“On the thirteenth alligator gizzard she opened with her scalpel, out poured a dazzling array of cabochon-cut star sapphires, mingled with mud, grit, and a rotting human finger.”

Challenges come in all forms, but they don’t often encompass large carnivorous reptiles, precious gems, sludge and decaying digits. The winner of the second annual Crime Wave Flash Fiction Contest is Portlander Eva Holmes for her story, “Trial by Gator.”

Eva Homes Photo courtesy of Eva Holmes

Holmes was among the nearly 50 writers from across Maine who took up the challenge, sponsored by the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, to begin a story with that opening line, which was provided by New York Times-bestselling Maine author Douglas Preston. The writers were instructed to tell an entire story and were limited to 500 words in which to tell it.

Holmes, 39 and an IT consultant, attended the alliance’s Maine Crime Wave conference last year as a runner-up after winning third place in this same contest. (And since it’s Mother’s Day, we’ll digress to mention that Holmes learned of the contest when her grandmother clipped a notice from the paper and encouraged her granddaughter to enter and that Holmes is grateful to her granny for that.) The conference led her to rediscover her love of writing. Reading, Holmes didn’t need to rediscover; she describes her taste in reading as catholic, adding that she’s especially keen on Scandinavian noir.

“I was just a mystery reader when I walked in last year, but I left feeling like I could write my own novel,” she said.

Just a year later, and she has finished her first draft of her first book, a thriller. But the news on the creative front is not all good. “Now that I have the first draft done, I hate it,” she said, rueful, in a telephone interview.

Maybe that’s typical?

“Is it normal? Is this a typical part of the process? Or does it mean I have some serious problems and I need to rewrite it?” Holmes answered. “I think it’s probably both.”

How long did it take her to write her winning gator entry?

“A while. Longer than I’m going to admit,” she said. She did a little research first, googling alligator poaching (yes, it’s a thing) and “the whole gizzard thing. Alligators have really acidic bile. If they eat something, it basically gets dissolved pretty much instantly.

“It had to have been a real fresh finger, like within the past 24 hours,” she added, laughing and referring to Preston’s “rotting human finger” prompt.

First place in the Flash Fiction Crime Wave contest comes with a full scholarship to attend this year’s Crime Wave conference. The second place winner was Laura Trapletti, also of Portland, for “Lucky Thirteen.” Georgette Carignan, of Limerick, took third place with “The Luck of the Draw.” Holmes’s winning entry is below.

Trial by Gator

By Eva Holmes

On the thirteenth alligator gizzard she opened with her scalpel, out poured a dazzling array of cabochon-cut star sapphires, mingled with mud, grit and a rotting human finger.

“Hey, Tom,” Sophie shouted. “I found your missing finger.” She waggled it in front of his face. A chunk fell onto her shoe.

“You know where I keep my old finger, right over there.” With the hand that still had an index finger, he pointed at a dingy mason jar on the shelf above the sink. “Bet these come from the holdup at Moe’s last week.” He scooped up a handful of sapphires to hose off the bile and gore.

Sophie tossed what was left of the finger into the gut bin. “Where’s the rest of him? Gators swallow whole, they don’t bite off fingers.”

“You won’t find a body in there.” He shook the water off the gems and spread them out on a rag. “This here’s trial by gator.”

“Huh?”

“Back when they hunted witches, they’d take a gal accused of witchcraft and throw her in a pond. If she floated, they’d fish her out of the water for hanging or burning at the stake. If she drowned, she was innocent. Trial by water, they called it.”

“So screwed either way – but no one’s hunted witches for a few hundred years, far as I know.”

“Naw, trial by gator’s a gang thing. If your crew thinks you’ve turned, they give your finger to a gator. If he eats it, you’re gonna be gator bait.”

“And if he sniffs and walks away, you’re just out a finger. Are you kidding me?”

“Nope.” He pointed his chin towards the pile of unprocessed gators. “Bet we’ll find more bits and pieces of him in those.”

“The finger would always get eaten. There’s no way a gator would pass up free food.”

“I found out once a little gasoline puts ’em off.” He rolled the rag into a tight bundle and stuffed it into his pocket, the empty finger of his rubber glove flapping against the denim. “Let’s see what Scottie can get for these. Split the profit.”

“Poaching’s one thing, but I don’t want to get mixed up in murder. You’re feeding me a line of crap with that trial by gator, aren’t you?”

He laughed. “You got me, I’m just messing with you. Could let a guy have some fun once in a while.”

“I get half, right? I found them.”

“Sure thing, honey. 50/50.”

The matter satisfactorily settled, Sophie grabbed her knife and got back to gutting.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 13, 2018 to correct the second-place winner’s name.