TITLE: The Twenty-Fifth Hour
GENRE: mystery
WORD COUNT: 51,040
SUMMARY: Three editors find themselves guests at a house party held by a famous mystery novelist. But things don't go as planned when the hostess disappears and the guests find themselves trapped after some inclement weather.


8:00 AM

“Pure crap. You’ve got to rewrite that.”

Reine glanced at the rear view mirror and saw that the passenger sprawled out on the back seat, a tall lanky man with choppily cut muddy hair, had his fingers to his lips as if he were sucking on a cigarette. His mouth pursed to blow imaginary smoke into the car. His eyes were closed.

“Your characters are hackneyed. Your plot recycled from your last book. Where’s your spark?”

“Is he always like this?” Reine asked Marcus who was sitting slouched in shotgun, furiously crossing out lines in a manuscript with red ink.

“Like what?”

“Talking in his sleep.”

He shrugged. “How should I know? Ask his girlfriend.”

“He has a new girlfriend every week.”

The gray truck in front of them turned right on an intersection. She floored the accelerator and the changing leaves lazily passing by became a blur of gold. Two hours before, Reine had met up with Marcus and Hadrian at the lobby of their place of employment, Ravenstone Publishing, to carpool. The three of them had been invited to Monadnock by Ira for a little house party.

The invitation had come three weeks earlier during a small birthday celebration for Reine. They were having lunch at the tiny bistro across the street from Ravenstone Publishing and Hadrian had unceremoniously whipped out a dainty pink envelope from the inner pocket of his crinkled leather jacket. It was a birthday card with flowers and animals and a hastily scrawled message in Hadrian’s unintelligible hand. After seeing the card, Marcus had scowled and shoved a small misshapen object wrapped in twine and brown paper. That had been a ghoulish gargoyle who wobbled his head whenever he moved. It was a dashboard ornament to add to Reine’s beloved collection. And Ira, the tiny snow-haired woman who first met them at a posh New York party back when they were young, naďve upstarts in the publishing industry, handed her a black velvet pouch with drawstrings that contained twenty-four tumbled quartz stones in all the colors of the rainbow.

“But I’m not twenty-four,” Reine had protested.

“It doesn’t matter,” Ira had replied. “They’ve been in my family for generations, but I’m giving it to you because you’ll probably find them more interesting. My family called them seeing stones. What you’re supposed to see, I have no idea. There were supposed to be twenty-five, but I think I lost one.”

“Why are they called seeing stones?” Hadrian had opened the bag and picked out a red stone to examine. “Are they like runes?”

“Runes are actual letters,” Marcus had explained. “Maybe these act as a scrying focus. Sort of like a crystal ball.”

Ira had waved a hand and said, “Well whatever it is, I’m just reminded that I wanted to invite the three of you to my house over for a week or two. An old-fashioned house party. It’s large and so there’s plenty of room. I’m also planning to have a few of my other friends there and I’m sure you’ll like all of them.”

Marcus yawned and stretched his long limbs. He was similar in build to Hadrian but was a little narrower in the shoulders and dark-haired. And where Hadrian was as pretty and as flighty as a movie star, Marcus was austere. His left cheek was marred by a scar that slashed downward. Fencing accident, he had once explained tersely.

“Why on earth didn’t Ira just get a penthouse in Manhattan?” He stuffed the rest of the manuscript in a manila folder and looked at the driver, a slight woman who had stuffed her long black hair underneath a baseball cap in a miserable attempt to look like one of the boys.

“I think she likes living the high life of a mystery author,” she replied. “That is, being mysterious. But I’ve got to admit that Monadnock is a bit extreme.”

“Out in the middle of nowhere,” Hadrian agreed in his sleep. “Your plot has to go somewhere you know.”

“Do you have a sock?” said Reine.

Marcus blinked. “Whatever for?”

“To stuff his mouth. This is a vacation, for Christ’s sake. I don’t want to hear about work even if he is only talking in his sleep.”

copyright © 2001-2012 S. Y. Affolee