Each issue features a Mysterious Photograph. Readers are invited to submit a 250-word (or less) flash fiction story based on the photo. The person who invents the best mystery story receives a prize of $25, and the story is published in a future issue.
The Story That Won the July/August 2023 contest:
by Michael J. Ciaraldi
Something was off about the parking lot. It used to be pretty busy, every morning filling up with people coming to work, emptying out in the late afternoon, filling again with people coming home or eating at the local restaurants. That changed when new owners bought the lot and the machine shop next-door.
When we kids noticed there was always a “Lot Full” sign on the gate, even though there were empty spaces, we started tracking the comings and goings. We realized that cars were driving in but almost never leaving. Yet the lot never filled up. Ghosts? Aliens? We tried telling our parents, but they just laughed. So Jimmy, Suzie, and I decided to investigate.
One night we climbed the fence and snuck in through the side door of the shop. Workers were disassembling cars and loading the pieces into crates. Making bucks by selling parts.
Hey, we thought, what’re those?
Suddenly, someone yelled, “Get those kids!” We ran; Jimmy almost got caught and dropped the evidence; we hauled him over the fence just in time.
TV news had been reporting a rash of disappearances and car thefts. The police were baffled; it was like both humans and vehicles had dissolved into thin air. We put two and two together, and got five.
The next day the headlines read “Hero Kids Catch Car Theft Ring: Chop Shop Busted.” The police only laughed when we told them that more than cars were being chopped. Too bad Jimmy had dropped the severed
head. . . .