to have a normal life.”

    “Charlie deserves a normal life too,” he said.

    “She won’t have that chance. Shane will. You see what she can do. She threw a fit when you left the other day and everything on the walls came crashing down. Shane nearly got his eye gauged out by a piece of glass.”

    Robin shuffled uneasily. “He’s still…normal.”

    “He’s fine,” she said, moving to the kitchen and putting away the milk. “Just like Christian.”

    “Too much like Christian.”

    Angelica could feel Robin watch her as she poured herself a glass of milk and down it. “What?”

    “You’re still wearing his clothes?”

    She looked down at the ragged jeans and old Iron Maiden tee-shirt. Her heart sped at the memories behind it. “I forgot it was his.”

    There was a squeal and then tiny feet running up the hall. Shane appeared in the living room bouncing on the couch—his black hair always in his face—and holding one of the instruments from his secret agent play set. His hands were covered in translucent powder. Eight years old and fascinated with crime. She wasn’t doing something right with those kids.

    “You said I couldn’t do it, you said I couldn’t do it!” he danced around.

    “And what’s that?” she asked.

    “You found some fingerprints?” Robin winked, and then nudged Angelica. “A researcher just like his father.”

    She turned around and whispered. “I’d rather see my son dead.”

    “They look different than yours and Uncle Robin’s finger prints. Stranger fingers,” Shane announced and the silence that layered the room was impenetrable.

    Angelica said. “Show me. Now.”

    They followed Shane into his bedroom. He hopped onto his bed and pointed proudly at the window. “Right there.”

    Robin took the cheap finger print samples and compared them to the others Shane had taken the other day, “Shit.”

    Angelica examined the window and her stomach lurched. It was unlocked. “Shane did you or your sister play with the locks?”

    “Nope,” Shane said. “There’s a bunch more of the finger prints on the door and on my bed.”

    “Shane, get your sister ready,” she said. “We’re going for a ride. Right now.”

    Shane padded out the room and once she heard Charlie’s familiar fussing, Angelica collapsed on the bed. “He’s found us. Dear God, Robin he was in Shane’s room. He could have taken him—“

    “But he didn’t, which makes me believe that it wasn’t him.”

    “Who the hell else would come into the trailer and not steal anything?” she said. “It had to be him or someone he sent. Whoever it was knows about Charlie. They have to.”

    “I’ll get the things ready in the truck,” Robin said. “You leave with the kids. I’ll stay here and wait to see if whoever it was will come back. Go to that town in Mississippi. There’s a trailer park. No one will look there. God doesn’t even visit that town.”

    Angelica crossed her arms over her chest, hoping that it would keep the fear from spreading throughout her body. “You’re going to come with us? After tonight, I mean?”

    “Not this time,” he said. “You’re right that I should stay away. Charlie’s better off.”

    “What are you going to do tonight?”

    “The usual,” he said, “Then I’m going to kill him.”

    Robin slipped a quick kiss on Angelica’s cheek. She’d never see him again. Christian was too smart, too powerful in his own way. Robin would fight for her. He and Christian had always fought over her. Only this time, one wasn’t getting out alive.

      1. calicocat88

        Thank you Observer Tim 🙂 And welcome to the site! I’ve used them in previous prompts on the site. Not every writing prompt, but the majority.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      I enjoyed your story line; it was unhurried and precise. It isn’t easy in this short of a story. This could be expanded at least into a novella. I like Robin and Angelica and want to hear more about them.

      1. calicocat88

        Thanks Kerry! And the crazy thing is I felt like I was hurrying through it when writing the story. Very, very happy it didn’t come off that way. This was actually the first time I used Angelica and Robin even though they’ve been in the background of some of my plots.

    2. don potter

      “The violin sounded like wet wires” and “God doesn’t even visit that town” are memorable lines. I found the story interesting but got confused with the characters.

      1. calicocat88

        I was worried about the characters too, Don. Sorry you got confused. It’s really not that good of an idea to plant so many characters is such a short story, but I did it anyway, lol!

  29. Susan Baillargeon

    “Mom, whose fingerprints are they?”
    They couldn’t know. I told them to go upstairs, to ‘Let me make this phone call, okay?’ Because I knew exactly who those fingerprints belonged to. Of course I did. How could I not? It was a mistake, such a simple mistake. It wasn’t even my fault…
    The phone almost slipped out of my hand, and I gripped it tight, hitting the call button. It rang three times before he picked up.
    “Al, they found prints. I don’t know what to do.”
    “Who? And what do you mean they found them?”
    “Sean and Abigail. I… Look, they know they’re not mine or yours.”
    Al was over all the time. He was a surrogate father, I suppose. That didn’t matter, though. Not when we did what we did. Not when someone discovered the body in the canal, and not when they started asking questions.
    “Okay, so tell them Marie stopped by or something.”
    “You think they’ll believe that? They’re not stupid, Al. Besides, Abigail has been here all week. She’d have seen someone, wouldn’t she?”
    “She wasn’t there when that kid…”
    All the blood drained from my face. We were in the kitchen. Al had been drinking, and so had I, although I was less drunk than he was. We had forgotten to lock the door, and the kid had burst in, unsteadily holding a gun.
    It fell out of his hand when I lurched at him, and Al picked it up. Somewhere in all of it, the kid had stopped breathing. I hadn’t realized that I had him in a choke-hold, and held on for too long. I couldn’t bring him back. We panicked…
    I took a shuddering breath. “Fine, I’ll tell them it was Marie. We’d better hope they don’t bring it up, though.”
    “Yeah, I know.”
    “Alright. Talk to you later.”
    “Want me to come over?”
    The concern in his voice was almost tangible. I shook my head, even though he couldn’t see it.
    “No, I’m fine. Seeya.”
    I hung up before he could answer, memories surfacing as I steadied myself against the counter. His body was heavy, but not as heavy as I would have thought. Maybe the liquor made it harder to gauge such things. We put him in Al’s car, seatbelt and all.
    I was amazed we didn’t get pulled over, as drunk as we were. Dumping the body was the easiest part. Two days later, it had rained. Our prints were washed away, for better or for worse. The missing person’s report must have already been filed, but the body had yet to be found. We were safe. They wouldn’t find out, would they?
    I would get rid of that starter’s kit, then say I’d get a better one. First, I had to go tell them it was Marie. They’d believe it if I said we had some beer, that I called to make sure it was her. Of course they’d believe it. They had to.

    1. Observer Tim

      Maybe not “somebody else is living here”, but a really good story. This could be the opening chapter of an interesting suburban thriller. Either that or a telltale heart story…

  30. JRSimmang


    I never realized just how many things I touched through the day, nor how graphite could find all those nifty little nooks and crevices. Our house turned from Happy Holidays to “Police Line: Do Not Cross” in a few short hours.

    My dinner was getting cold; I was staring at all the tiny fingerprints all over the house. “Greg.”

    “Yeah, dad?”

    “You, Phil, and Phoebe did all this?”


    I waited. “Do you see the mess?”

    Greg looked around. He was our oldest, 12. Preteen. Then, he locked eyes with me. “If you didn’t want the mess, then you shouldn’t have bought us the gift for Christmas.”

    I opened my mouth to say something, then I realized that he got that mouth from me. I muttered Santa and something else about the North Pole, then, “just, make sure it’s cleaned up by the time your mom comes to pick you up.” Then I noticed a long string of fingerprints all along the wall, straight up to the ceiling line. “Did you and your sibs also do those?”

    He looked to where I was pointing. “Nope. We dusted there, though.”

    “No duh. There’s dust up there.”

    He made a face at me and turned back to the same spot. “Never noticed that before.” He motioned to an outline of what looked like a doorway in the ceiling in the corner of the dining room.

    “Neither have I.”

    “I’ll get the ladder.” Phoebe stood up.

    “Phoebs, you’re eight. We’ll get it.” Phil said as he stood up and went with Greg to get the ladder.

    “What do you think it is, daddy?” Phoebe was poking at the peas on her plate.

    “I don’t know, sweetheart.”

    Her eyes suddenly got really wide. “Could it lead to treasure?”

    “Maybe. Or… it could just go up to the attic.”

    “Nah, I’ve been up there. It doesn’t go this far over.”

    “Wait, you’ve been up in the-” Greg and Phil rounded the corner with the eight-foot.

    “I’ll go.” Phil looked to his big brother for approval.

    “Nope.” I said. “I’m going up.”

    I got myself up the ladder and touched the panel. It didn’t give. I pushed it a bit harder. It didn’t move. My handprint was smudging the dust everywhere. “Fine. Fine, Phil. You give it a shot.”

    I got down, he got up, and looked down at us. “Here goes nothing.” I sometimes wonder where kids get so gallant.

    “Go for it, brother!” shouted Phoebe.

    Phil put his hand to the panel and it lifted first into the ceiling, then slid to the left. “Woah,” he said. “It’s just like the movies. I’m going in.”

    And just like that, he climbed in, followed by Greg and me.

    # # #

    Phoebe sat at the table, pushing around her peas. “They made it in,” she said.

    “Good. You’ve done good, Phoebe.”

    “Now am I the princess?” She looked into the deep black eyes of the Savior.

    “You are. You always will be.” He reached out his hand, laid it on her head, and drained her body of all life.

    The Savior laughed, at least it looked like laughter. Its sound was more like a steady rumbling, like the earth before it covers itself in flame.

    – JR Simmang

  31. kkerber

    “A CSI STARTER KIT?!” Gabe screamed. He ran around the Christmas tree. He jumped up and down and ran around the Christmas tree again.

    “Oh mom! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!” Gabe screamed, “I can’t believe it, it’s so cool!”

    I blushed. So, this is what I waited in line for all those hours for.

    “It’s got the finger print dust! And the magnifying glass! And beakers and glass, what are these?”

    “Those are glass slides, honey,” I said.

    “Awesome, Gabe,” Rachel said. She yawned, “I’m tired, can I go back to bed now.”

    “Rachel,” I said, “You haven’t even opened all your presents!”

    “Oh, I can open them later,” Rachel said, “I just—“

    She looked longingly upstairs.

    “If you really want to,” I said.

    “Thank you mom!” Rachel said, jumping up and flying up the stairs, “I love you!”

    I shrugged. Rachel was not usually this easy to please. For months she had been begging me for things just as much as Gabe had. Rachel wanted a pet. This week it would be frog, next week gerbils, then hamsters, and then hermit crabs, but with her father in the military and us moving so much, it just did not make sense to get a pet. It was good to see that she was finally taking it better.

    “I’m going to dust for prints!” Gabe said, “The case of the missing sock!”

    “Whose sock is missing?” I asked. Gabe looked around and then reached for my foot.

    “Hold on, Mr. Policeman. We aren’t going to take my socks,” I said.

    “But mom!” Gabe said.

    “Let’s just pretend, okay honey,” I said. He smiled.

    Of course, once the dust came out, I immediately regretted the whole thing. There was dust everywhere. He was busy making his rounds when I heard him say:

    “Oh look, it’s Dusty!”

    “It’s very dusty,” I agreed, “Wait, what is that?”

    Gabe squished his hand over the print.

    “I could have sworn that was a paw print, take your hand away,” I said.

    “No! No! Rachel will kill me!” Gabe said.

    “Who is Dusty?” I demanded.

    Gabe looked up at me like he was going to cry. I pried his hand away. The print was smudged, but I could see it. A cat.

    “Rachel!” I said running up the stairs.

    “Mom! I’m tired, can you just give me three more minutes!” Rachel said.

    I opened the door. I gasped. “That’s a cat.”

    “Oh mommy, please don’t take him away!” Rachel said.

    “But we talked about this! We’re moving with your father in a few weeks, you’re going to be in a new school and you’ll have so much to do.”

    “–And I won’t have any friends,” Rachel finished, tears glistening in her eyes. She took a deep breath, searching for the right words, “Mom. Mom, why does Gabe get what he wants for Christmas as I don’t!”

    I sighed. No friends. And our apartment did allow pets.

    “How long have you had it?” I asked.

    She looked down at the floor, “Two weeks.”

    “Two-“ I took another breath, “And I didn’t notice.”

    She shook her head.

    “Alright, but you have to keep that litter box CLEAN and I-“

    Rachel ran up and threw her arms around my waist, “Thanks mom. This is the best Christmas ever.”

    1. JRSimmang

      Cute story, K. The dialogue between mother and children was realistic and unforced. You developed Gabe early on, which made for instant comfort. I was confused as to who Rachel was in the beginning, but I figured it out.


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