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BenTurnbull
January 10th, 2013, 10:07 AM
This was written after I let my imagination run wild one night driving home at four am. A writer in my local group suggested a prompt for the following week and I decided to work it in. The prompt: Who said it was missing?


Scared to Death (It's a lazy title but I'm bad at naming things)


Miles Davisí ďBitches BrewĒ makes a horrible soundtrack for a late-night commute across mid-winter mountain roads. Sliding around frozen, twisting turns, my nerves are already taut, out-of-tune, ready to snap, when the opening notes of bass, drums and piano begin their ominous introduction. The first blast from Milesí frantic trumpet catches me off guard. I jump in my seat as the brass instrument fills my cab with its echoing lament. Itís both the tortured cry of the abused and the manic laugh of the abuser.


Tension fills the cab of my truck with a palpable viscosity.

My headlights prove little use around the sharp corners of the rising road, and my eyes strain to see what lies ahead in the peripheral light. Trees slumbering under a heavy blanket of snow create a tight corridor on the highway. Angry at my disturbance, they stretch long, shadowed claws before me, trying to snare and pull me off the road to join the night. The trumpet goes silent; in comes the bass clarinet, giving voice to the to the ghostly trees and their ponderous awakening.

Snapping fingers call to me, pull me momentarily from the horror story my mind is constructing around those jagged, reaching, silhouettes.

ďCalm down, dude,Ē I chide myself, ďSince when are you afraid of the dark?Ē

I focus on whatís directly ahead. Trees, shadows, and the monsters I can feel lurking behind them be damned. To get distracted on a night like this, only knowing where the road is by watching where it falls off, is a negligence beyond measure. Out here Iím alone with no phone, no internet, no way out in an emergency. Reminding myself of the isolation turns out to be a bad move, sending my mind on a rabbit trail of ways I could die. An elk jumping into the road, sliding into a tree or off of a ridge, getting stuck in a ditch and freezing before anyone finds me hours hence. The list goes on.

What the hell has me spooked?

I blame it on fatigue and the un-earthly music I chose to accompany my drive home. Itís too late to change now, Iím definitely not pulling over to let the terrors hiding in the brush rush out to play. My rational mind knows they donít exist, but like a kid sitting around his first campfire listening to ghost stories from an older brother, Iíve let the phantasms gain a foothold and I canít shake them.
I reach over and turn off the radio. The cacophonous riot of sound dies. The trumpet howls cease their assault and the pianoís discordant meanderings fade into obscurity.

For a few minutes Iím able to collect myself and banish the chill that had been building a spider-web of fear as it crept up my spine. And then a harsh wind begins in earnest. Its banshee wail fills the night with the mournful dirge of a thousand lost souls riding an endless tide to nowhere and everywhere in between.

My hand again pushes the radioís power button before my brain catches up to instinct and tells it to. In comes the steady double-bass with itís simple refrain that builds ever towards a climax but fails to deliver. Confusion, chaos, anarchy attack my senses, but better the imagined voices of demons than the too real song of the dead.

Iíve always enjoyed this record, delighted in its absurdity, but tonight Iím hearing for the first time itís cold, calculating terribleness. The mocking, maleficent, almost human tone of the trumpet. Somehow itís always escaped me, always beenÖ

ďMissing.Ē

I choke the steering wheel with a ferocity that makes my hands ache, assuring myself that the clammy leather cover is real, that the voice I heard moments ago, the whispered word that floated forward, is only a hallucination. But I donít dare look in the rear view mirror. The octopus-ink darkness lurking behind my seat oozes long tendrils of fear that curl around my shoulders. I feel them hovering scant millimeters from my neck, a sinister version of a loverís almost-touching-you-caress.

I canít stop my head from slowly turning, I have to banish this illusion before it gets further out of hand.

My pulse quickens. My legs stiffen with anticipation, causing an unconscious acceleration. I round an acutely sharp corner dangerously fast. I barely have time to register the massive bull elk standing in my lane. He stares at me with disdain, a king in his own domain, head held high and straight, a crown atop the rich mahogany cloak that drapes his frame. His antlers stretch the width of my truck and half again. I slam my brakes and begin to fishtail towards him. Iím in a full spin as I approach and by pure luck manage to avoid a collision. I finally slide to a halt about twenty-yards away, my rear wheels in the ditch.

ďJesus Christ,Ē I yell. My hands are shaking, my heart audible even after I manage to choke its fleshy mass back down my throat. Before I know it, Iím out of the truck screaming in frustration at the bored animal, who has turned to watch me with what I imagine is contempt, not for the close-call but because Iím in what he assuredly believes to be his territory, his road. Heís not shaken at all, and snorts derisively at me before sauntering off the road.

I turn to see how bad Iím stuck, and am surprised to find that getting out shouldnít be too difficult. A sigh of relief escapes me. Iíll just put it in four-wheel drive and baby the accelerator. I get my breathing under control before sitting back in the driverís seat. In a few minutes Iíve resumed my drive, so close to home I can feel relief wash over me like a hot shower at the end of a cold, rainy day. Adrenaline cascades through my veins bringing with it an ecstatic shudder.

I laugh at myself for letting my imagination get carried away and almost causing a serious wreck. The trumpet joins my amusement, not seeming as sinister as before.God I love jazz, always changing, taking on new form and meaning. The good stuff manages to stay one step ahead of you, manages to surprise you in spite of familiarity. Miles Davis, man he had talent. The trumpet work is incredible, possessing a surreal vocal clarity. I donít remember hearing this section, but itís a twenty-seven minute track and the very real possibility that Iíve previously zoned out for portions of it exists. I reach out for the FM transmitter plugged into my dash to make a mental note of the trackís current time. The transmitterís cradle is empty, the Ipod apparently thrown in the spin. Definitely not the first time itís fallen out, probably wonít be the last.

ďWait, if thereís no Ipod, why is the track stillÖĒ

What moments before was a trumpet blaring from every speaker, transforms into the tortured cackle of a nightmare horror sitting directly behind me.

The marble-cold knuckles of a fist brush my adams apple pushing a weak whimper past my lips. The iron tip of a dead fingernail begins a left-to-right crawl across my neck.

I have no breath to scream.

AgentZero
January 10th, 2013, 07:08 PM
This is pretty good my friend. Keep at it.

Ilasir Maroa
January 11th, 2013, 04:09 PM
This was fantastic. I really love the atmosphere you created. The opening description of the music had some very strong imagery.

There were a few problems I had with it:

Some of the wording threw me out of the story. "Palpable viscosity" is a very abstract idea, and it doesn't really fit into the mood or imagery you'd already used. It sounds like a writer writing, not someone telling a story.

The ending bothered me. I felt that the last two or so lines detracted from the power and tension of the story. They were very well-written, but they gave too much time for the reader to get over their shock. I'd drop the last line and the third to last line, and then pick one of the remaining images to end the story. The nail or the knuckle were particularly creepy.

BenTurnbull
January 12th, 2013, 10:11 AM
Thank you both.

I'm kind of attached to the 'palpable viscosity' line, though I can somewhat see your point. I could cut it and store it with the rest of the lines I've loved and put aside but I think for now it will stay in.

Concerning the ending, I felt my previous edit was too abrupt. I had the narrator getting in the truck, noticing the missing Ipod and cut to a scream. I agree that it needs to be tighter than what I posted. How is this for a middle ground:

The trumpet becomes a tortured cackle. Marble-cold knuckles graze my Adam's apple and a dead fingernail begins a crawl across my neck; I find no breath to scream.


Better? I still want to tie in the music, and reading the end as one of the two lines you suggested feels incomplete.

Ilasir Maroa
January 12th, 2013, 04:14 PM
That's a good last line, although I don't think you need the "breath to scream" part.

Elizabeth Dawson
January 12th, 2013, 06:12 PM
I personally quite like the last line. I think that the abruptness of it allows for a clean conclusion, something that I think gives an edge to horror/thriller pieces. If you wish to change the line to incorporate a music reference (which I think would work well) I think a short sentence to conclude would be best, or as least a lengthy sentence broken up with a ';' to keep the effect. I found it very well paced, and love the descriptive language. The imagery is very effective also. Good work! :)

Silen
January 13th, 2013, 05:21 PM
Really well written.
Good job.

rotsuchi1
January 17th, 2013, 06:30 PM
Really good o.o

James_KirkPatrick
January 18th, 2013, 09:29 AM
This story is great. I'm sure it had a bit to do with its brevity but the story held me the whole time. I never felt the dull anxiousness some fiction falls in to when the writer meanders.

What I find really cool is the theme of jazz in the story. It's a tale about a guy driving down a dark creepy road with something unknown terror in the backseat, but it's also about jazz! This gives the story so much personality and I admire that.

I see some really good craft at work here. Putting the animal in the road was a great way to fill out the middle, so the writing doesn't seem like you're just killing time until you can get to your ending, which is obviously the best part.

It's hardly an issue and maybe not even worth mentioning, but I thought the foreshadowing of the elk was a bit to accurate. The main character worries about an elk in the road and sure enough, there it is a few paragraphs later. I would have had him predict an elk and then end up with a moose, or vice versa. In all fairness, whatever part of the country the character is in may deal with enough elks in the road that it is commonplace and something a natice would suspect. Like I said, it's a small matter and maybe not worthy of mention but for whatever reason, the accuracy of the prediction just seems unrealistic to me.

Anyway, I really liked the story and look forward to reading more of your stuff.

James

By the way, I wrote a short story very similar to this a few years ago but I'm sorry to say, I don't like it as much as this one. I'll probably post it here at some point. They stories are so similar, I hope you don't read it and think I ripped you off. It's called "The Tollbooth" and is currently posted on writing.com, just in case you end up wanting validation of the date I wrote/posted it online.

Crainte
January 24th, 2013, 06:53 AM
Incredible. I was really drawn in to your story. I've always been a big fan of horror works and I'm looking forward to reading more if by any chance you have any more. :)

OLDSOUL
January 24th, 2013, 09:26 AM
Really vivid imagery. Incredibly well written. End was perhaps a bit wishy washy, as if the idea formed but didn't have a punchy ending. The idea made it worth the journey however.

If I was to offer a critique, which I guess is what you're here for, it would be your placement of the word "surreal". The end of that story was verging on surreal. If you were to find that Friday was in your boot, or that Easter was your biological mother, that would be surreal in the true sense of the world.

I was very aware that I was reading a piece by a writer. I found it hard to immerse myself when the colourful language was overdone in parts. I fall victim to that too, so don't fret. Happens to the best of us. Overall, awesome little piece.