As part of this year’s One Read program, we invited you to take inspiration from “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and write your own mini mystery. The puzzle presented or the crime solved could have been large (like a murder) or small (like missing possessions), but the writing must have centered around a crime or the threat or fear of one, and started with the line “Who will be next?”
All of the writers shared their stories in less than 250 words. Thank you to everyone who entered and shared your stories of intrigue, crime, redemption and more.
Our two winners are Jan Pritchard and Bennett Magnino. Honorable mentions go to Julie Kapp and Xander Kennedy.
We are excited to share the winning stories with you!
Who Will Be Next by Jan Pritchard
Who will be next? The first to disappear was the fly. That is the real mystery; why the fly? When the spider vanished some said it was to catch the fly.
Then the bird was gone. Of course many birds leave every year at this time, but this was a captive bird. There was some talk of catching the spider. Perhaps that was a plausible explanation.
But nothing can explain the demise and vanishing of a fully grown cat. The neighbors swear that the cat was there right before lunchtime and had vanished without a trace immediately afterwards.
The next day, the dog disappeared at exactly the same time as the cat had vanished the previous day. The bird, the cat, and the dog belonged to the old lady, but then the neighbor’s goat was discovered to be missing.
Who took the goat? Could it have been the crazy old lady next door? If she did take it, how could the goat have disappeared without a trace?
The speculation in the neighborhood was that the old lady must have swallowed the goat whole. This explanation is totally absurd, of course, but something very funny was going on at the old lady’s house and now it was affecting the entire neighborhood.
The final straw was when the farmer’s cow vanished, That old lady could not have swallowed an entire cow, could she?
Who will be next, a horse? Someone needs to stop that old woman before she kills herself!
The Hunt by Bennett Magnino
Who will be next?
I mull the question as I watch the crowd flow through Central Station. Several people clutch their bags close, aware that money and trinkets have been disappearing lately. The police notice must be getting through to them. It’s audacious for a pickpocket to hit one location so many nights in a row, but where better for one to operate than the constant throng of the station?
I must be vigilant.
A man passes my bench lugging a wheeled steamer behind him. I recognize him from last night. For a moment he stops, peering around the station. No–couldn’t be someone with that much luggage. It would get in the way. Who, then?
I stand and patrol toward the nearest platform. Four blue-clad constables monitor the train. They look like they have this room covered, so I turn back toward the foyer.
The station is a flood of commuters. A businesswoman muttering to herself brushes past me. Two teenage boys in prep school uniforms pace behind the stairs. From the corner, an old woman hugging a hat box smiles at strangers. None of them feel right.
Then I see him. A dapper man in a flowing overcoat has taken my spot on the bench. His bulging pockets jingle with coins as he inspects two gold pocket watches. I stare, transfixed. What manner of man carries all that? Suddenly, he stands and moves toward the entrance.
He will be next, then. I close in on him and follow.
Inner Conflict by Julie Kapp
“Who will be next?” thought Vincent, as he scanned the crowd feverishly. His eyes bounced around with dizzying speed, soaking in the possibilities. Despite the blinding daylight, his eyes resembled huge brown saucers, revealing an uncanny depth of quick wit but hiding his motivations.
He stretched, trying to expend some of his nervous energy. The hustle and bustle complicated his strategy. His short life consisted of contradictions — peaceful security versus crippling anxiety; a devotion to others versus a fear of strangers; a protective instinct versus a willingness to harm to survive. He was rescued from the streets, from the worst neighborhoods, within the darkest corners. But he was not fully rehabilitated.
Movement emerged from the corner of his eye. He turned quickly.
Jack approached from the shadows.
Vincent’s muscles tensed. The hair on his neck sent a ripple down his lower back. He had flashbacks of painful memories, of being pinned down, mutilated. But he also remembered the joy and elation of being harbored by friends.
He panicked, conflicted, full of light and darkness, good and evil, rapture and anguish. Should he yield to what is right, or give in to his fear?
Suddenly he and Jack rushed each other, colliding in an epic clash, wrestling each other to the ground and vying for dominance.
Then Vincent sprung to his feet, eyes dancing with joy as Jack gave chase to him around the dog park, tail wagging.
Editor’s note: the following story is not for the squeamish.
The Man from the East by Xander Kennedy
“Who will be next?”
His voice had reached the level of being truly maniacal and with a grin to match. The macabre scene and unhinged shouts would have left any audience deeply disturbed but this final performance was for himself alone. Despite presumed discomfort he danced around in increasing revelry with each subsequent execution.
His workshop had long ago ceased to resemble anything a respected carpenter would function in, but in these last hours the disheveled room had been redecorated with bright splashes of crimson. Indeed, the erratic prancing itself resulted in red sprinkles as far away as the industrial strength fans 15 feet above the makeshift guillotine dominating the center of the room. Even the collection basket seemed to have lost whatever dignity it may have started the day with.
“Who will be next?” he cackled again as he stared at his two remaining victims. Neither showed any fear as they awaited their turn on the chopping block. Turning his attention to the ten framed photographs hanging on the opposite wall he bowed his head in a rare moment of quiet. Eight of images now had a sacrifice sitting underneath. He had wronged many over his life but these ten most significantly and he hoped his yubitsume would begin his atonement.
Grabbing the rope between his teeth (for he now lacked the ability to grip with his hands), he raised the blade and positioned his left pinky beneath it. The right index would be spared another few moments.