This post is my response to a prompt from Our Write Side. for Coldly Calculating. The challenge was to write a short story (700 words or less) using the phrase, "Cheap At Half The Price." It is a real struggle to squeeze in the kind of detail I like for mystery/horror, so let me know what you think in the comments. You can submit your own take on the prompt by following the link above, and I'll be happy to stop by and read it!
Heat rose in waves that warped everything. In her imagination, she could see the windows of buildings sliding as walls sagged and melted.
“I think that’s the place, Gwen,” Peter’s voice broke into her Salvador Dali world. She turned her head to peer at a shimmering building.
“There aren’t any windows.”
He shrugged. “We’re doing this at night anyway, so it won’t matter.”
He had a point. They’d decided on an evening wedding when she realized how hot it was going to be in Tucson in the middle of July.
“Good point. But this one,” she looked back at the building and felt a chill that had nothing to do with the AC on full blast. “There’s something about it that bothers me.”
“We haven’t even seen it yet; let’s give it a chance before we decide anything.” Peter paused and frowned. “That’s assuming we get to see it. Where is the agent…” He broke off as a sports car red enough to sizzle pulled in next to them. “Well, speak of the Devil!” He pulled the key out of the ignition and jumped out of the car.
Gwen followed reluctantly, feeling herself wilt in the oppressive heat.
“Good afternoon! So sorry I’m late, sincerely!”
The man rushing toward them was so slight Gwen thought if a good breeze ever came up he’d likely blow away.
“The name is Micah Nihasa. I really appreciate your patience! I promise the wait will be worth it!” He clapped a hand on Peter’s shoulder and motioned them toward the glass door. “I unlocked the door on my way. Electronic locks, isn’t technology wonderful?”
He held the door and Gwen found herself hesitating despite her strong desire to escape the heat. Before she could step back, Peter grabbed her hand and tugged her into the waiting darkness. As she passed, Mr. Nihasa smiled, flashing brilliantly white teeth under a neatly trimmed mustache.
“One moment, let me turn on the lights.” A cell phone lit the darkness, then the lights flashed on overhead.
Speechless, Gwen walked slowly to the center of the hall until she was directly under a huge crystal chandelier. A vision of their reception danced around her, charming and full of joy.
Peter walked around the edge of the dance floor, poking his head into the restrooms and kitchen area, before meeting her under the sparkling lights. “It’s the right size, and the kitchen is exactly what the caterer asked for. It’s amazing, really.” He scanned the space again. “But the price has got to be just as amazing.”
Mr. Nihasa materialized in front of them, holding out a rental contract and a pen. “Actually, I think you’ll find the price quite good! We had a cancellation, and we haven’t been able to fill the space. So, as my father used to be fond of saying, it’s quite cheap at half the price!”
“Really?” Peter scanned the contract and reached for the pen even as Gwen’s unease returned.
“Honey, I’m not sure…”
“Gwen,” he interrupted, “this is half what the other places quoted us, and it’s perfect. We can’t pass this up.”
Before she could say anything else, the contract was signed and being tucked away. Peter turned and grinned with boyish glee, ushering her back to the waiting car.
“Peter,” she tried again, frowning. “Something feels off about that place.”
He stopped at the entrance to the parking lot, a line digging in between his eyebrows. “Are you getting cold feet, Gwen?”
“Of course not,” she assured him. “I absolutely want to marry you. I just,” she glanced back and saw Mr. Nihasa standing next to his car, talking on his cell phone. “You know what? Don’t mind me, I think the heat just got to me.”
Peter smiled and leaned in for a quick kiss. “We’re getting married!”
Mr. Nihasa stood next to his car and let the heat from the asphalt embrace him as he dialed.
“Sir, they signed the contract,” he spoke as soon as the call connected, not bothering to wait for a response. “One-hundred fifty souls, plus catering staff. I’ve emailed the details already.” Sharp teeth flashed in a predatory grin.
Technology really was wonderful.