Gruin slipped out his tongue, letting the tips lick the air. It tasted sticky, the smell of uncertainty. He looked towards his people roiling in the valley below, and turned to Kra. "Separate the younglings from the adults. We cannot let their minds be permanently tainted by this fear." Kra spat into the air. The saliva sizzled, boiling waves of information into the airflow. Gruin breathed in Kra's reply. "Perhaps it is that very mindset we will need to survive." "And destroy generations of civilization?" Despite the logic of his counter, Gruin's saliva contained the edge of concession. "It may already be too late." Gruin followed Kra's stare up the mountain. Three figures were working their way down from the pass - the humans had arrived.
A shadow skittered across his peripheral vision, a darker smear in a pitch black room. Johnny saw it flash through the dirty streak of light coming from the boarded up window, the only illumination in his prison. It served to make the rest of the place feel darker. Shadows in shadows. Damp mingling with rot in the air, moist and chill on his naked skin. Johnny shivered. Another moved, and this time Johnny flinched, scraping his back on the cold, rusting girder. The shackles pulled at his arms and dug into his wrists. A click came from the corner and Johnny stared at an old boiler, the squat, fat kind, wallowing in its own rust, its door open and dials dusted over, leaking shadows across the floor. One of them shifted. Click.
"Billy, Billy," I woke to the wailed words. "Billy, Billy." Just within the range of my hearing. "Billy, Billy" I reached over to turn my light on. No electricity. "Billy, Billy."
I wanted to rise from my bed. "Billy, Billy." The call became too much. I could feel the hairs rise on my head. Goosebumps erupted on my flesh. "Billy, Billy." On the wall opposite, a dark red glow. A human or inhuman figure shape began to take form. I couldn't move, frozen with terror. I tried to call out--no words or breath for my silent scream. "Billy, Billy."
A form appeared. A woman with melted candlewax features. She held a scythe. Death. I tried again to move, to yell, but to no avail, my body lie frozen, my mind on fire with fear. She opened huge green-glowing eyes. "What the Hell? You're not Billy!"
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I heard a terrific crunch. The sound didn't echo, it ceased. Cut short. My chest constricted. Pressure. I couldn't breathe. I stepped through water, and emerged in darkness. I heard a dripping sound. Many, like I was underground. A light burst to life revealing a huddled figure lumbering toward me. I heard it rasping. I turned, and saw bodies strewn about. Flesh. Nothing more. "You have passed on." I remembered. The truck in my lane. "No. I'm married. I have a newborn." I stared as far as the dim light reached. There were no stairs, only wooden beams holding up... something. "Please lie with the others. Your journey ends here." I didn't want to, but felt compelled to. Eternal comfort loomed,
Satisfaction. It was the first thing Lena felt after she pulled the trigger. Charles’ face was white, his mouth agape. He sat on the bed and stared at his lifeless wife on the floor. Lena stuck her face inches from his. “How does it feel to have your life ruined?” Charles didn’t reply. He just stared at the corpse with the gaping head wound while brain matter slid down the west wall of the bedroom and blood soaked into the carpet. Lena waited for Charles to break down. To start crying, scream with anger, or better yet, grab the gun and take his own life. Instead his shocked expression slowly changed into that blank, emotionless stare she hated so much. “Show some feelings for me for once, you pig!” she screamed an
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I am interrupted. The sky is crying, its tears fall like bombs through the atmosphere. Sarah crouches next to me, her arms huddled around her knees, staring bleakly into my eyes. Water pounds her face but she does not flinch. “Don’t be a fool, Neil. I won’t leave you here.” I am pain. That is all I feel. I struggle, again, for the word. “Go.” “They’ll be here soon,” she says as she shields my eyes from the downpour. “We’ll be safer together.” She is right. She is always right. I see her looking about, scanning the perimeter. The rain has cut down on visibility. That’s a good thing; they won’t be able to smell us.
In his mailbox Olson found a yellow post-it note saying "look behind you". Stuck to the lobby wall across from the mailboxes was another note, saying only "http://188.8.131.52". He grunted and took it.
He hurried up to his apartment and, still in coat and hat, sat at his computer and entered the address.
The video showed the back of a man hunched at a desk, wearing coat and hat. Olson raised his hand, and the man in the screen did the same. The camera must be behind him. Olson turned around, and saw what was there.
After he was gone, the computer screen showed a desk with a screen showing a desk, endlessly nestled in silence. If Olson was in there, he was too small to see.
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Dark clouds hung over the cottage, making the day twilight. Curiously, red lightning struck our roof. I felt the shock all the way down the road to me. Everyone should be home and someone could be hurt. I broke through the front door to see Mom, Dad and Junie, lying on their faces. Their clothes burned, their hair smoking. Oh no! My heart skipped. I ran to my little sister and felt for a pulse. Nothing. I couldn't keep tears at bay. She moved and looked up at me. Perhaps she lived! As she did her face changed. Her nose grew large and her mouth enlarged, The edges of long teeth peeked from her lips. When she opened her eyes, red and glowing, I backed away. My sister gone. Mom and Dad turned, eyes glowing, noses ballooning. My family wasn't my family. I fell over a chair as they came for me. NOT ME!
Oh Christ! What was that? A hammer. The bastards! They're nailing the door shut. Oh no, dear God. I can smell gasoline. Why can't I move? What did I do? There's a light. Under the door and flashing through the key hole. Just enough streaming through the wall slats to see by. I'm sat down, strapped to a chair. Why can't I feel anything? What did they give me? That light's getting stronger. I can hear them. Laughing. That light. It's fire, a flame. Oh ****! What the hell are they doing? The light's turned blue. I can see it licking through the gaps in the door. That sound. Roaring, rushing, sucking the air out. Oh Christ! The heat. What did I do?
The shimmer of the temporal vortex flicked out as Marcus passed through it. He stood upright in solid darkness waiting for his eyes to adjust. A deep chill enveloped him as his ears popped from the change in air pressure. His hands instinctively went to his pocket to take out his flashlight. It was not there. It took him a moment to realize he was not carrying it as it would be quite out of place in this time period. There was nothing but black blankness after about a minute and the chill started to make him shiver. He slowly slid one foot forward feeling for an edge in case he was on stairs. It was a flat surface. He spread him arms out searching for a wall. There was none. He crouched down to touch the flooring. It was smooth and cold; he couldn’t tell if it was stone
“Mommy!” My daughter’s voice. Barely audible. I looked up from my book expecting to see Maddie in front of me, a scraped knee or elbow requiring attention. No freckled five-year-old stood there, so I walked towards the playground equipment. Half a dozen kids scrambled over the green plastic behemoth, but Maddie wasn’t among them. “Maddie?” I did a slow 360, scanning the soccer field and the tennis courts. No sign of her. Where could she be? How long had I been reading? Tendrils of cold wound round my chest and squeezed tight. I jogged to the other side of the park, where sharply trimmed hedges bordered a graveled walkway. At the end of the meandering walk I found Maddie’s hat. Its knitted monkey face smiled blankly. A vortex of leaves swirled into life and then
“This is the final part of your initiation. You have to stay inside all night.” The four sorority pledges looked up at the dark building with shattered windows. Chatsworth Mental Hospital had stood vacant for years, gathering cobwebs and silence to replace the screams and detritus of its former residents. “Piece of cake,” Jenna said with false bravado as she stepped over the splintered door into humid darkness. The other three pledges followed behind her, huddling together like sheep waiting for a wolf to strike. “Umm, we have to split up, so I’m going that way,” Jenna said, pointing to the wing where an inmate had supposedly slaughtered four nurses. None of the stories bothered her. The dead were just that, and Jenna was more concerned about meeting up with a rat than a ghost.
Lesa was in the shower when she heard the front door open. She opened her eyes, and listened past the sound of the water splashing against the tile. Jamie knew better than to play outside when she was showering. He couldn’t reach the doorknob, let alone unlock the door. Her stomach clenched, and the tiny hairs on her arms rose against her goose bumped skin. She turned the water off. Shampoo dripped down the side of her face and stung as it brushed past the corner of her eye. “Jamie?” Her voice echoed in the empty bathroom. Heavy footsteps made the hardwood floors in the front room creak, and then she heard the front door slam. Lesa pulled her husband’s robe around her shoulders.
Blake was a big, athletic man – always first pick for sports teams back in school, always the guy his friends moved closer to in a bar when things looked to be turning nasty. He therefore found himself immensely surprised at the squirming feeling deep in his gut as he approached the closed door. His left hand shook very slightly as it reached for the door handle; his right stayed clamped tightly on the long black Maglight. “Daddy..?” A plaintive, sleep-muzzy call from the top of the stairs. “Mari, keep her upstairs, and stay there yourself!” Blake said, his hand now closing upon the handle. In his grasp, the handle moved.
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I woke in the dead part of the night. Terror sat heavy on my chest, though I did not know why. A tendril of chill air slid across my face like seeking fingers and I sucked in a breath. Not enough air. I tried again, blinking in the weak finger of light that lay across my eyes, my breathing changing to shorter staccato bursts as I realized why I had woken. My door was open. I never slept with my door open. Something was in my room; something wrong.
I clutched the sheets, willing my mind to believe it was a dream, but I could not. The presence did not moan or clank, it did not roil or boil or fling things from the shelves. Instead it seeped, cold as melting ice, toward the core of my soul.
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The incessant click, like insect jaws snapping shut, chittered in a quiet undercurrent beneath every voice: the water cooler gossip, my wife’s laugh, the wail of my newborn girl. It wasn’t the noise, though, that convinced me my life was not reality. Nor was it the waking nightmares so real I dug my palms into my eyes and gasped for air.
No, it was the smell. The faint and sickly sweet perfume I could never escape; it persuaded me at last of the deception. It hung on every breath and every body, even my own, like an accusation.
“You’ll brush your teeth right off,” my wife teased from the dressing room. The water swirled down the drain. I looked into the mirror, toothbrush dangling from my mouth, and tugged at the stubbled, sallow skin that did not seem my own.
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Fingers of darkness and moonlight crept up the crazy quilt, past the book Ani had fallen asleep reading, and over Mr. Bunnykins who was supposed to keep her safe. The bedside lamp was out, though she’d left it on when she crawled in bed. The clock still blinked in blood red LEDs, 12:00, like it had for the last fifteen breaths since something had woken her. She’d counted.
Ani longed to duck her head under the stuffy blanket with the rest of her body, but she dared not move. There were things under the bed; Nana had told her so. Never get up, she was warned, no matter what you hear. Sweat dripped from her damp hair and tickled down her cheek. Eyes open no more than a sliver, Ani tried to listen past the beat of her heart churning in her ears.
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My big brother, Timmy, liked to play with dead things. It started with bugs – there were a lot on our farm. He called them “crawlies” because of how they froze into little statues when they died. He would trap them and watch for hours as they slowly suffocated. Mamma made him go to therapy when he started playing with other crawlies, like dead mice and such. It didn’t help.
A week before Halloween, I heard sounds coming from the old woodshed by the creek. That’s where Timmy kept his crawlies. Inside, I found a crow. He had somehow crucified it alive so its wings would remain outstretched. Timmy locked the shed door behind me. In the darkness, there was only the caw of the crow.
“Let me out! I’m telling Mamma,” I said, sobbing.
He laughed. “No you’re not. You’re gonna be a crawly.”
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It looked like a nice day before they ate the man. I walked near a mother with a ten year old boy. The man in a suit hurried on. Three figures, in torn clothes like homeless people, shuffled up to him. One figure grabbed an arm. The man pulled but couldn’t get away. The other two reached him and... started to eat him. He screamed a long time. The mother screamed also. She turned to run, with the boy in front of her, as they left only the tie. Two more came out of nowhere. Another turn and she found two of the original ones too near. With a terrified look, she grabbed the boy up. She screamed as one reached for her. A dash and they ended up against a building. As she shoved the boy behind her, she glanced at the tie. I saw in her face that she knew it looked hopeless.
“Hush now,” Gemma whispered, her hands shaking as she leaned into the bathroom cabinet and touched Alyse’s sleep rumpled hair. Her sister hugged her knees into her chest. Gemma tucked in the pink folds of her nightgown. “You can’t cry. Quiet like a mousey, okay? And don’t come out — even when he calls you.” Alyse nodded once, biting at her lower lip. Gemma’s chest ached but she closed the cabinet door, careful to not make a sound. She’d take care of Alyse. She had to. There was no one else. Pills and spent bullet casings scattered across the bedroom floor like bright colored candies among stars. Gemma picked her way through them, trying to breath silently through her mouth. She dropped into a crouch as a gasping wheeze came from the bed. Her heart thumped so loudly she knew Daddy would hear. And wake up.
Dr. Soo awoke to find that, during the night, someone had amputated his right arm. In its place was a dead arm, surgically attached to his shoulder. He struggled to pull it off, thrashing in his sheets, and fell out of bed.
Lying on the floor, he realized the truth. He'd had a stroke, and his body awareness was distorted. It must be delusional asomatognosia. Soo was fascinated--he could see the sutures, see his right arm was darker and larger than his left--but he needed medical attention, fast.
Raviv, in unit 302, could help. Soo ran to the hall and pounded on Raviv's door with his good arm. A shirtless Raviv opened the door. Hanging limply from his right shoulder was a pale and shrunken arm.
After falling, I thought I might live. I was wrong. Staring down at my body I watched it bloat, burst, then decay. Months passed until hikers found me. One vomited.
My body was removed. Fragments. I felt my mortal coil sever, yet I remained. No white light, only these woods and my crag. I grew angry. I learned to manifest. I began to punish. I became nightmare. I became fear. I am incarnate. Do not tread near me, your regret will be eternal.
Campers. I raged against their tent. Sent them screaming. One tumbled, fell. I had company. We fought, our anger opposing. The woods became legend. Do not enter.
Fools. They leveled, they built, they industrialized. We called a truce. We waited. When the time is right, you'll know we're here.
I would have continued reading after most of these openings. The “fear factor” made this challenge considerably more difficult in writing as well as in judging.
1 – “From These Ruins” – I liked the writing and word-usage. However, I could not decide who these characters were – dragons, demons, or something else. In addition, their speech did not seem to reflect their behavior – they seemed too civilized or logical to be scary.
2 – “Shades of Innocence” – Great writing and imagery (I could sense the dark, cold, moldy room). Nits: One can’t typically see shadows in a “pitch black room”, did not feel crowded despite presence of others (not sure who/what they were), and did not understand the “clicks”.
3 – “Death Comes Calling” – Unique and original approach. This didn’t really work for me – the repeating name had no effect. In addition, it seemed too introspective to be scary, and the ending made it more of a farce. (“lay” is past tense of “lie”)
4 – “Eternal Escape” – The short sentences were nice effect – helped convey the experience. However, I didn’t really find it scary, but almost lethargic, especially most everything after “I stepped through water…” In addition, the short sentences, which I like at the beginning, feel monotonous toward end.
5 – “Pity for Lena” – I liked the title and the narration was literally haunting. I’m not sure I buy her motive – it seems a nasty divorce would be a better revenge, unless she’s framing him. His reaction seemed a little too tame – he didn’t seem scared, which affected my own perception.
6 – “Flowers on the Balcony” – I like the writing and imagery. I’m not sure who “they” are – “they” sound scary, and I’m not sure if knowing who “they” are would make this more scary. I feel their fear, but it seems somehow empty not knowing what they are running from.
7 – “Devoid” – This had a weightless feel to it, which was a nice effect. However, it felt more like poetry, and I’m not sure where the story is going or even if it is over. I did not feel any fear in this.
8 – “Special Delivery” – This was kind of creepy in The Ring kind of way, without the pale girl coming out the screen. However, you lost me at “post-it note” - the cat and mouse part at the beginning seemed contrived, as did the hat and coat (obviously to recognize the MC). When he disappeared, it knocked me completely out of his POV.
9 – “The Rise of the Ixtlak Menace” – I liked the sister’s transformation – that part was eerie. However, I felt disengaged from this – less would have been more. The interjections, like “Curiously” and “Oh no”, were particularly distracting. In addition, this was too much for one paragraph.
10 – “In The Tool Shed” – Nice use of the senses. I see what the author is trying to do – create a feel of hyper-reality through very tight first person POV; however, the perspective is so fragmented, and yet establishes such a distinct narrative style, that it would be difficult for the reader to continue for long or for the narrator to change voice/style.
11 – “The Absolute Game” – Nice science fiction tie-in. This was the opposite of the “white room cliché opening”, and other than the darkness, I didn’t find it all that scary. As far as openings go, I personally do not feel a dark room where nothing happens is any better than a light room where nothing happens.
12 – “Manderly Park” – This would be the most frightening thing I could imagine. However, I did not sense the MC’s fear like I would have expected if this were me. The “Tendrils…” part was effective, but the rest seemed too “meandering”. I would be sprinting and calling out my son’s name repeatedly after the first paragraph.
13 – “Initiation” – I am not sure how to take this entry – it has all the clichés of an 80s B-movie – college girls pledging a sorority by spending the night in a long abandoned mental hospital that was closed down presumably due to a violent riot, and then the girls split up for no discernible reason. I will be greatly disappointed if there isn’t a shower scene.
14 – “The Nothing Man” – I’ll have to say, this was a pretty good shower scene – good imagery. However, some of this seemed contradictory – “Jamie knew better than to play outside…” and “He couldn’t reach the doorknob…” Also “Heavy footsteps made the hardwood floors…creak…” (I think of heavy footsteps more as loud impacts, so “creaks” would not be necessary).
15 – “Behind the Door” – My childhood home was once robbed in the night, so I can relate to this fear. The POV seems too distant in the first several sentences – it would be better to show this than to tell it. In addition, his hands seem to be acting on their own and getting too much emphasis.
16 – “Legion” – Good word use, personification, and imagery. This opening did a great job of conveying fear. The title and description of the spirit gave the reader a good hint at what was invading the room. My only criticism is that there seemed to be excessive repetition of words like “woke” and “woken”, “air/air”, “fingers” and “finger”, “breath” and “breathing”, etc.
17 – “Outsider” – I liked much of the word usage, and it started quite eerily. Here are some of my problems with this: I don’t know what shutting insect jaws sound like – I can imagine, but a baby’s wail would not factor in there; I’m guessing the perfume is from the real wife in the bathroom; and then he possibly does not recognize himself. All of this seems slightly disconnected, like 2-3 different stories.
18 – “The Ivory Yad” – I liked the dialogue, but it was hindered by a few errors – commas needed around first “Pythagoras” (great name), omission of “a” in third paragraph, and “go” instead of “get” in fourth. I also had difficulty with the meaning of the last paragraph, especially the “alter mekashef”. Most of all, this wasn’t scary to me.
19 – “Night Night” – This did a good job of setting the scene. However, though an effective description, I don’t understand what’s making the “fingers” –they were supernatural in #16, but they don’t seem to be so here. I also don’t understand why “Nana” would tell her something’s under her bed (and still let her stay there). Finally, I had difficulty seeing a little girl sweating out of fear, especially prior to crying.
20 – “Crawlies” – Nice first sentence and use of voice. I have two main problems: Firstly, what did the bugs’ deaths had to do with being called “crawlies”? Secondly, it seemed a stretch (pun) to conclude Timmy crucified the crow so the wings would be “outstretched”. It seems the author used every scary thing possible – a disturbed child, bugs, mice, a crow, etc. – and maybe overkill too.
21 – “My Encounter With Zombies” – This is definitely fast paced – for zombies. I wasn’t sure how to take the first sentence – humorous or otherwise. How does the POV MC know the boy is ten? If the man screamed for a long time, why did they stay and watch them eat him? They ate everything except the tie – that’s quite a bit of fiber. By the way, what the heck is the POV character doing during all this?
22 – “Hide & Seek” –The imagery conveys fear well. I had one big problem: I first thought “Gemma” meant “grandma” because of the similarity, chest pain, and pills, but that caused some POV problems, including who was “her sister”. I then realized “Gemma” made more sense as a girl’s name. This probably would have been one of my top picks except for my initial confusion over the name.
23 – “Arm In Arm” – Interesting premise, which would have many social implications. It seems I’ve seen a movie with this premise, but all I can think of is The Thing with Two Heads. Anyway, I find this more bizarre than scary. Soo’s response was more analytical than afraid. Also, there is nothing to explain why Raviv was the best person to help with medical attention.
24 – “The Spirits of Sanctuary Wood” – The MC’s viewing of his/her own decay was a good idea. I feel I would have like this better if it had moved slower and only focused on that aspect. As it is, it moves too fast and is too fragmented for me to be hooked or especially scared. As I mentioned with similar pieces, I could not imagine reading an entire story that follows this pace and style.
First - #16 – “Legion” Second - #6 – “Flowers on the Balcony” Third - #14 – “The Nothing Man”
Title - #5 - "Pity for Lena"
[edited to add favorite title]
[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited October 24, 2011).]
I only made comments when I had something to say, so I didn't review every piece.
First place: #20, Crawlies Second place: #2, shades of innocence Third place: #6, Flowers on the Balcony
Best title: Devoid
Entry #2, Shades of Innocence Damp mingling with rot in the air, moist and chill on his naked skin.--repetitive We got rust twice and dust once. Don’t think "dusted over" works. Squat and fat -- repetitive One of them shifted--not sure what them is. Dials?
As I mentioned elsewhere, I loved the "click" and thought it was effective and scary.
Entry #3, Death Comes Calling This was funny and basically a complete story in 13 lines. Nice.
Entry #6, Flowers on the Balcony Great first line, but I actually don't see in what way he is interrupted.
The sky is crying, its tears fall like bombs through the atmosphere.--outstanding.
She is right. She is always right.--let me guess. The author of this piece is a man married to a woman.
The rain has cut down on visibility. That’s a good thing; they won’t be able to smell us.--is this an intentional non-sequitur?
Entry #7, Devoid Best title. Kind of abstract story.
Entry #8, Special Delivery Liked the last line. If you publish this, you could have the http address go to something neat (maybe your web page)
Entry #12, Manderly Park As a parent, this made me anxious. So anxious that I would not want to keep reading (this is just my taste, I react this way to all such stories)
Entry #14, The Nothing Man Another good title. "goose bumped" didn't work for me. I was a little confused about the mechanics here--why was she wearing her husband's robe?
Entry #17, Outsider Very nice first line, but it all went by a little too fast for me
Entry #19, Night Night Nice title and scenario. Would Ani know the word LED?
Entry #20, Crawlies, Really scary last line. Loved the image of the crow. However, this line didn't work for me: "He called them “crawlies” because of how they froze into little statues when they died. DIdn't make sense.
Entry #22, Hide & Seek Disturbing. Liked the Pills and spent bullet casings, wasn't sure about the stars (are the stars bathroom tiles?). Do the casings need corresponding bullet holes somewhere?
Didn’t understand how her heart could wake anyone up
Entry #23, Arm In Arm Nice first sentence, but not as good as " As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature."
Entry #24, The Spirits of Sanctuary Wood This was a nice complete story. Effective use of short sentences. Not sure if "industrialized" makes sense
I don't get a sense of fear from this one. Trepidation perhaps, anticipation yes. Nice idea but just not scary in anyway.
I like this, but I'm not really getting just what is stopping the MC from fleeing. Is he tied up. Unless he is I can't see boarded up window being much of an obstacle. Definately eerie though.
This reminded me of a comedy scetch series we get over here in the UK. It's where comedians voice over wildlife clips. There's one particular one where a prarie dog (or some similar rodent) keeps shouting across at his friend Alan. "Alan! Alan! Al! Al! Alan! Al!! ad infinitum, final conluding with "Oh that's not Alan, it's Steve. Steve! Steve! Steve!"
"Billy! Billy! Bill! Billy! Hey, that's not Billy!"
I'm sorry but I was laughing too much to get scared.
The old dead and didn't realise plot. This one is far from showing fear. A little panic at the beginning but at the end it sort of turns quite peaceful and resigned.
I get rage and violence from this one, an emotionless husband and a wife who's finally snapped, but not fear.
I get a sort of sense of fear from this but it's hard to tell if the MC's fear is for himself or Sarah, or both. I would have prefered a little more information, even if just insinuation, about the things that are coming.
I don't really get this one at all. I'm not comfortable with the tense. There is no real sense of fear and, if I'm honest, I feel like I'm playing that game where you stick a name on your forehead and try to guess who you are.
I like this one. It's very Twilight Zone-ish. It's not quite so scary as intriguing but it works well.
Personally I'd be a bit more than just curious if lightning hit my roof. I get a sense of horror and grief to start with but, with the glowing eyes and ballooning noses I got a sudden image of demonic clowns rising from the ashes and couldn't stop laughing.
This is fast paced and quite intense, but should there not be smoke and voices. What are they burning him for? Why the censored swear word when there's one not censored in the first line? I think it takes from the effect myself.
I get some sort of time travelling, but no fear at all. As a first 13 it really doesn't hook at all.
As a parent this one registered. While not particularly frightening in itself it does convey every parent's worst nightmare.
The challenge was to invoke a sense of fear. This MC isn't even bothered about staying all night in a haunted mental hospital where a mass murder had taken place. What's to be scared of?
This one seems to be another play on the missing kid thing. I get it but I don't think it's quite a s good as No 12, though it may be just reading two similar plots almost one after the other.
This is a little wordy for me and too passive to convey a sense of fear. In fact the only thing that is there to scare me is the moving handle.
I can see what you're going for here and it's written just fine, but I just don't find it scary at all for some reason. I do like the way the presence 'seeps' though.
I'm not sure what the fear element is supposed to be here. He's worked out that his life some kind of virtual reality, Matrix kind of existance, but he doesn't seem particualrly worried about it.
They've gone to collect a cat. I presume that something scary is going to happen when they finally get upstairs, but I wouldn't read on to find out.
I like this one. There is a good sense of a child's night time fears there. Not sure I'd like to meet Nana though, sounds a horrible woman
I think this would have been for scary if it had been more about the MC than her brother. I get that the brother is some kind of fruitcake but there is no sense of fear from the MC about until right at the end.
This is all very passive and matter-of-fact. It's too staid to be scary. Rewritten with punchier sentences and less telling, it might work.
Not sure what to make of this one. It does convey a fear of sorts but I'm not sure just who's fear it is. The little girl in the cabinet doesn't seem to show much fear at all. What confuses me most is the pills and bullet cases. Is someone dead? Suicide, murder. Why isn't Daddy awake anyway if someone's being firing a gun?
This one made me laugh more than anything. Definately not scary.
Tells me a lot about fear but shows me none. It sounds more like a blurb than anything.
I must say I enjoyed this challenge but can honestly say that I find none of the entries particularly frightening, not even my own, so I've voted for the three that were closest to being scary.
This was a hard contest to judge. Fear is tricky to write in 13 lines, and more often than not it seemed like anticipation. It was hard, too, because of how many really good, well written entries there were.
#1 From These Ruins Although this wasn’t scary to me personally (apparently I’d be the monster in this scenario!), this was excellent writing. Love the method of communication, and generally the sense of ‘otherness’ conveyed. Only nit, the word ‘roiling’ threw me.
#2 Shades of Innocence This drew me into a definitely tense situation. Good emotional feel, if a bit overwritten.
#3 Death Comes Calling Ha. Loved this one. Actually, the repetition was an effective method of building tension, though this led to a laugh in the end.
#4 Eternal Escape Sometimes fear comes in not knowing what’s next. The explanation that he’s dead sucked the tension out of this for me.
#5 Pity for Lena Gruesome and well written. The vindictiveness of the wife, that she would kill herself to ruin him, was an excellent hook.
#6 Flowers on the Balcony Nice dialogue, but I feel ungrounded. More setting and some background would help me understand the direness of their predicament.
#7 Devoid More like poetry, there is a dreaming quality about this that lacks immediacy and fear.
#8 Special Delivery An interesting idea, but because I didn’t have an emotional connection to the mc, I didn’t really feel fear because of his problem.
#9 The Rise of the Ixlak Menace Good tension built up here. I was a little confused as to what his family became or what is meant in the context of this world.
#10 In the Tool Shed Definitely a dire situation. Somewhat choppy and lacking of why this is happening.
#11 The Absolute Game The writing on this was solid, and the idea interesting. There was nothing of fear or tension I could find in it, though. Just darkness and uncertainty.
#12 Manderly Park Okay, as a mom, I immediately relate; it’s a terrifying feeling to lose your kid in the most innocuous of circumstances, let alone this. Beyond that, the writing is smooth and the action realistic.
#13 Initiation Maybe this started at the wrong place. Because Jenna doesn’t feel any angst at this point, neither do I, though I can see where this is probably headed.
#14 The Nothing Man Scary situation, definitely.
#15 Behind the Door What would make a burly man like that afraid? Good hook, though I wish I knew if he had any inkling what was behind the door.
#16 Legion A bit heavy handed on description of what fear feels like.
#17 Outsider Didn’t I have this nightmare once?
#18 The Ivory Yad The writing in this: flow, characterization and dialogue were really excellent. That said, I’m not sure it met the contest’s objectives. I felt no reason to fear yet.
#19 Night Night Monsters under the bed. A description of fear, but did it make me afraid?
#20 Crawlies Yipes! Good voice, very childlike. Creepy, dangerous scenario.
#21 My Encounter with Zombies A horrifying thing to watch, for sure. In the action, I’m left unsure of who is narrating this story.
#22 Hide & Seek My favorite. Excellent writing and good building tension, from wondering why she is hiding her sister, to realizing her father, whom she should trust, is the menace.
#23 Arm in Arm Ewww. Gross. It’s definitely got the creep factor for me.
#24 The Spirits of Sanctuary Woods Knowing the mc is dead, I didn’t feel any dread or fear. He seemed to be the one doing the haunting.
I liked most of these. A lot of good openings. The highest priority of my choices came with the fear factor. The more visceral the fear, the higher the rating. There are plenty that would draw me on, but there had to be an element of fear.
#1 From These Ruins I'd like to read this story, but I didn't get a 'taste' of fear.
#2 Shades of Innocence This one didn't quite click for me. I didn't get the impression from the writing that Johnny was terrified.
#3 Death Comes Calling Sounded like a campfire story. So in that sense it did provide a fear factor except for the trick ending. Made me laugh, though.
#4 Eternal Escape. I wasn't drawn on by this. The fear wasn't here. I'd likely not read on due to no real coherently expressed intent to move forward.
#5 Pity for Lena I needed to know that Lena wasn't Charles' wife right up front. No fear. Charles is afraid, but, unfortunately this isn't in his POV.
#6 Flowers on the Balcony This is a bit too abstract for me to feel any fear until the last line, ' they won't be able to smell us.' But all the stuff before it extinguished all the fear.
#7 Devoid No fear factor here. The last line could lead to anything. This is so stylized that I probably wouldn't read on.
#8 Special Delivery This one is beyond me. No fear factor, here. What is there after the 13?
#9 The Rise of the Ixlak Menace This has a problematic beginning. The fear should have started with the lightning flash. I like what someone else said about all of these people turning into clowns. Maybe a different look a bit more 'horror couture'.
#10 In the Tool Shed This is more like it. Lots of fear, but I couldn't quite get engaged. Because the MC couldn't feel and wondered what he did, that snuffed my flame. I wanted to know how the MC got out of it.
#11 The Absolute Game A wake-up in a strange place beginning. I had no frame of reference. He could have been in my garage in the middle of the night, for cripe's sake. Except then he'd have oil on his hands.
#12 Manderly Park A good start. Everyone can identify with the sudden absence of a child. Somehow I needed the MC to lose her breath or some other physical feeling of panic, however. I might or not read on. The lost child (however chilling) isn't a real draw for me. I don't like reading about children in trouble. Personal thing.
#13 Initiation To get my attention as a first 13, she needs to meet up with the ghost and not the rat before the lines run out. I'd give the story another page or two.
#14 The Nothing Man I needed a physical reaction. She's having more trouble with her shampoo than with the intruder while we're still reading. I would read on.
#15 Behind the Door I had a problem with wondering who the narrator was and then lost as to where the MC was. I guess he was answering the door or something in his home.
#16 Legion I wonder, does the MC have a dog named Terror that's sleeping on his chest? I think you can get a little carried away with style. This is one. At one point I thought he couldn't breathe was because of tendril-like green fingers in his mouth. I had difficulty figuring out something seeping towards my souls. If something seeps it follows the floor and sort of stays there. This one is a bit over-imaged IMO.
#17 Outsider This is just about there. I liked where this was going, but I think it would have worked better if you started it: 'It was a waking nightmare, so real that I dug…' to set up the fact that he's currently in a mess.
#18 The Ivory Yad I'm sorry. I have no clue what an alter mekashef is and I can't even find a proper definition on Google. Threw me right out of the beginning. I also had to spend too much time trying to figure out the relationship at the start. Who was Heller? Who was Alistair? Where were they?
#19 Night Night No problem with this one. Good voice. I liked the writing "darkness and moonlight' and 'blood red LEDs'.
#20 Crawlies My suspension of disbelief lapsed with this one. I couldn't buy it.
#21 My Encounter with Zombies The MC is so detached, that it takes all of the terror and horror out of the piece. He shows no sign of staying away from the icky things.
#22 Hide & Seek This is one of the better offerings. I wish I knew where Gemma was headed after she left Alyse hiding. I'd have probably tried to get out of the bathroom window, if there was one.
#23 Arm in Arm Good title for the opening. I guess my big question was why? What does this little scene mean? Why would someone switch two men's arms?
#24 The Spirits of Sanctuary Woods Although this has the promise of a really good horror story, it's all premise. I don't feel the fear, because the MC has already died and is mostly angry. This is for an 'angry' first 13 more than a 'fear' first 13. I wondered if the MC died on a crag by falling how they would build over her remains. Perhaps that's explained in the story.
First: #19 Night Night - Good writing, good voice. Second: #22 Hide and Seek - Good visuals Third: #10 The Tool Shed - Burning alive is a killer.
Title: Arm in Arm
[This message has been edited by Owasm (edited October 24, 2011).]
There are many admirable stabs at horor in the submissions, and more than a few shocking entries.
It might be useful to distinguish between shock, horor and fear. In my opinion these are completely separatestates of mind. Shock is our reaction to something our minds cannot process. Horror is our reaction to something that is shocking, yet nonetheless compels our attention. Fear is our reaction to a perceived threat to our wellbeing or that of someone we identify with. To succeed in inducing fear, an entry would have to (a) introduce somebody who compels our sympathy and (b) convince us the character is likely to be harmed or at least face something unpleasant.
To compel our sympathy which a character threatened so early in the story, if we aren't going to write the character off as a total loss the story also has to (c) give us some sense that the character might get out of this without there being an obvious way to do so. In other words if the character is obviously doomed in the first two or three paragraphs we aren't going to invest much in them.
I want to specifically distinguish between horror and fear. They are related emotions but they are distinct from each other. Each one can be felt without the other. For example when I see the famous picture from the Vietnam war of a naked child running from a napalm attack ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phan_Thi_Kim_Phuc ), I feel horror, but not fear. Therefore it is neither necessary nor sufficient to shock or horrify to induce fear.
Some of the entries succeeded in shocking, qujite a few succeed in horrifying, but my feeling is none of the entries comes close to eliciting fear. That's not surprising. Bram Stoker wrote some terrifying stories (e.g. *The Judge's House*), but he never managed the feat in thirteen lines so far a I know. I won't say it's impossible, but it's clearly the next thing to impossible, just because there isn't enough room to create a sympathetic character and put him in a situation that is perilous and explain that peril to us.
The entries that come closest to succeeding fall short in one of two ways. Either they're overwrought, trying to cram so much into 13 lines that the result is more Baroque than Gothic, or they fail to develop one of the the elements needed for fear. Most commonly they fail to elicit sympathy (very hard to do in 13 lines), but in a few cases the nature of the peril to the characters is unclear.
Here is my ranking:
First place to #14, Nothing Man. This comes the closest to working according the terms of the contest, giving us another take on the famous Psycho shower scene. The only reason this entry did not achieve fear is that the thirteen line limit imposed a bit too much haste on it. This is the kind of story that really benefits from *building* suspense.
Second place to #17, Outsider. This is probably the best overall entry. It's highly original, but suffers in contest terms because it's got to set up the chess board. Compare to the high concept Psycho riff in #14, which explains itself. #17 is the entry I think I'd most like to see extended into a full story.
Third place to #24, Arm in Arm. This is a splendid horror concept; it reminds me qutie a bit of the movie Alien. The concept is so good, I think it might have succeeded within the contest restrictions had it focused more on Dr. Soo's experience.
Honorable mention for interesting concept goes to #16 (Legion) for using night terrors as a basis for a horror story. Honorable mention for creepy touch goes to the name calling in #3, Death comes calling. Honorable mention for prose style to #11 (Absolute Game). Honorable mention for classic, archetypal horror to #9 (Rise of the Ixtlak Menace). This has an old-school (Stoker) vampire feelign to it, but could use space to breathe. Snakes on a Plane high concept horror award to #20 (Crawlies), for the premise "my brother is torturing me... REALLY I MEAN IT." Most Likely to Keep Someone Up At Night award goes to #19 (Night Night). Most Interesting Protagonist goes to the corpse in #24 (The Spirits of Sanctuary Woods)
#1 From These Ruins -- I liked the pulp magazine feel to it; not sure why. Maybe it's the names, but it feels like an old school adventure story. Unfortunately that works against it being scary.
#2 Shades of Innocence -- Author valiantly tries to make an old boiler scary, but doesn't quite succeed. Some nice imagery but as in the prior entry purplish prose actually works against this. So little space to work with, so much imagery crammed in that we don't get a sense of the protagonist other than that he's shackled. More spare might do better.
#3 Death Comes Calling -- The name being called is a genuinely creepy touch here. Small issue with verb conjugation (perhaps "raise" rather than "rise"?). "A human or inhuman figure" seems to cover all the bases, but conveys nothing specific to the mind. Oddly, the description of the protagonist's terror actually kills the chill for some reason. I think it's because it causes us examine the protagonist in our mind clinically, as opposed to putting us in his skin. After that the author doesn't quite have room to restore the mood -- "melted andlewax features" is a nice try, but the thrill is gone. The ending doesn't work with the prompt.
#4 Eternal Escape -- Interesting premise, but the opening doesn't do it for me. Two problems I can see "I heard a terrific crunch." I think the "I heard" innoculates us against fear here; the narrator is telling us this. It both invites us to consider the narrator and to assume the narrator survives (which ironically s/he does not).
Also intersting that we have another anthropomorphized death. Death is a natural thing to be afraid of, but personified Death is actually reassuring in an odd way. Note how Death is there to guide the lost soul, to tell it what happened and where it should go.
#5 Pity For Lena -- Hmm. I think this is absolutely a splendid idea, to put us in the skin of a somebody who's just murdered someone, obviously not for very justifiable reason. But the focus leaves the murderer, and the mood is not sustained. The brain matter is just gross, not scary. Maybe if the murderer was splattered with brain, it would not only be grosser, but an occasion for horror (see Noel Carroll's concept of "category jamming" -- things are horrific if we can't put them in a category. Blood is horrifying becuase it's ambiguous; is it a living thing or an object?).
#6 Flowers on the Balcony -- A little overboard on the figurative language, I think. Kills any possibility of generating fear until the impression is lost, I think.
Author is going for suspense -- good call. It's either horror or suspsense, but the figurative language (which doesn't work well here) doesn't leave room to develop the scenario. "They won't be able to smell us" -- I'd consider *leading* with this, which gives us the suspense right from the get-go. It's interesting, I don't think figurative language works well with establishing suspense, horror or fear; it's too intellectual, too removed from the experience.
#7 Devoid -- Here we meet death again, only it's more effective for being an impersonal force. Present tense narration is always a bit of a distraction, so it doesn't help.
Not scary though. More psychadelic. Reminds me of when I was young and went to parties where people were doing dope, and having these apparently conversations that apparently they found profound but were just nonsensical to the sober folks. Story needs more point to be scary; as it is it evokes existential crisis more than dread.
#8 Special Delivery -- again, kind of an interesting idea, although the whole Internet angle does not right off the bat grab me by the collar and shout "fear". Overall this was still too outside Olson's head to be very scary; the ending in particular. Since we're not in Olson's head, why should we find the picture without Olson scary? For all we know he walked out of the picture, or had a narcoleptic seizure and fell out of his chair.
I'd suggest a more "in the head" approach here. Olson looks at the monitor and sees himself in infinite recursion. Then the outermost of the Olson image disappears, then the next one ... etc. Then he turns, but he has no image in the mirror. Hmm. Still doesn't quite work. It's a challenging POV issue. If we're seeing through Olson's eyes, and we still see the scene, then Olson can't have disappeared. If he has disappeared, then narrative disorientation is the dominant impression, not fear.
Still, I give this a plus for trying.
#9 The Rise of the Ixtlak Menace -- "Dark clouds hung..." I dunno. Evokes "It was a dark and stormy night..."
I think this story would benefit from a more straightforward, less florid telling. Less atmospherics. Right from the title I felt like this was oversell. It's too bad, because basic premise is splendid: his family is not his family. That's a terric idea for generating horror, but it's overshadowed by the figurative fireworks that come before. Give it more room to breathe and this could be quite good.
#10 In The Tool Shed -- Another A for concept. The protagonist is being burned alive; surely that's a scary premise, but it's tricky. Maybe it's just me, but I always find that giving the protagonist in too much obvious terror right up front works against my identifying with him. It's "OK, this guy is being tortured or whatever right in the first sentence, so I'm not going to identify with him."
I think rather going for terror right in the first two words, a more suspenseful treatment of this scene might work better. Overall this could work well if given more room to develop.
#11 The Absolute Game -- I rather like the prose treatment the author has given his vignette here, but it's not a particularly scary scene. I think there are two things we need in order to feel terror for Marcus. First is that we need to have at least some understnding of what is going on, whether it is expected or unexpected. For all we know this temporal vortex thing is something he does every day. Secondly, we have to identify with Marcus, which there's not enough room.
#12 Manderly Park -- I applaud the author's choice of vignette here. It's worth compaing to the prior vignette (The Absolute Game"), in which the nature of the threat is unclear. Here the source of fear is *very* easy to understand.
The problem with this vignette is that this sort of thing happens all the time, and 99.99% of the time you just need to look a bit longer. The vignette needs a bit more room to develop the conviction that something really *is* wrong. The author almost makes it, but there's a couple of chiller killers in the prose. Take "Tendrils of cold ...". The problem with this kind of figurative language, at least for me, is that it takes me out of the scene. I know that tendrils of cold aren't literally around his/her chest, so it invites me to wonder whether that's really what it would feel like. Doesn't grip like a more straightforward description would; in any case I think it's the wrong sensation. If you're going for a sensation, it should be a quick, disoriented, fight-or-flight response. "Tendrils" are just too slow. I wonder whether the issue with this entrance is that it is sitting on the fence between two different forms of fear: suspense and panic. Tendrils feel more suspense-y. The second figurative chiller killer was "vortex of leaves". Who would describe them thus, especially in this situation? Again, may be just me.
#13 Initiation -- OK, we've got lucky 13 here: a clasic horror scenario with roots that go all the way back to the regency gothic novel where the heroine is taking a governess position in the spooky old manor. This is a more modern, Hollywood treatment.
This is a classic scenario because it is suspenseful. The heroine convinces herself it's OK, but we the audience know the axe murderer is hiding in the attic or the squire's got some terrible secret locked away in the north tower. The problem here is that we don't know that Jenna's reassurance of herself is wrong. Until shown otherwise, I'm inclined to agree with her: the dead are just that, and rats are a bigger concern.
#14 The Nothing Man -- Ooh, we're doing *Psycho* again! This story only had one chiller killer: Jamie didn't work for me. If he couldn't open the door, then what would his knowing or not knowing have to do with anything? Perhaps it would be better for her to put him down for his nap. Stomach clenching doesn't seem quite right.
We're doing suspense here, and I think she needs to build up to the fight-or-flight response more deliberately. She's in the shower, vulnerable of course, and hears the door. So she goes down the list. Is it Jamie? No it can't be Jamie. Is it her husband? Seems pretty likely to me. It ought to be established that it is not her husband. Maybe she calls his name and he doesn't answer. And he doesn't have boots or something.
Overall not a bad effort.
#15 Behind the Door -- OK, another suspense entry, and a pattern is emerging. Suspense looks like it is feasible in thirteen lines, but even so it needs building. So Blake gets this squirmy feeling in the gut (is the author a woman? Women seem to have more expressive guts than men. Author, if you are a man, then kudos to you for listening to your gut.)... Sure it's inexplicable, but inexplicable isn't necessarily scary.
Perhaps this image is hurt by the chiller killer in front of it "He therefore found himself..." Generally, having POV characters "find" things rather than having the thing just happen works against narrative immersion. "Therefore" only makes this worse, because it makes it sound a bit like a thesis rather than a story. Imagine a sword fight told this way, "The found that his opponent was swinging a sword at his head, therefore he raised his own sword to block it." Some writers consider "found", "realized", and all that tribe just unnecessary fluff that should always be cut. I think they're useful when you're focusing on the character being mistaken; but not at all when you want to immerse the reader in what's going on.
#16 Legion -- A biblical reference here to Luke 8:30 I think: "And Jesus asked him, saying, "What is thy name?" And he said, "Legion": because many devils were entered into him." I wonder how many people would get it. I very much like opening sentence, but the third sentence has the chiller killer for me: like seeking fingers...
I'm thinking about why that kind of thing seems to kill the chill for me, and I think it's because if I were actually in that situation, I wouldn't be dreaming up similes unless they were obvious ones like "ants crawling over my skin". The same goes for this: "Instead it seeped, cold as melting ice, toward the core of my soul." Where, exactly, is that? It's a case of telling rather than showing. We're being told (not too subtly) that these night terror symptoms are demonic. Again here: "Terror sat heavy on my chest, though I did not know why." I understand this is a description of a night hag, but would it pass through your mind just that way, that *terror* is sitting on your chest? Or something terrifying? Why would you expect to know why? These are complications.
Again, this is a clever idea that would benefit from a mroe straightforward treatment. Show what it is like.
#17 Outsider -- This is perhaps the most interesting attempt here. It goes right to the basis of horror -- things that aren't quite what they're suppose to be. Prose is quite well done, but the thirteen line focus undermines him. The author is rushing a bit too much and has to resort to telling rather than showing to get his point across: "that convinced me that my life was not reality"
This is as close to success as I think we can get in this format.
#18 The Ivory Yad -- Another interesting idea but with several chiller killers here though. First this piece needs proofreading. Second, I'm not sure that readers who have never been in a situation like this wth a relative or older friend will get it. Heller strikes me as a bit of a stereotyped Jew. How many people speak Yiddish these days?
#19 Night Night -- OK, monsters under the bed. I like the idea. Prose is a bit purple, especially given that the POV character is a child. Would a child with a "Mr. Bunnykinds" experience "fingers of darkness"? "Blood red" indeed -- that's a bit on-the-nose. I really like the idea that the clock isn't moving, but the way it's told is outside-the-head; she looks and the tells us she looked fifteen breaths before. It'd be better for her to look, see it's 12:00 look again and see it's 12:00. Fifteen breaths per minute is quite feasible so perhaps she needs to notice the seconds.
"Eyes open no more than a sliver..." Note this could not be told from Ani's perspective. We're looking *at* her.
#20 Crawlies -- I really like the narrative voice here, but this vignette evokes more horror than fear -- not quite the same thing. Horror can be frightening, of course. Once again, the first person narration works against the attempted twist. It might work if it had more room.
#21 My Encounter With Zombies -- Narrative voice strikes me as cool, almost ironic, like he's telling an amusing story. That could be worked into a frightening thing, but the author is focusing on the horror here. The mother throwing her child to be eaten is certainly horrific, but it's not particularly frightening because we don't identify with these people.
This is a very clear illustration of the difference between fear and horror. The author is very succesful at making this opening horrific, but it's not scary at all.
#22 Hide & Seek -- Hmm. This is quite interesting again because of the horror / fear dichotomy. The author once again has succeeded in making the opening horrifying, but not quite scary yet. I think he's close though, but he barely has room to set up his scenario. What's missing here is a sense of entrapment. It's not clear that the kids couldn't just walk out the front door.
#23 Arm In Arm -- Yet *another* very interesting horror piece. One serious chiller killer "he realized the truth". Here "realized" almost works because he's mistaken and "realized" calls attention to Soo's state of mind. Here it is "truth" takes us out of the scene. It might work better simply to say "he realized he must have had a stroke..." Nice twist though.
#24 The Spirits of Sanctuary Wood -- Horror once again. I rather like the idea of the corpse watching itself change; that's really quite horrifying. It reminds me of the 80s film "An American Werewolf in London". That said, it is this animated corpse we are identifying with here, and the worst has already happened to it.
I’m going to rate the entries of this challenge based on 3 criteria: quality of writing, hook factor, and fright factor
Entry #1 From These Ruins
The writing is sound but piecing together what the characters are isn’t clear. The atmosphere set is ominous but not scary.
Entry #2 Shades of Innocence
Not at all clear what is happening here. The protag is a prisoner? But his prisoner is not a typical prison? Don’t know enough to be scared.
Entry #3 Death Comes Calling
The “Billy, Billy” I found irritating. They interrupted the tone of what could have been a scary piece. I like the last line. A reworking and I think this could have done well.
Entry #4 Eternal Escape
Woman dies in a wreck. I think this might have been scary if it opened with the bonecrushing accident. As it is it isn’t scary at all.
Entry #5 Pity For Lena
The woman murders his wife and he just sits there? What am I missing? Is Lena and the dead woman the same person?
Entry #6 Flowers on the Balcony
Not sure at all what is going on here. Fright level is very low.
Entry #7 Devoid
I rather like this short and choppy narrative. The story is piquing my interest but something better happen soon. On the scary level it’s a meh – which is on the high end at the moment.
Entry #8 Special Delivery
Interesting but the start is too sudden. I would hope if you are writing a true story with this example, you would fill in more of the blank spots and provide some more detail. But as a hook challenge, you are limited on what you can do. It missed this much on being scary.
Entry #9 The Rise of the Ixtlak Menace
Too much effort. Too sudden of a start, not enough of a set up. The opening failed to work for me.
Entry #10 In The Tool Shed
I am not a fan of this narrative. A panicked person talking to who? A little details on the setting would have went a long way for me.
Entry #11 The Absolute Game
Time traveler? A man is in a dark room. Not that scary.
Entry #12 Manderly Park
A mother’s worse nightmare. A child you were keeping an eye disappears after a few moments of distraction. This opening is real and well written. The fright level is high.
Entry #13 Initiation
Oh. Sloppy info dump. Too sudden of a start. This came off as too campy to be scary.
Entry #14 The Nothing Man
The tension is forced and the prose could use some smoothing out. With a better flow, scary might have worked.
Entry #15 Behind the Door
Not sure if I liked the brief bio opening. A moving door handle isn’t scary to me, yet.
Entry #16 Legion
Smooth prose with plenty of tension. Like the voice of you MC. This works.
Entry #17 Outsider
Like the writing and this has a fair amount of tension in it. I’m intrigued but not scared at the moment.
Entry #18 The Ivory Yad
This would have been better without the first sentence. Even without it, it lacks tension. I do not have a vested interest with the characters so far.
Entry #19 Night Night
I like this opening. I can see the little girl scared but the opening is making smile from the cuteness of it all rather than make me shiver in my boots.
Entry #20 Crawlies
Now this is scary! I recommend changing the “He laughed” into something more sinister. Other than that, it works very well!
Entry #21 My Encounter With Zombies
Loved the first line but the rest read forced. It took any scariness it had away.
Entry #22 Hide & Seek
This is creepy. Like the opening. Plenty of tension, just not as frightening as other entries.
Entry #23 Arm In Arm
Switching arms? Tough to buy. You said Dr Soo had a stroke yet was able to run to the next room? Not sure if that would be possible.
Entry #24 The Spirits of Sanctuary Wood
This is a complete story. You could submit this to a place that accepts microfiction as it is. I liked the first line and think you could have a dynamite story if you built on that. However, as it is, the tension built and deflated because of its length.
First - Entry #12 Manderly Park
The reality of this makes it standout. This is a fear every parent has – a personal failure to protect your child. Very frightening.
Second - Entry #20 Crawlies
Discovering the thing in the back of mind is indeed true. You’re disturb brother is psychotic. Scary.
Third - Entry #16 Legion
Waking up knowing you’re not alone. It’s Michael Myers and Freddie rolled up into one.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)
Entry #1 From These Ruins Entry #7 Devoid Entry #8 Special Delivery Entry #17 Outsider Entry #19 Night Night
Favorite Title - Entry #21 My Encounter With ZombiesPosts: 3058 | Registered: Dec 2007
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Oh man, everything on the forum is different! Anyway, I'm glad we were granted an extension! I haven't been feeling well at all lately and haven't been online much. Also, as a result of feeling sick, my crits will be pretty short. Sorry!
First: #24 "The Spirits of Sanctuary Wood" Second: #10 "In the Tool Shed" Third: #4 "Eternal Escape" Best Title: #14 "The Nothing Man"
Entry 1 - Interesting, but not scary.
Entry 2 - I like the mood you set here.
Entry 3 - Ha ha. This made me laugh at the end, but didn't really scare me in the beginning.
Entry 4 - This one creeps me out because I have personal hopes for something beautiful after death, and this is not. Also because I have young kids, and the thing that scares me most (besides them dying) is me dying while they're young and missing out on the rest of their lives. Good descriptions.
Entry 5 - Interesting. I wonder where it's going, but it doesn't make me afraid. Perhaps I'm jaded by too many crime shows.
Entry 6 - The scariest part about this one was "they won't be able to smell us" because it signifies they aren't being hunted by anything human. It was good, but it didn't reach up and grab me.
Entry 7 - Mostly this one made me go, "Mmm... sleep..." I'd be interested to see where it goes, though.
Entry 8 - Really cool concept, but it seems more sci fi than horror to me.
Entry 9 - I think this was trying for too much in too little space. It might have made me feel more tension if it had taken things more slowly. It might mean we'd have only gotten to the fact that red lightning struck the house the MC's family was in, but that could have been enough.
Entry 10 - Good one.
Entry 11 - Another one that was good, but it didn't seem as much like horror as it did the opening of a sci fi story.
Entry 12 - Yeah, like I mentioned earlier, I have young kids, so stuff like this scares me. I also thought it was well-written.
Entry 13 - I think I'd be more afraid if your MC were more afraid. Also, a deserted mental hospital seems a tad bit cliche. But it was well-written.
Entry 14 - Ah! One of my biggest fears! I locked my front door during my shower after I read this.
Entry 15 - Interesting and creepy.
Entry 16 - Agree with a PP about repetitive language, but other than that, this idea creeps me out.
Entry 17 - Definitely creepy, a waking nightmare you can't escape.
Entry 18 - This wasn't so much a horror opening as perhaps a mystery/crime opening to me.
Entry 19 - Good one. "Crazy" as a descriptor for the quilt didn't fit the mood for me, though.
Entry 20 - Yeah, this one also creeped me out. I can't stand truly scary little kids in horror movies and stories. *shudder*
Entry 21 - Oh, zombies. I just can't take them seriously. They're more gross than scary to me.
Entry 22 - Good one.
Entry 23 - Ew! Dead arms. Weird and definitely creepy, but I can't tell if he actually had a stroke or not.
Entry 24 - Also ew! But both in a "you wrote that well" way. I really like this idea for a story. I can definitely see it going somewhere good.
Posts: 128 | Registered: Apr 2009
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1st place – #22 Hide and Seek 2nd place - #17 Outsider 3rd place - #14 The Nothing Man
#1 Loved the last sentence. Didn’t really feel the fear, but then I’m not one of Gruin’s kind. Just another pesky human. For me, this read like the first thirteen of a promising fantasy, though I see the potential for evoking fear down the road.
#2 Great description. I could really visualize the place, and imagine the sound of things scrabbling across the floor. Since all I know about Johnny is his present predicament, though, it’s hard for me to feel afraid for him. Obviously, he’s in a bad place, but that alone doesn’t make me care that much about him.
#3 I liked the twist. Wonder who does humor around here? “Melted candlewax features” was nice. The repetition bothered me a bit, probably because of the way it was punctuated. Separating the two Billys with just a comma made me involuntarily read them with only a slight pause between, because that’s what commas do. My mind wanted a full stop between each Billy. I wish commas didn’t have such power over me.
#4 Waking up dead is certainly a scary premise, and the sensory details elevate the creep factor considerably. The main character seemed too complacent, though, and the other character (Death? Death’s intern?) sounded bored, although at least he was polite.
#5 I get anger from this, but not fear. It’s an interesting idea, to write from the perspective of someone who has just killed themselves, and I get a strong sense of Lena’s unbearable anguish and of her husband’s coldness. Creating characters in only a few lines is quite a feat, so kudos for that.
#6 Courage and selflessness shine in this one. Both of those transcend fear, so I know that fear is part of the equation here, but I can’t really sense it. It’s like the characters have already moved beyond being afraid, so I have to follow.
#7 So, this is perhaps too deep for me, or maybe it’s the second person point of view. I sort of felt like the character, floating along waiting for something to occur. While that feeling of isolation came through very well, I perversely ended up being glad that there was something else out there, even though I presume that something was bad.
#8 When I read the first sentences, I could imagine Rod Serling doing the voiceover for a Twilight Zone episode. That was pretty cool. The last sentences lost me, though – so ambiguous, and not very scary. I think this one would make a good tale of the bizarre.
#9 An interesting idea, that a lightning strike could wreak such a dire transformation in anyone. I think it would read better without the Oh nos and Not mes, and I confess that the nose enlargement bit was disconcerting. Maybe that’s because I’ve got a rather large one myself, and I’m sensitive.
#10 This would definitely be a scary situation to find yourself in. A real effort was made here to put the reader into the middle of a terrifying event. I wish that I knew more though – about who the bastards were, and why they wanted the MC to be toast, literally.
#11 I got quite a bit from this 13. Time travel. Nice sensory details. Well written. This is a good opening just waiting for development. Does it evoke fear? Not right now, for me.
#12 Even though it was written in first person, I didn’t feel much connection with the main character. I liked “green plastic behemoth.”
#13 Even though the scenario is cliché, I confess that B Horror movies have always scared the crap out of me. I wish that Jenna had shown some measure of hesitation rather than playing it cynical and tough.
#14 Yeah, this is scary. I know that introducing Jamie was meant to heighten the fear factor, but those sentences put me off a little bit. Not sure why. This could definitely develop into a terrifying story.
#15 The last three sentences were the best – from the introduction of Blake’s child (increased vulnerability!) to the door handle moving in his grasp. I could have done without so much Blake backstory up front, but this was very well written overall.
#16 Wow. This dredges up memories of waking up terrified when I was a kid, convinced that something was in my room. Definitely a fearful moment. The seeping presence didn’t sustain that level of fear for me as much as something tangible might have, but that’s probably because I always expected the something in my room to be a physical something, so a non corporeal presence didn’t register very high on my fear meter.
#17 This comes pretty close, and that’s impressive since there’s really nothing scary going on. Great details, like “sickly sweet perfume” and “the wail of my newborn girl.” Whether the MC has really found himself in some unreal existence or he’s sliding into madness, the stage is set for some fear-inducing action. Why do I keep seeing Jack Nicholson in my head?
#18 This raises curiosity in me, but not fear. Love the cat’s name, and I liked the tone. Somewhat Dresdenish. The alter mekashef tripped me up, though. Threw me out of the story.
#19 This is another wake-in-terror opening, and it had some good phrasing. I liked “blood red LEDs.” Instead of evoking fear, though, I ended up mostly feeling sorry for Ani, who apparently has to live in a less than ideal place. And Nana doesn’t sound like much help.
#20 This has a good potential for evoking fear, but I was confused by some of the logic. Why would Timmy call them crawlies because they were frozen into statues? Their crawling days were over at that point. Maybe I’m being too picky, though. Psychotics don’t necessarily follow rules of logic, do they?
#21 The first sentence was great, but then everything got so complicated. While I generally love a good zombie story, this one had too many pronouns. He screamed, she grabbed, I saw…. So much information.
#22 Nice. Clearly conveys the fear emanating from both Gemma and Alyse, and the dialogue was good. One picky thing - scattered is an action verb, so it was hard for me to avoid seeing the pills and bullet casings in motion, like “the crowd scattered” implies that people are moving. I know. Were is a four letter word. But, really.
#23 Ever hear of The Human Centipede? A really disturbing horror movie which I remembered because of this 13. Thanks. While I’d have to say that this entry wins the prize for grossness, it raised too many questions for that suspension of disbelief necessary for immersion in a story. If this guy Soo is a doctor, would he really try to pull off a surgically attached arm even if it wasn’t his? If he had a stroke, would he be quite as ambulatory as the story indicated? I think this could be worked into something really chilling, but it needs some refinement and some believability.
#24 The terse writing style works for the story. This actually is a story, not just an opening. Skeletal but complete. Not sure fear is what’s going on, but there is definitely a large dose of malevolence.
1st: #20 - Scary and well-written! And most psychopathic serial killers do start out with animals, so it rings true... 2nd: #23 - Because I like the concept :-) Like your arm falling asleep taken to the next level. 3rd: #2 Well-written, and made me want to know what happened next.
Posts: 12 | Registered: Aug 2011
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I have already voted, but I’m going to list my other favorites (HMs based on hook alone, but not in order) now that most of the votes are in:
# 1 – Consider giving a line or two of narration about whom and where these two are. #2 – Consider starting with the character and having less mystery about where he is and how long he has been there. #12 – Consider making the last paragraph more frantic/immediate/more emotion – maybe dialogue. #19 – Consider changing the “Nana” line and add some real tears (little children cry when they’re afraid). #22 – Consider changing the girl’s name (even though I’m the only one who seemed to be confused).
There were aspects I really liked about many of the others, but for one reason or another, I would not have kept reading.
Posts: 2003 | Registered: Jul 2008
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I took fear to mean a feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger. I'll wager most tried to cram their ideas into 13 lines, but I feel development takes precedence. Let the critiquer be damned if I don't shove everything into those 13 lines.
#13 Initiation #18 The Ivory Yad (Hand) #1 From These Ruins
Oh my heavens! How long has Hatrack been back up? I apologize for not voting earlier, I kept checking but apparently not well enough.
My votes are as follows...
1st :Entry 20. Crawlies. This one was one of the few that actually made me feel scared. 2nd :Entry 17. Although I'm not as scared as much as I am intrigued. I would love to keep reading this one. 3rd : Entry 12. I loved the wake from book land and find your kid missing. Been there.
I put a lot of effort into this one - I studied my collection of Poe and of a horror anthology that I own; then I looked at previous winning entries from past contests; then I wrote 5 or 6 versions of this (including a first person from Timmy's POV, which was more sadistic than scary); then I critiqued each one of them - the point is I really wanted that subscription to IGMS.
And snapper, I believe I'm the opposite - I have gone at least 2-3 contests without garnering a single vote. I was really starting to feel kind of "sucky".
Axe, thanks for putting on this contest. It's been a real roller coaster ride for me, and a bright spot in a fairly dismal couple of months. I will gladly accept the prize (I hadn't checked my email yet).
PS - I find it interesting that the "statues" line, which I criticized myself for, was also the main criticism of two other people - I think I'll change that...and maybe also, Timmy chortled?
Posts: 2003 | Registered: Jul 2008
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Congrats to philocinemas and the other winners! I wrote #16 (Legion). It was based off of a real-life experience and was the only scary thing I could think of. I'm not a horror person, but I love the challenges!
I'll also admit to being the person who voted twice for axe, ha ha.
Posts: 128 | Registered: Apr 2009
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