Jess Chua, author of Hands, has previously published short fiction in Musepaper and Bards and Sages Quarterly. In Hands, a writer reflects upon the dark inspiration for her stories.
“Ms. Riley, could you tell us more about where you get your inspiration from?”
Joanna resisted the urge to sigh out of boredom. “Most of the time,” she said with her warm, public relations smile, “I combine multiple true crimes to come up with a fictional story.”
“But how are some details so…specific? There’s even a fan club that tries to calibrate how realistic it’d be for a would-be murderer or criminal to get away with some of the heinous acts of your villains.”
Joanna leaned slightly forward at the edge of her desk. “I have a passion for research. This combined with my ability to communicate with those who are no longer with us helps me create memorable stories.”
A hand went up in the air. “When’s the last time your brother Josh contacted you?”
“I have a passion for research. This combined with my ability to communicate with those who are no longer with us helps me create memorable stories.”
Beloved Josh. Twins born mere minutes apart with an unbreakable bond whether on Earth or beyond.
“It wasn’t too long ago,” Joanna said, her light green eyes glazing over slightly. “He offered a professional critique of my latest novel.”
The audience laughed appreciatively.
“Do you ever worry about running out of ideas if he stops contacting you?”
Joanna nodded very slowly. “I do, sometimes, and that might be the day I retire. I don’t want to force Josh to communicate with me if his spirit doesn’t want to anymore. We will always be close together no matter what.”
“We can take our final question for the day,” Joanna’s publicist announced over the mic.
One more enthusiastic hand went up. “Tell us again how it feels when Josh takes over.”
Joanna’s smile brought an eerie sense of comfort. “It’s like nothing else I could ever imagine. I feel even closer to him than when he was alive. Sometimes he takes over who I am for a few minutes…and he shares with me tales from the afterlife. It’s the seedy underbelly, the darker side of humanity, that we continue to explore through the stories we exchange.”
“Last question! Will we ever see Josh’s name beside yours on a book cover?”
“Definitely maybe,” Joanna quipped. “And it’s a definite yes if Josh requests it!”
“What’s it like being the missing twin who was never found?”
Josh looked into his sister’s eyes. “What’s it like being the twin always getting all the attention?”
They smiled in unison.
“Not too bad. How’s living off the grid turning out for you?”
“It’s excellent, Joanna. I think you’d love it. You can live alone and do what you like because you cease to exist to the rest of the world.”
“That does sound sweet.” Joanna reached out to hold her brother’s hand. The soft, writer’s hand against the strong, killer’s hand. “And just so you know, you can always crash in my basement if things don’t work out.”
“Aw, thanks.” You’ll always be the apple of my eye. Josh’s heart skipped a beat when there was some movement in the bushes — a porcupine on its nightly prowl. “How are mom and dad?”
“They’re good. They miss you every day. But they wouldn’t understand.”
“Do you think we could ever swap places one day?” Joanna turned towards her brother with shiny, hopeful eyes.
“Nothing’s impossible…” Josh said carefully. “But I think it’s better this way.”
It was the dead of night. There was only the crisp autumn air of rustling leaves around them.
Joanna rested her head on her brother’s shoulder. “I don’t think I would ever dare do some of the things you’ve done.”
“I may do them,” Josh muttered. “But you’re the one with the writing chops to share it with the world.”
“Oh stop, we’re both good writers.”
“We might be. But I’m more of a doer while you’re more a thinker. Right?”
“Right.” Joanna thought their mutual admiration of each other was warm enough to light a fire.
“So, what’s next?”
Josh reflected on the question, slowly flexing his hands. The same hands that had murdered six different people in three different ways, the same hands that had meticulously gotten rid of all traces of evidence, the same hands that had held and caressed Joanna more times than he could count.
“I’m becoming more ambitious. I want to expand, try something in a new territory, you know? Maybe even a different country.”
Joanna’s eyes widened. “Would we live to tell the tale?” She thought her brother was out of his mind. He was daring and exhilarating, but insane for sure.
Josh shrugged. “I like a challenge. And I’ll take our secret with us to the grave. No one ever needs to know.”
They held each other’s hands and soaked in the quiet stillness of the night. They didn’t leave any digital traces of their communication — no text messages, no emails, no video chats, no phone calls. Words were only exchanged in person or the old-fashioned way through snail mail coded messages that would come up empty if they were dusted for fingerprints.
Joanna always pictured Josh when she wrote about the things he’d share with her. His face, his familiar scent and physique, washing the blood and violence off his hands.
It gave her a preternatural thrill to know that these same hands would only show her love and protection till death did them part.
If you’ve enjoyed Hands by Jess Chua, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.