A couple of days ago I wrote Requiem For a Writing Contest to honor the passing of a 499-word Dan Brown tribute contest that used to be sponsored by a writing group I belonged to. Yesterday I posted a previous entry to the contest, and today I’m posting a third entry. This story snippet won a first place prize, and rightly so. The acrostic is made up of all the names of the members of the Writin’ Wombats, the group that sponsored the contest. I had fun doing the acrostic, but it took hours to come up with a message that made at least a little sense. (FYI — FCR is an acronym for First Chapters Romance, a major writing contest with a book contract as a prize put on by Gather.com. Most of the people in the Wombat writing group met because of that contest, but I didn’t meet them until months later when I entered another first chapters contest on Gather — The Court TV Search for the Next Great Crime Writer contest. I came in about 6th or 7th, but in a round about way, because of that contest, I ended up with a book contract anyway.)
Robert studied the words on the scorched document.
“Since you say it’s a victory, it’s vital I am not judged unless death intervenes. Just accept my elementary suggestions. Keep everything nice. More importantly, keep everything ready, and never destroy data. Always leave enough people around to create art. Think how you’ll persevere and ultimately live. Be eclectic and know everything. Reason won’t end now. Don’t you jape our heroes nor jail a man inappropriately. Each day and night accept joy in loving liberty.”
Four men, three Alsatians and one stray cat gave their lives to protect this message, and one woman severely burned her hand to save it from a fiery end, yet it seemed to be gibberish — the words, even the sentences made sense, but taken as a whole, they meant nothing.
The legend surrounding this fabled bit of parchment held that it contained the names of some very special people — writers who might make a difference, might even change the world. Why not? Other people had penned words that touched the hearts of millions. Of course, there was that one man whose very initials drew scorn and caused contests to be run in his dishonor, contests known only by the hated initials DB.
But this paper had nothing to do with that DeBacle. It was ancient, extending all the way back to the beginning, back to an era known by the cryptic initials FCR.
Robert sucked in a breath. Cryptic. That meant code, didn’t it? Perhaps the message was encoded. A simple substitution code perhaps. No one but he was intelligent enough to create a code more complex than that. He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a magnifying glass, intending to take a closer look at the matter, but a sound deflected his attention.
Immediately an image formed in his mind of an albino with a severed hand, blood dripping from the stump. Wait. The albino had been in a previous book. And his hand hadn’t been severed; he’d been killed. Sheesh. How was he supposed to keep track of such details? He had more important things to do like . . . like . . . oh, yes, decode this message.
A new sound accompanied the drip. Goosebumps covered his skin as the clumps drew closer. All the more reason to figure out the code quickly. It wouldn’t offer him immunity from a murderer, but it would give him a bargaining chip.
Drip. Drip. Clump. Clump.
No time to decipher the message now. Where could he hide it? He considered eating it — eeyuw — but once the words were digested, the meaning might still elude him.
Too late. The door burst open.
Sophie rushed inside, hair dripping, high heels caked in mud. “It’s raining out there. A day fit only for Wombats. Any luck figuring out the message?”
Heart hammering like an anvil, he managed a single word. “No.”
“Could it be an acrostic?”
“An acrostic. You know — you take the first letters of each word in order and see if they spell anything.”
“I knew that,” Robert said crossly. “Of course I knew that. I am a world-renowned cryptographer.”
He wrote out the first letter of each word, added appropriate spaces, and stared in amazement at the list of names that began with Sy and ended with Jill. Here was the solution! But which would be the next great wordsmith? And which, if any, would be the next DeBacle?
Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+