Bitter ~ A Flash Fiction Mystery by Carolyn Greeley

Oct 20 2017, 6:09 am in , ,



         The woman thrashed across the bed. Sheets and covers tangled her legs. She clawed at her throat, fighting to breathe. Specks of light floated before her eyes as she strained to see through the darkness.

     Familiar male laughter rumbled over the ringing in her ears.

     Jane Harris gasped awake. Her heart pounded as she struggled upright and flipped on a lamp, focused on her surroundings. She scanned her small Manhattan bedroom. Empty. The scent of sour sweat sickened her as she raked trembling fingers through her hair.

     She hadn’t heard the last of her ex-boyfriend.

     Slipping out of bed, she checked the window latch before heading to the kitchen. Lights flicked on as she went.

     See? He’s not here. No one’s here. He can’t hurt me again. Her hand tightened into a fist. He won’t.

     She inspected the apartment, then entered the bathroom. Stared in the mirror as she filled a cup with water. The woman reflected looked alien: hollow blue eyes and snarled hair framed an ashen face. A quick swallow, then she faced her bedroom again. And thoughts of Tom Ridley, her ex of two months past.

     Memories chased away sleep. The first bruising grab after she teased his football team’s loss. The belittling of her choice of Miles Davis over his AC/DC. The time his punch cracked her ribs because he claimed she’d flirted with another man.

     As if I’d ever do that. I can’t even think of other men. Another slow breath. But at least I finally ditched him.

     Spring blossomed the next week. The dream didn’t return, and Jane enjoyed the mundaneness of spring cleaning, errand-running, and doctor visits that marked her personal season change. Routine brought a gratifying calm.

     One evening, an eerie sensation crawled over her as she left the dentist. Dusk crept into the streets. Lights winked on but didn’t dispel sidewalk shadows. She glanced around. Nothing unusual. Still, tingling iced her spine. Entering a boutique on her block, she ducked behind a display, and turned to look outside.

     Tom Ridley pinioned her with his stare.

     Minutes ticked by.

     He didn’t move. She couldn’t.

     A clerk approached. The distraction startled Jane, and she bumped into the rack, dislodging items. She stammered an apology, then looked toward the window.

     Tom had vanished.

     Oh, God, where is he?

     Fumbling fingers dialed her friend Helen. Voicemail. She hesitated, then slipped out. Phone and keys in hand, she peered around and hurried home. The deadbolt slammed behind her.

     Over the next week, Jane’s life deteriorated. The standoff with Tom left her jittery, fearful of other surprises. Her nights became restless, nightmare-plagued. She suffered through long days with an achy head and an acid stomach.

     “Maybe visit your dad for a couple days,” Helen suggested. “Get your mind off things.”

     “I’d hate to worry him. He and Tom never got along, and hearing this would upset him.” She shook her head. “I’ll just hope that was the end of it.”

     That night, Jane writhed across the bed. Rough hands choked her again. This time, though, she awoke gagging. She stumbled to her bathroom, spat out the mouth guard she slept with. She’d cracked off a piece and swallowed it.

    What a joke! This is supposed to help?

     Her dentist instructed her to sleep with the guard because stress had her grinding her teeth. She returned to bed, but nausea and sleeplessness overwhelmed her.

     Her boss frowned when he saw her the next morning, noting her sunken cheeks and bloodshot eyes. “You look like death with a side of fries. You need a doctor.” He patted her shoulder. “Go on, get outta here.”

     Great, I’m freaking him out, too. I guess the doctor isn’t a bad idea.

     She’d tried over-the-counter remedies. Nothing helped. Still queasy, she felt more drained every day. The negative pregnancy test result brought relief, but even one less major stressor didn’t alleviate her symptoms.

     Something else was wrong.

     “Don’t worry, Ms. Harris,” said the doctor. “We’ll have your results in a few days. The office will call to follow up. In the meantime, try to get a good night’s rest.” Her hand twitched, wanting to smack him.

     She headed to the dentist next, to replace her mouth guard. The entrance flung open, and Jane jumped as a man dashed out, nearly sideswiping her.


     She stumbled backward. Her uneasy gaze scanned the area for help before she noticed his lab coat and supply bag. She’d forgotten he was a technician for one of her dentist’s suppliers, though they’d met during his rounds.

     His gaze pierced her. “You feeling okay, Jane? You look like hell.”

     She ignored him, hurried inside, feeling daggers in her back.

     The dentist took Jane’s guard to return to the supplier. Because Tom had left, the lab dispatched another tech for the pickup.

     Now we wait and see….

     Three nights of solid sleep helped, but a call from her dentist disquieted Jane. The tech examined her mouth guard and found it wasn’t made of the usual material. Molded to last for years, it shouldn’t have broken. The tech was running tests to determine its chemical composition.

     The phone rang again. What now? Her doctor’s words chilled her. Her bloodwork showed unusual inclusions; she was to return to the office immediately.

     Jane listened to the doctor as a steady buzz intensified in her head.

     Traces of arsenic.

     “What? Poison?” She hugged herself tight.

     “Exposure occurs in numerous ways. From the volume we detected, it was small but prolonged. Let’s go through any changes in your routine over the past two months to see if we can isolate anything unusual.”

     Jane’s horror escalated as they dissected her life. She described her recent improvement and the conversation with her dentist. She shook her head. But she couldn’t ignore her mouth guard as the likely conduit.

     And Tom Ridley the only suspect.

     The arresting officers found his apartment abandoned. Fear, fury streaked through Jane when she heard. Soon after, she began to plot her revenge.




                     Carolyn Greeley is the award-winning author of Emerald Obsession.                       Equal parts city slicker and beach bum, she concocts mystery-adventures, combining elements of both locales. Contemporary action and historic exploits infuse her stories, creating an engaging escape. A former Manhattanite, she now lives in St. Augustine, Florida, where things like cellphone photography, wine-and-cheese adoration, dictionary reading, and investigating everything are perfectly acceptable pastimes.  Visit her at   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, GoodReads, and Pinterest.




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