Not in Their Right Minds (short story)

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This is a short story I wrote after a strange dream, featuring my partner and a friend of ours. I used it as an outline, but even though it was quite detailed for a dream, I had to fill in a lot of details. I changed my own character’s name because it felt strange writing myself into a story and she’s a much more successful version of me.

The story is never going to win any awards, but I’m sharing it here to show people that inspiration can come from anywhere, even bizarre lockdown dreams.


Amber slammed down the phone. So what if it broke? It wasn’t being useful to her. All she could do was watch the live footage of the two women, who had been best friends for most of their adult lives, as they now turned on one another. To be fair to the one who wasn’t been mind controlled, she had taken a few punches before defending herself and only after her friend came at her with the lamp. She had no choice but to defend herself, as the lamp was hurtled towards her head. She picked up the jagged pieces and held them out in front of her. The mind-controlled friend carried on charging, although tears streamed down her face as the only sign that she didn’t want to do this. Neither of them did, but the two of them grabbed at each other and felt to the ground, out of Amber’s sight.

She heard cries and shouts, then the not-brainwashed friend stood up, still holding onto a broken lamp fragment, covered in blood, matching the coating on her hand and half of her arm.

“I had to do it, she wouldn’t stop,” the woman gasped between sobs, then the connection terminated.

Amber’s phone beeped and the message flashed up on the screen.

You can’t stop this.

 

Three months earlier

“What about a true crime podcast?” Amber suggested.

Her partner, Andy looked at her, thought about it for a few seconds, then said, “you’d have to come on board for that.”

Amber nodded, not wanting to take on another project, but after her recent crime novel had done so well, she understood why Andy would think it a good idea for her to get involved in the true crime podcast.

“Okay, but it’s your project with Anthony. How about if I came in for the last ten minutes of each episode?”

It was agreed, but Amber had no idea of the events that were about to unfold.

The first episode went better than any of them expected, getting over a thousand listeners. Most of them were from Anthony’s hometown of Blackpool.

“We should record a live episode in Blackpool,” he suggested.

So, that’s how they ended up in Blackpool, surrounded by a live audience of over 200 people, crammed inside a performance tent, set up outside with Blackpool tower as the backdrop and a view of the beach in front of them.

“What do you think happened to Charlene?” Andy asked Amber during her ten-minute slot at the end of the podcast.

“I believe they had the killers, but proving it is another thing altogether.”

Anthony invited questions from the audience.

“Do you think Blackpool has a problem with predators like those alleged to have murdered her?” a woman asked. Her accent was Southern, though Amber couldn’t place it.

“No more than any other place,” she responded.

Anthony, Andy and Amber spoke to a few of the audience members afterward. Anthony seemed to know a lot of them, but a man who Amber didn’t recognise approached her.

“I read your book,” he said.

“Thanks.” She looked around for the radio DJ who had offered to interview the three of them after the podcast.

The man took a copy out of his bag and asked her to sign it. She took the pen and was about to ask for his name when Andy tapped her on the shoulder.

“We’ve got the interview with Radio Wave.” He guided her away towards Anthony who was already talking to a man who held out a large microphone. She was aware of someone calling her name, but it was distant and she became distracted when the interviewer waved her and Andy over.

“Anthony tells me the podcast was your idea,” he said, holding the mic in front of her.

“I suggested it to Andy, then ended up getting involved because of the book …”

“Yes, Crimes Against Humanity, are you thinking of doing a sequel? Possibly set in Blackpool? It’s great to have a podcast recorded in Blackpool like this, and of course, Anthony is well known in the local community, so if you set a book here that could only heighten our profile.”

Amber nodded, but wondered how talking about murders in Blackpool could ever be a good thing for the local community. Everyone seemed to be lapping up the media attention though, so who was she to argue?

“Maybe.”

 

***

After a lot of travelling between Blackpool and Manchester, Amber was considering quitting the podcast. Her book had become more popular, while Anthony was inundated with more freelance work and public speaking engagements than he had time for, so had to turn some of them down. Andy suggested he continued the podcast alone, monthly, instead of weekly, interviewing experts about unsolved crimes. It soared to the top of the podcast charts.

The three of them began their separate projects. Amber was doing a book tour in New York when she got the call that changed everything.

“There’s been a murder,” Andy said.

“And?” She wasn’t sure why he was telling her. There was nothing she could do about it.

“And the message pinned to the body was addressed to you.”

“What did it say?”

“Amber Solomon won’t be able to ignore me anymore, not after this. How is this for a crime against humanity?”

Amber gulped.

“That’s not even the strange part of this,” Andy said. He paused as if considering how much to say.

“What is it?”

The victim who had the note pinned to his chest; the forensics are saying there is no sign of him putting up a struggle or even being attacked at all. He pinned the note to his own chest and slit his own throat.”

Amber book the next flight home, unsure why she was bothering. If there was no proof of a murder, the guy must have killed himself. Her agent had warned her part of the journey to success might be paved with the occasional fanatic, but nothing had prepared her for the uneasy feeling that made her want to return home to Andy and try to make sense of what happened to this guy.

Walking into the flat she shared with Andy did nothing to decrease that uneasiness. She called out his name.

Where was he? He knew she was coming home early because of the recent murder, and it was after midnight. She expected to hear him snoring from the bedroom, but the flat was eerily quiet, other than the sound of the humming from the fridge and freezer as Amber walked past the kitchen and towards the bedroom.

She hesitated before switching on the light. If he was in bed, she would wake him, but at least she would know he was there. Her hand reached up and pressed the switch, lighting up the room to reveal an empty bed. That’s when she picked up her landline to call him. It rang out. Amber was about to try again when her phone rang from her bag where it still hung from her shoulder. She reached inside and saw the message with the link, meeting I.D and password.

A second message popped up on the screen.

Log in from your laptop now. Maybe you can save a woman from being murdered by her lifelong best friend. If not, don’t feel too bad. My mind is stronger than yours.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Amber asked out loud as she rushed into the study and booted up her laptop. Whatever it meant, it wasn’t good. Even before using the meeting details to log in, her heart was racing along with all the thoughts in her mind.

Two women sat in a room. They must be in their early forties. One was blonde and the other a brunette. The blonde looked at Amber and spoke.

“I don’t know who you are, or why he’s doing this, but Claire won’t talk and I’m sure he did something to her.”

“Who?”

“The man, he was here. He’s gone now, I think, but he told us to log in here and wait for you. That you might be able to help.”

Amber grabbed at her phone, trying Andy’s number once more. When that rang out again, she made her way through the numbers in the phone, dialling Anthony’s number next. That rang out too.

“And he said it’s no use calling them. They’re tied up, or something like that.”

Amber slammed the phone down.

All she could do was watch the live footage of the two women, who (if the person behind the messages was telling the truth) had been best friends for most of their lives, turning on one another.

My mind is stronger than yours.

Those words came back to Amber. Was it mind control? No. That didn’t make any sense, but the friend, Claire punched the blonde woman in her face and chest several times, grabbing a lamp from somewhere out of the camera’s range and trying to hit her with it. That’s when the blonde must have decided she had no choice but to defend herself. As the lamp was hurtled towards her head, she stopped trying to reason with her friend and instead, picked up the jagged pieces and held them out in front of her. The mind-controlled woman carried on charging, although tears streamed down her face as the only sign that she didn’t want to do this. Neither of them did, but they both grabbed at each other and fell to the ground, out of sight from Amber.

She heard cries and shouts, then the not brainwashed friend stood up, still holding onto a broken lamp fragment, covered in blood, matching the coating on her hand and half of her arm.

“I had to do it, she wouldn’t stop,” the woman said between sobs and wheezing, then the connection terminated.

Amber’s phone beeped and the message flashed up on the screen.

You can’t stop this.

“Then why make me watch?” she yelled at the screen.

Moments later, the response came back.

I wanted you to know, this is all your fault and there is nothing you can do to stop any of it.

Amber felt a chill run all the way down her body as the realisation washed over her; this freak was watching her from somewhere. She slammed the laptop shut. Her phone pinged again.

I’m not watching from the laptop.

The phone? Amber wasn’t sure, but she shut it down anyway. Then the landline rang.

She darted into the bedroom and picked it up hoping it was Andy.

“Hello?”

“It’s not your mobile either.” The voice was male, not too deep and it felt familiar, though Amber couldn’t place where she had heard it before.

“Who is this?”

“You know that I could make you hit your head against the wall until you lose consciousness?”

She opened her mouth to argue, but having just witnessed the live footage, she found it difficult to doubt him.

“Why?”

“That is the question, isn’t it?” he asked. “But I think I’ll let you work all that out for yourself.”

“How am I meant to do that?” she wondered out loud.

“Start with the place you shunned me.”

“Shunned you?” she asked, but the line went dead. “Bastard!” She remembered him saying he wasn’t using her mobile to watch her, and began looking around the study, then the bedroom without finding anything. She switched her phone back on and tried calling Andy and Anthony again, with no response.

She could call the police, but where would she start? No, this was something she would have to tell them in person. She grabbed her coat and bag then left the flat, almost forgetting to lock up after herself. A bitter laugh lodged in her throat as she returned and locked the door. Clearly, the maniac had already gotten inside to bug her flat and spy on her. Locking the door was unlikely to stop him if he wanted to return.

An hour later, Amber was sitting in the waiting room of her local police station. She had done her best to explain the situation to the woman at the desk, but doubt had crept onto her face, probably wondering if Amber was drunk. A policeman had spoken to her briefly though and agreed to look into the murder over the video conference software. Amber tapped her foot as she waited, wondering how long this would take. She racked her mind for where she had heard the voice before and what he meant by the place she shunned him.

She found herself thinking about the live podcast in Blackpool, feeling like that had something to do with it. Then it hit her.

“The Guy,” she murmured to herself, recalling the man who had asked her to sign his book, but she hadn’t because Andy reminded her the radio station wanted an interview.

Amber stood and raced out of the police station, getting in her car and heading towards Blackpool. There was no plan, so when she arrived she sat on a bench near Blackpool Tower, watching the waves crashing into each other, from a safe distance. If this was the guy who wanted his book signed, then this was the place where in his mind, he had been shunned him.

Her phone rang.

“Hello.”

“You remember me then, but Blackpool is a big place. Where do you think your friends might be?”

“How should I know? Just tell me where they are.”

“That’s no way to talk to the only person who can ensure your co-hosts get out of this alive.”

Amber took a deep breath and lowered her voice as she asked, please, tell me where they are.”

“That’s better, much more reasonable. Now if you recall one of my favourite scenes in your book. What happened to the victim at the end?”

Amber had to think. It was over two years since she wrote it. There was a scene with the killer. He held someone hostage and tied them up on the beach, waiting for the tide to come in. The detective didn’t make it in time and the woman drowned.

“I can hear that brain of yours. Tick, tick, tick. Do you think this story can end any differently to how it did with your book?”

“Shit,” Amber exclaimed. The beach was bigger than she had time to search before the tide would come in.

In the book, the killer tied the victim up underneath the North Pier. What if this was a trick and the maniac had gone for somewhere nearer to the other end of the beach to throw her off? Or maybe Andy and Anthony weren’t tied up on the beach at all. She couldn’t risk it though. She had to check, after firing off a text message to her agent.

You warned me there might be some obsessed fans, Well I think one of them has tied up Andy and Anthony on the beach, like in my book.

She began running. Her agent had lived and breathed the book for over a year and probably knew the plot better than Amber did. She would understand the significance of being tied up on the beach and hopefully, be able to convince the police. Amber couldn’t rely on that though. There was too much at stake, so she forced her legs to move faster along the wet sand. The tide would be in soon. She couldn’t allow herself to think about what that would mean if this guy was telling the truth.

When she saw slight movement under the pier she wondered if it might just be a homeless person sleeping under there, but as she neared, Amber could see it was Anthony tied to a beam of the pier. She ran the last few steps and wasted a few minutes untying him. The lack of light didn’t help and her fingers found the knots fiddly.

“Where’s Andy?” she asked.

He made a sound, alerting her to the fact that a sash had been tied around his mouth as a gag.

After releasing his arms and legs, she removed the sash and asked again.

Anthony took in a deep breath, before he replied, “down there,” pointing to further along, below the pier.

“No!”

Amber realised that stretch of the beach was already immersed in water. She saw something just above it.

“Get help,” she yelled at Anthony, before she ran in that direction.

“Andy,” she exclaimed. He murmured something through his gag. He was already shoulder deep in the sea. Amber removed the gag and dived under the water to untie his bindings. If she had thought it was difficult enough to free Anthony, then this was much worse. She couldn’t see a thing, not like in the films where people dive under the water with their eyes wide open. Amber had to keep hers forced shut, while feeling around for the knots, only making a little leeway before having to come up for air before starting all over again. It seemed like forever before she finally managed to free his legs. She was aware of him calling out for someone to help them, but didn’t have time to wait for anyone to hear. Amber began to untie his hands. That was still awkward with the water crashing against them both but easier than the binding on his legs had been.

It almost seemed like a dream when the knots were released and Andy was free. She laughed in relief and opened her mouth to suggest they get off the beach before the tide was all the way in. She was barely able to stay above the water, even with Andy now holding onto her.

A wave slightly bigger than the others was hit by a strong gust of wind, sweeping her off her feet and away from Andy. He reached out to her, but wasn’t quick enough as the sea seemed to drag her away. Andy lost sight of her as a lifeboat arrived, helping him aboard. Despite several searches for Amber, she was never found.

A funeral was held after she was presumed dead. Hundreds of people attended, which is why nobody paid any attention to the man who stood at the back, clutching a copy of “Crimes Against Humanity” while smiling sadly at the way things had worked out.

 

 

 

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