If you love science fiction short stories, you’re in the right place! My latest short story, Poison Pot, features time travel, an unsolvable murder, and a girl who just wants closure. For more science fiction short stories, check out my short story series.
To read the story, scroll down to the heading that says Poison Pot.
Here’s a reminder of the short story elements YOU voted for. 🙂 Don’t forget to VOTE on the story elements for my next short story. Voting ends August 31!!
- Main Character: Girl who can sing like a nightingale
- Love Interest: Guy who hates shoes
- Setting: Cul-de-sac
- Random Thing: Mayan artifact
I usually offer the short story in both PDF and blog post format. Unfortunately, this story will not be available in a PDF. I’ll explain more at the end, but hopefully you don’t mind reading in blog post form. Poison Pot isn’t too long. 🙂
Albuquerque, New Mexico. The most boring city in the entire world. And no, it is NOT any more exciting now that I’m receiving a package from my dead mother. How she managed to send me a package post mortem is one of the biggest questions I have these days.
Right along with my number one question: How did she die?
“Did it come yet?” Liam opens the gate from his house next door. A few moments later he sits next to me on the front porch. All I can do is scowl. My grief mostly comes out in anger these days and Liam bears the brunt of it. For some reason, he does it without complaint. I guess that’s what best friends are for.
“Not yet.” I say it with as much contempt as I can muster. “I decided when it comes I’m going to throw it straight in the trash.”
Liam scolds with me with his eyes, but that only makes me scowl more. “We talked about this,” he says. “You decided it’s best to see what’s inside. It will be good for you. Help get you some closure.”
How exactly does one get closure when your mom is found dead in your living room, punctured in the heart with a thousand year old arrow? The frog poison on the arrow was just the cherry on top.
I look back at the house looming behind me. For eighteen years, this has been my home. And now I have to decide whether or not to sell it. Not a decision an eighteen year old should have to make.
The grownups were happy to control my life when I was seventeen. But apparently when your dad dies when you’re seventeen and your mom dies a month after you turn eighteen and you have no known living relatives, you’re on your own.
At least they left me some money.
At least I have a choice because this stupid cul-de-sac is all I’ve ever known.
Liam nudges me as the FedEx truck pulls up. Like I needed that. I can see it just as well as he can. Even though I pretend not to, I do care about what’s in that package. Maybe it can give me some answers. If that package can tell me how my mom died, or even better, why, then I might be able to move on with my life. That’s what I need more than anything. Closure.
“Maya Brown?” the FedEx guy asks. “I have a package from Akna Brown. Oh,” he said surprised. “Are you two related?”
I stare at his shoes because I don’t want to answer. How can I answer? Obviously he has no idea that Akna, my mom, is now dead.
“Yes, it’s a relative,” Liam answers for me. “Does she need to sign for it or something?”
The FedEx guy nods and pushes the clipboard to me. “Right here please and I’ll be on my way.”
I sign the dreaded paper. When he hands me the package, I look at it with disdain. It’s no bigger than the piggy bank I got for my sixth birthday. How is this supposed to have the answers I need?
The man leaves and I bury my head in Liam’s shoulder as the truck drives off. “I don’t want to do this,” I say.
Liam strokes my back with his thumb. “What if it has the answers you want?”
One tear escapes my eye and I hold my breath to stifle a sob. After a sniff I say, “Yeah, but what if it doesn’t? What if I’ve been counting on this one thing for closure and all I get is more questions? I can’t take it anymore. It’s too much.”
Liam stretches his hand over my shoulder and pulls me in for a quick squeeze. “Get up,” he announces suddenly. “I’m making you pancakes.”
He jumps to his feet and starts toward my front door. The tear welling in my eye vanishes when my surprise overtakes the grief for a moment.
“You can’t go in my house,” I say.
“You aren’t wearing any shoes.”
Liam grabs the doorknob and says with a smile, “I know, it’s perfect. Now I don’t have to take my shoes off.”
A snicker escapes me and I put on a serious face. “Your feet are disgusting. You never wear shoes and I know for a fact you just finished mowing your lawn.”
“Fine,” Liam says. “Do you have any socks I can borrow? And anyway, it’s your house. You can invite anyone you want inside, even if your mom wouldn’t approve.”
He gives me a mischievous grin. I want to be angry and tell him it’s still my parents house. And also, I still want to respect their wishes. But he knows that. He’s been my next door neighbor since the day I was born. Apparently his eighteen month old self waddled over and gave my parents a flower when they got back to the hospital. He knows how to push my buttons, but he also knows how to make me smile.
“I’ll grab you a pair. But they’re going to be small.”
“I can live with that,” he says.
Soon enough we’re in the kitchen and he’s making me a huge batch of pancakes. I clutch the cardboard package in my hands and stare at it with a grim frown.
“Give me that,” Liam says. He takes the package and hides it behind a stand mixer. “No more moping. We’re taking twenty minutes and we’re going to be happy. You can mope all you want when the twenty minutes is over, but right now we’re taking a happy break.”
I let out a tiny chuckle and wring my hands. That does sound pretty nice. I have a good reason to grieve, but it can be exhausting. I really could use a break.
“Will you sing me a song?” Liam asks.
I hate singing in front of other people, but it’s different with Liam. Even with a fence between them, our bedroom windows are only fifteen feet apart. During the breezy fall months I always kept my window open while practicing for my voice lessons. And Liam, being the dork he is, would always open his window to listen. I have no secrets from him.
“Sing me that French one. That arena or whatever it’s called.”
“It’s called an aria,” I say with a suppressed smile. “And I’m only singing it because I want to, not because you asked. And because it makes me happy.”
Liam flashes me a grin as he checks the temperature on the griddle. I take a deep breath and tighten my diaphragm for better control. I start out in a quiet voice, but that’s even harder than the loud parts. Throughout the song, the volume slowly increases. The runs trickle out my lips as the song progresses. I raise my eyebrows and lower my chin to help me hit the high notes without going flat. And then, I’m belting out the finale in long, melodious tones. I end with a flourish and dip my head, since that’s what my voice teacher taught me.
When I look up again, Liam grins at me as he lets out a long breath. “Your voice is as sweet as the nightingale’s song.”
My cheeks flush and he turns suddenly to flip the pancakes. “Have you ever heard a nightingale before?” I ask.
“No,” he says while flipping more pancakes.
“It doesn’t really sound like a song, it mostly sounds like chirping.”
Liam grabs two plates from a cupboard and sets one in front of me. “Fine,” he says. “Then your voice is even sweeter than a nightingale’s chirp.”
I’m glad when he turns back to the pancakes because my cheeks are flushing again.
At the end of our twenty minute “happy break,” we’ve both eaten half a dozen pancakes each. I’ve even laughed out loud twice, which surprised me, but I’m glad for it all the same. Liam takes our plates and quickly rinses them off in the sink. But then he pulls the package out from behind the stand mixer and I know it’s time.
He looks at me with one eyebrow raised and I nod my head. I can do it now. Using scissors from the knife block on the counter, I slice open the packing tape. When I pull out the contents, a letter flutters to the ground. I’d pick it up, but I’m too enthralled by the thing in my hand.
Inside a flimsy, plastic container is an artifact which I recognize at once. “It’s a poison pot,” I say. Suddenly questions hurl themselves into my mind and all I can think about is my mom laying on the living room floor with a poisonous arrowhead stuck in her heart.
“What’s a poison pot?” Liam asks.
I welcome the distraction of answering his question, merely so I can ignore the cascade of questions in my mind. “You know my mom was from Guatemala, right?” I ask.
“Well the Mayans lived there almost two thousand years ago. They’d fill these pots with poison from poisonous frog in the area. Then, they would dip their arrowheads into the poison and use them for hunting.”
My thumb slips as I try to peel tape from the lid of the plastic container. I’m so focused on the task, I don’t notice Liam staring at me dumbstruck.
When I do notice, he leans close and peers at the poison pot with his mouth dropped open. “Poison like the kind on the arrow that killed your mom?” he asks.
My gut twists and I clench my jaw tight. Just like I suspected, I’m getting more questions and no answers. My fear turns to anger and I snatch the scissors from the counter and slice the tape to get at the poison pot.
I reach in to grab the pot, but the moment my fingers touch it, my kitchen melts away. Suddenly, I’m surrounded by a lush forest and the only sound I hear is insects. With a gasp, I drop the poison pot.
Immediately, I’m back in my kitchen. Liam’s face has gone white. “What happened?” he says as he pokes me in the arm. “You disappeared. I know that sounds fake, but I swear you went invisible for a second.” He pokes me again, a little harder this time.
I look down at the poison pot while wonderment courses through me. “I don’t think I went invisible,” I say as I reach for the poison pot. “I think I went somewhere else.”
My fingers graze the poison pot and I’m immediately transported back to the forest. I clutch the poison pot tight in my hands and walk to the nearest tree. I knock on it twice to see if I can touch it. I can. Next, I crouch down and dig my fingers into the dirt. It feels like regular dirt, but I run my fingers through it, searching for anything strange. When I come up with nothing, I pull my hand from the dirt and examine it. I see brown soil under my fingernails and several smudges of dirt adorn my fingers and palm.
I drop the poison pot and I’m transported back to my kitchen.
“You can’t do that again, Maya!” Liam says to me.
His words pass through me since all of my attention is on my hands. Smudges of dirt cover my copper skin. Soil peeks out from under my fingernails.
Liam inches closer to me, trying to get my attention. “Where did you go? That scared me. Please don’t leave me like that again.”
I look up at him with a grin. “Fine,” I say. “Then I’ll take you with me.” I grab his hand and snatch up the poison pot.
Liam grips my hand tight as we walk around the forest. I don’t mind since he’ll probably be transported back to the kitchen if he lets go. He takes apprehensive steps at first, but soon his eyes are filled with awe.
He peels the socks off his feet with one hand and stuffs them into his pocket. “You want to explore?” I ask.
His head bounces with a hungry nod and soon we leave the clearing and move deeper into the forest. Sounds of stone against gravel fill the air. And soft voices seem to be coming from nearby. I rush toward the noise and soon we find ourselves in a marketplace.
The people seem friendly and their clothes are bright and cheerful. It reminds me of our last trip to Guatemala.
“These people look like you, Maya.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I ask.
“You’ve never looked quite Guatemalan. You’ve said it yourself.”
I nudge Liam with my shoulder. “That’s because my dad’s from Connecticut, you dork.”
“No,” Liam says and I turn toward him, surprised by the seriousness in his tone. “This is different. Your mom never looked quite Guatemalan either. But these people look exactly like you. And her.”
Before he can say another word, my eyes land on a stone pyramid with a stair step design. Long ramps lead up to the top from all four sides of the pyramid.
I recognize the Mayan temple at once. It isn’t hard since I’ve gone to Guatemala every year since I was born. In fact, I’ve been to this exact temple dozens of times. But strangely, it’s not the location that suddenly has my stomach in knots.
“Liam,” I hiss.
His eyes are on a cart covered in food with the most delicious smells wafting off it. I squeeze his hand and pull him back until he’s forced to look into my eyes. “What is it?” he asks, though I have no idea how he could be so unconcerned.
“I think we went back in time,” I say. “I think this is an ancient Mayan civilization.”
Liam chuckles. “That’s not likely. I just heard those people speaking English.”
I frown at that. I was so certain. I lower my eyebrows until a crease forms between my eyebrows. “Maybe the poison pot can transport us and also translate for us somehow.”
“Or maybe we’re hallucinating because we touched some frog poison,” Liam says.
I glare at him, but clutch his hand tighter. “I touched the pot and you didn’t. Now maybe I’m hallucinating, but you couldn’t be hallucinating from the poison. So, just answer me straight. Are you real or are you in my head?”
Liam screws his mouth up as he thinks. Without warning, he bites down on his bottom lip. “Ow,” he says in surprise. “I went through a whole existential crisis just now, but yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m real.”
Before I can respond, a loud shout comes from deep in the woods. I’ve never heard a war cry before, but this is what I’d imagine one sounds like. Everyone in the marketplace gasps. They all shuffle and jump, throwing their wares into bags, and then run off without a glance back. Some even run off without taking anything.
In less than a minute, over half of the crowd has vanished and more disappear every second. Liam tightens his grip around my hand and starts dragging me down the road. Soon, we’re ducked behind a boulder. And just in time because a gang of seven men burst onto the street a moment later.
They all carry bows and have a pack of arrows on their backs. One of the men carries two poison pots, one in each hand. The men traipse down the road, stealing leftover wares from the ground. One man leads the pack and he must be the leader because the swagger in his step is unbearable. He wears a red woven poncho and has a scar across his lips.
“Fear me!” the man says in a booming voice. His scar stretches as his lips move. “All that I want you will give me. I take no survivors.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Liam whispers to me.
I nod and we back away very slowly into the forest behind us. The gang of men is too busy smashing pottery and eating food to hear our escape. Liam and I race through the forest for several minutes before I remember how the poison pot works. If I just let go, we should be transported back to my kitchen.
Before I can tell Liam my plan, a voice stops us in our tracks.
“Maya, is that you?”
Liam squeezes my hand and pulls me closer to him. We both turn toward the sound of the voice while my insides dance. It’s not some nice waltz either. It’s more like a mosh pit at some death metal concert.
I twist around slowly and tuck my body closer to Liam while I hold my breath. How could anyone know my name? I don’t care what Liam thinks, I’m positive we’ve traveled through time. Those thugs only confirmed it.
When I finally face the mysterious voice, I’m met with an unexpected sight. A little old woman with graying hair and kind eyes looks back at me with a timid smile. Liam was right, these people look just like me. The sense of familiarity is overwhelming for a brief moment.
The woman claps her hand over her mouth and tears start to form in her eyes. “I didn’t know if I’d ever get to see you.” She steps forward until her hand is cupped around my cheek.
I take a tiny step back and push my body against Liam’s. “Um,” I say. “Do I know you?”
The woman sniffs and puts her hand over her heart as if she can’t contain the emotion. She wipes a tear from the corner of her eye and says, “I’m your grandmother.”
To Be Continued…
I know what you’re thinking. A cliffhanger? Whaaaaat? How could you do this to me? What kind of sadistic author are you?
I’m sorry about the cliffhanger. Sort of… 😉 This story got so much bigger than I originally planned and I didn’t have the time this month to do it justice. I promise the conclusion will come soon. Probably in another month’s short story. But which month, you’ll never know. 🙂 I’ll also make a PDF of the story at that time. If you want to make sure you don’t miss the conclusion of Poison Pot, be sure to sign up for my email list.
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