All Rise for the Popular Verdict

“Woe unto Babylon!” The man in black stood atop a fiberglass boulder, pointing an accusatory finger towards the painted horizon. “You have given yourselves to carnal pleasures and bloodlust!”

I ran past a thatch hut. With luck, this clueless preacher would distract the audience just long enough. “Twenty seconds,” the producer announced in my earpiece. Fleeing toward the fake jungle, I counted each footfall. “One… one… thou-sand… Two… one… thou-sand…”

“Revel not in immorality! Reject this Hollywood gaud and gore!” This was criminal reality TV: only one contestant survived each episode. As a murder suspect, I was surely the underdog. If I survived the first commercial break, I could plead innocence and play for audience sympathy. A million dollars could buy a decent attorney.

“Fifteen… one… thou-sand…” Then I crashed into another contestant cowering behind a plywood log prop. She was a woman, just a girl, but eight months pregnant.

Agonizing wails came from the village: the preacher, whatever his crime, had met his fate. Tears filled her eyes when she heard the man’s screams.

I sighed and raised my hands. “Oh, fine. I confess!” As the hidden dartguns targeted me for execution, I wished the woman luck.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-41. The novel prompt was Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, with characters including a young man accused of murder, a pregnant woman, and the setting of a wealthy city in moral decline. Image: View in Village of Adarranu near the Black Volta, 1890s. CC photo. National Archives UK, “Africa Through a Lens” project.

Matinee of Torment at the Theater of Lamech

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-27. The mandatory setting was a theater, along with the public domain photo shown.

“We lit up Tinseltown onscreen and off.” Humphrey hefted the body over the bridge railing. A blood-covered hand wiped a tear from bloodshot eyes. “Alas, you were the better acting talent. I never suspected.” His wife’s paramour, that B-movie ham, made his final splash in Hollywood moments later.

As Humphrey drove back to town, the theater marquee caught his eye: a matinee of their final movie together. One ticket. One popcorn. One soda. As the lights dimmed, Humphrey’s pupils widened. His murdered Delilah loomed larger than life on the silver screen. He knew the words by heart — his and hers — but something was amiss. This soundtrack was too ominous for a romance.

Humphrey gripped his armrest and watched in horror as his character crept down a hallway. “This wasn’t in the script,” Humphrey muttered. A woman in the audience shot him an icy glare. His heartbeat raced like the soundtrack. The bedroom door creaked open. Within, telltale giggles turned to shrieks. In extreme close-up, Delilah’s face closed in around Humphrey, pleading for her life.

“Don’t do it, Humphrey!” Popcorn flew at the screen. A brutal murder scene flashed in his eyes. “No!” Delilah’s anguished screams resounded throughout the theater — but why did the audience stare at him?

Guilty as Sin

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-22. This week’s prompt is to include a lawyer, along with the public domain photo shown.

The foreman’s verdict thundered in my head like the roar of propellers.

I mentally reexamined my closing statement: The crash was accidental. My client’s plane hit treacherous turbulence. His oil line ruptured; he fell from the sky. This was not premeditated murder, but an Act of God.

Twelve men had seen through those shameless lies, but what could anyone expect? My client was a fighter ace, and a close childhood friend. I was the best man in his wedding. Now the battered American hero wept as the bailiff led him away in handcuffs. In the front row, his wife bowed her head.

“You tried,” the prosecutor said, patting my shoulder. “But he thought that his Hellcat wife was cheating, and he kamikazed the man’s house.” Not a word was untrue.

“You’ll push for the death penalty?”

“He’s guilty as sin. It’s my job.”

I wandered away from the courtroom. In the shadow of a marble pillar, his wife stopped me. “He’ll get the chair?”

“Yes.” My colleague was the best prosecutor in the state.

Then her cherry lips pressed against mine, as they had done so many lonely nights during the war. For all the lies the jury saw, they had missed the biggest lie of all.


Written for Flash! Friday vol 3-16. This week’s prompt is a man vs. self conflict, along with this public domain photo.

He fled down an alley and into the back entrance of a little white church. Reshaping his body into a human silhouette, he strained as bony fins contorted into five-fingered hands, and mottled silver skin became a smooth flesh tone. His fleshy barbels trembled beneath his new beard. “Their hats are removable,” he scolded himself. “Not their heads!”

Hemoglobin-rich blood stained the arm of his suit jacket. He dabbed it with his handkerchief as he walked, hoping that no one would notice. He never meant to hurt humans, but they were fragile land creatures, and sometimes their bulbous heads screamed to be removed. That irresistible impulse had forced him to leave London thirty years ago.

In the New World, he had turned over a new leaf, found religion, and learned to control the urges. Until now.

As he emerged into the nave, he blundered into a young lady.

“Oh, pardon me, sir!” the southern belle apologized. “Say, are you our new preacher?”

Such a large hat… “You might call me a man of the Chapel,” he said, forcing a smile. Nearby the choir ladies sat, hats on their ellipsoidal heads and eyes on him. Gill flaps quivering, he strained to remain human. Addiction was so hard to overcome.


Written for Warmup Wednesday. (PD photo by Skitterphoto.)

My song is meant for only one. Faceless tourists pass, preoccupied with sights, not sounds.

Drawn by my melodic tones (or hourglass figure), he cannot help but linger. My fingers dance upon the strings: he dances unselfconscious to the mellifluous melody. He chances to ask my name, prattling as a schoolboy to his crush. Hand in hand, we twirl, dizzy with anticipation, drunk on music, we laugh and spin ever upward — excelsior! — in a breathless bellaroundaballadine… then collapse (he, never to rise again).

Black widow-like, I weave my melody. My song is meant for only one.