Short Story: “Thank You For Using Forced Honesty Assassinations”

This is a flash-fiction story I wrote that was originally published in From the Asylum, a good online mag that has been defunct for over ten years now. It’s rather short, so if I managed to place it somewhere as a reprint it wouldn’t fetch much. So instead of leaving it indefinitely on the shelf, I figured I might as well share it here.


Joel was sitting at a table with his co-workers in the company cafeteria—listening to Simmons’ humorless anecdotes about his daughter’s biker boyfriend—when the stranger in the dark suit approached him.

“Joel Pritchard?” the stranger asked.

“Yes,” Joel said, and immediately knew something was wrong. He had intended to respond with “Who’s asking?” The stranger’s voice had somehow pulled that simple “Yes” right out of him.

“Joel, do you care for most of your colleagues at this table?”

“Not…really,” he said. He wrenched his stare from the stranger’s gaze just long enough to make pleading, wordless eye-contact with Lawrence, who sat beside him. Lawrence gave him a clueless shrug and the stranger went on with his questioning.

“What of Mr. Daniels?” the stranger said, pointing to the grayed VP who sat across from Joel. “Or, specifically, what do you think of his wife?”

“She’d probably let us all screw her at the same time if we asked her to. She wouldn’t even need to be drunk.” He shuddered and tried to break the paralysis that fixed him to his chair. He heard Daniels gasp. The old man beamed his anger across the table and it stuck to the side of Joel’s face like hot tar.

“That’s all?” the stranger prodded.

“The money spent on inflating her tits would’ve been better spent on fixing her teeth—what the hell is this?”

Asking that last question left Joel’s throat sore. The words had been heavy and jagged, like he’d coughed up a giant, broken stone.

“Have you ever tried to kill a man?”

“No.”

“Have you ever given serious thought to killing a man?”

“Yes.”

“Someone at this very table?”

Yes.”

“Who?”

Joel hoped his withering voice would break before he could say the name.

“Lawrence.” In his periphery he saw his friend’s mouth drop open.

“Why Lawrence?”

“I got drunk one night and told him that I had tried to rape one of the admins at the company Christmas party six years ago. I was afraid he might tell someone.”

“And for that, you seriously contemplated killing him?”

Joel was reduced to nodding now.

The stranger’s mouth spread into a flat smirk. “Safe to say you’re pretty off in the head, huh Joel?”

Another nod.

“Likelihood of you keeping your job after this?”

“None,” Joel said, his voice strained and croaking.

“Likelihood of you killing yourself in the very near future?”

He sighed, exhausted. “Very high.”

The stranger gave a satisfied nod that indicated the end of questioning. He looked at the other men sitting at the table, offered them a polite valediction of, “Gentlemen,” and then left.

***

“Would you agree or disagree that our agent met your expectations?” the customer service operator asked.

“Definitely agree,” Simmons said. “He was even better than I expected. How did he do that?”

“Well, I’m not at liberty to discuss our agent’s methods, Mr. Simmons. But I’m glad to hear you were happy with the experience. Customer satisfaction is our number one priority. If you’re ever in need of our services again-”

“Actually, while I have you on the phone, I was wondering if you have any sort of preferred customer discount.”

The operator laughed. “Are you a man who collects enemies, Mr. Simmons?”

He smiled and looked out the living room window. A growling motorcycle pulled up in front of his house. Neither of its riders wore a helmet. The teenage girl on back of the motorcycle dismounted and gave the blond, heavily-tattooed driver a long, open-mouthed kiss before walking up the driveway toward the house.

“Nuisances more so than enemies,” Simmons said.

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Published Short Stories

Here’s a select list of some of the stories I’ve had published.

“TMI” – Devolution Z Magazine – July 2016 issue

When I was very young, my parents let me host a Halloween party, which, of course, meant that they had to put in a lot of the work by putting up decorations and buying atmosphere-establishing music, while I “helped” by mostly being in the way.

The record they bought featured some appropriately haunting music and sound effects. At one point, a man’s voice on the record cried out, “Don’t cross the bridge! Don’t cross the bridge!” Nothing before or after that point in the record made any mention of a bridge, or provided any context for his warning. It came out of nowhere, apropos of nothing, and that made it so much more frightening for me.

One of the earliest short stories I wrote as an adult was based on this single line that stuck in my memory. I remembered one long drive across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, when a heavy rain reduced visibility, that felt particularly tense, and tried to replicate that feeling in a story. Unfortunately, this was when I was just starting to take writing seriously, so the story wasn’t very good. Since then, I’ve improved and had the fortune of having some stories published, so I decided to try my hand at a haunting bridge-crossing again, this time switching the setting to the Atchafalya Basin Bridge, which my family crossed at least twice a year when I was a kid. I also updated the story to feature a handy, horrifying phone app.

“The Genie and the Inquisitor” – Fantasy Scroll Magazine issue #10

Same old story: man meets genie; genie offers man three wishes; man presses genie for answers that cause the situation to turn quickly, and turn ugly. I’d been sitting on this story idea for a long time, even though it isn’t terribly complicated. Nonetheless, I didn’t sit down and actually write it until the summer of 2014 when I was out of state visiting relatives. After three or four rewrites and touch-ups, I sent it out into the world, where it found a home at Fantasy Scroll Mag.

“Giving Grounds” – Arkham Tales issue #8

I know some writers who hate the question of “where do you get your ideas?” I love it, even though sometimes the answer is relatively uninteresting or embarrassing. The idea for “Giving Grounds” sprouted (pun unintended, probably) from a throwaway joke from an episode of Family Guy of all things. I’m not a huge fan of the show, but there was an episode where the family was sent to live in the south in the Witness Protection program. Inside their new home, the son finds a hand inside a jar and says he’s going to plant it outside to see if a human grows. Because I’m a horror writer, my mind immediately latched onto the interesting, grotesque idea of growing a human being through traditional agriculture. And so from a lowbrow animated sitcom, a grim, serious short story was born.

Miss Branson Calling” – Pseudopod

This is the first story I ever sold that was based on a nightmare. I actually used to work with the lady Miss Branson was based on. An eccentric chain smoking, overall harmless elderly woman who coughed like she had a lagoon in her lungs and had skin that seemed like it might disintegrate at any second. Based on the comments, many of the Pseudopod fans didn’t care much for this one, but I think it’s a solid effort at trying to draw fear from something that’s more melancholy than aggressively terrifying.

Will Erickson over at TooMuchHorrorFiction recently coined the term “Heartbreak Horror,” and I think that term fits this story.

“Thanks For Using Forced Honesty Assassinations”  – From the Asylum

Damn shame that From the Asylum is closed, because they housed some excellent stories during the years that they were open. I had been trying to break into their ranks for a while before they finally accepted this flash fiction piece. I really like this story, short as it is. I can’t remember where the idea came from, but I love the ambiguity of the ending.

Civilized Monsters” – Pseudopod

I received a lot of comments about how graphic this story was, which sort of surprised me. I actually tend to think myself a bit squeamish and don’t think I lingered on any exceedingly gruesome parts here. Could it be that I’m mistaken? Me? Perish the thought. Can’t remember where I got this idea from. If I could go back and touch up some parts here and there I would, but I still like this story, particularly the ending.

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