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View Full Version : The tollbooth (Short horror story)



James_KirkPatrick
January 22nd, 2013, 09:02 AM
I rewrote the ending to this story. I've had an alternate ending in mind for a while but the reviews I received here at these forums inspired me to finally write it. So I stayed up all night and did it :P I'm going to post it below the original story so they are both present. It's a bit rough but I'm holding of doing any serious proof reading or adjustments until I get other peoples input, that way I can fix any issues all at once. I really appreciate every ones assistance so the best way I can repay your attention is by taking your input seriously. I tired to write the new ending with consideration to peoples critiques.

Thanks to everyone for the help, even if you don't read the new version.


The tollbooth


Bill Soughton was a stout man of sixty years, whose expanding width seemed to be compensating for his diminishing stature. On this night, just as every weeknight for the passed thirty years, Bill worked the lonely tollbooth that stood at the single entrance of Amaranth Island. As usual, Bill sat in his booth listening to an old radio, which played more static than music, and staring down Falls Bridge: the only thing connecting Amaranth to the mainland.

It was a gorgeous night. The clouds, which had spent all day obscuring the would-be shinning splendor of autumn, had descended into a luxuriously thick ground fog, revealing an elegant full moon. The other end of the bridge was nothing but an obfuscated skeleton in the density of the fog; the mainland itself could not be seen at all. Bill had only a moment to reflect on the notion that this lovely little island was all that there was in the world, before a pair of headlights burst through the mist, shined down the length of Falls Bridge, and illuminated the little tollbooth. If Amaranth was the world, an outsider had arrived.

At first, Bill didn’t think the vehicle was moving, but as the car’s shape gradually began to gain definition, he realized that it was. But why was it proceeding so slowly? Before He realized that he was frightened, the hairs on the back of Bill Soughton’s neck stood up. He felt a moment of panic and imagined a maniac, behind the wheel of what Bill could now see was a Cadillac, loading a great big gun full of great big bullets with his name on them. Suddenly he felt very silly. It was the fog! No one in there right mind would be speeding down a narrow bridge like Falls on a foggy night like this. Bill let out a little chuckle, more from relief than humor, and leaned out of his window as the Cadillac rolled up to his booth.
“Those high beams make it harder to-“

The words caught in Bill’s throat. The car was totally empty. The Cadillac’s radio was playing classical music. The jazz coming from Bill’s radio blended with the music from the Caddy, creating a wickedly perverse piece of dissonance: The symphony of a lunatic, Satan’s final movement.

All the fear he had felt upon watching the car approach, slammed back into his bones so hard that he began to shiver. The moon, which had looked so elegant a moment earlier, now appeared demented and no longer perfectly round. It seemed to loom over him in the sky, engorged and entertained by the horror playing out in Bill’s little booth. Now the tollbooth felt more like a coffin. The picturesque fog on the water instantly became a sea of restless spirits, no longer jostled, but antagonized by the waves below. They would awaken from their tortured dreams and rise up; they would look upon Bill with the empty holes which now served as their eyes and…

And something was in his tollbooth with him.

There was a soft, wet, smacking sound coming from behind him. The sound almost reminded Bill of someone trying to get a bad taste out of their mouth, except this was slightly different. The sound was slower and more subtle; it was almost coital in its nature.

The thing behind him began to laugh.

It was a guttural, rasping, coughing sound, which surely must have been coming from an ancient throat. The laugh seemed to say ‘Checkmate, You’re mine.’

When Bill Soughton turned around, slowly on his heels, it was not a gesture of curiosity; it was one of acceptance. Bill knew that whatever was standing behind him was going to kill him, so he would die facing his murderer. What he saw before him turned his chocolate brown complexion to the cold grey of a tomb stone.

It was tall. Bill had to look up to see its horrible face, and its head was cocked at a harsh angle so that it could fit into the booth. The eyes were mad and seemed to be bulging out of sunken black pits in its skull. Its nose was animalistic, almost a snout. His face (Bill believed it to be male) was deathly pale and pitted with pock marks, but the mouth! It was far too big for its head; sickly disproportionate and full of razor sharp teeth. This creature seemed as if it had a mouth full of rusty barbed wired and the look on it face was wild and indisputably insane. For an absurd instant Bill thought that it was going to scream ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’, but instead it ripped out his throat and began to feast on his blood.

And in one of the often strange mercies we are sometimes afforded in life, Bill Soughton had the luxury of dying before losing his mind.


New Version



Bill Soughton was a stout man of sixty years, whose expanding width seemed to be compensating for his diminishing stature. On this night, just as every weeknight for the past thirty years, Bill worked the lonely tollbooth that stood at the single entrance of Amaranth Island. As usual, Bill sat in his booth listening to an old radio, which played more static than music, and staring down Falls Bridge: the only thing connecting Amaranth to the mainland.

It was a gorgeous night. The clouds, which had spent all day obscuring the would-be shinning splendor of autumn, had descended into a luxuriously thick ground fog, revealing an elegant full moon. The other end of the bridge was nothing but an obfuscated skeleton in the density of the fog; the mainland itself could not be seen at all. Bill had only a moment to reflect on the notion that this lovely little island was all that there was in the world, before a pair of headlights burst through the mist, shined down the length of Falls Bridge, and illuminated the little tollbooth. If Amaranth was the world, an outsider had arrived.

At first, Bill didn’t think the vehicle was moving, but as the car’s shape gradually began to gain definition, he realized that it was. But why was it proceeding so slowly? Before He realized that he was frightened, the hairs on the back of Bill Soughton’s neck stood up. He felt a moment of panic and imagined a maniac, behind the wheel of what Bill could now see was a Cadillac, loading a great big gun full of great big bullets with his name on them. Suddenly he felt very silly. It was the fog! No one in their right mind would be speeding down a narrow bridge like Falls on a foggy night like this. Bill let out a little chuckle, more from relief than humor, and leaned out of his window to collect the Caddy’s fifty cents when it rolled up to his booth.


“Those high beams make it harder to-“

The words caught in Bill’s throat. The car was totally empty. The Cadillac’s radio was playing classical music. The jazz coming from Bill’s radio blended with the music from the Caddy, creating a wickedly perverse piece of dissonance: The symphony of a lunatic, Satan’s final movement.

All the fear he had felt upon watching the car approach, slammed back into his bones so hard that he began to shiver. The moon, which had looked so elegant a moment earlier, now appeared demented and no longer perfectly round. It seemed to loom over him in the sky, engorged and entertained by the horror playing out in Bill’s little booth. Now the tollbooth felt more like a coffin. The picturesque fog on the water instantly became a sea of restless spirits, no longer jostled, but antagonized by the waves below. They would awaken from their tortured dreams and rise up; they would look upon Bill with the empty holes which now served as their eyes and…

And something was in his tollbooth with him.

There was a soft, wet, smacking sound coming from behind him. The sound almost reminded Bill of someone trying to get a bad taste out of their mouth, except this was slightly different. The sound was slower and more subtle; it was almost coital in its nature.

The cold sterile light of the florescent bulbs in the booth begin to flicker unsteadily, their guttering strobes keeping rhythm with the psychotic din of the two radios. Bill felt sapped of his strength. He was horribly cold and nauseous as if he had been notified of a death, in this case his own. A soft moan, feeble and laden with despair escaped his throat when he saw the reflection in the glass panel before him.

The nights humidity coupled with the kicked up dust of an untold number of passing motorists had left the window grimy and fogged up. It was impossible to distinguish the features of what stood behind him but what Bill could make out accelerated is already galloping heart. Any hope of surviving this ordeal was banished from his thoughts like Christ casting out demons into a herd of swine. “If that thing doesn't kill me,” Bill thought, “my heart will.” Whatever it was, it was tall. Perhaps a foot and a half taller than Bill, its head was cocked at a harsh angle so it could fit in the booth. All though broad in the shoulders and seeming to have a large frame, whatever stood behind him was dramatically emaciated. Bill saw no sign of muscle or fat but could just make out ribs and other bones on its pale skeletal body. He could not bring himself to make sense of the distorted reflection of its face. As if by some deeply instilled self defense mechanism, his mind slammed the door on the coalescing picture of the creature’s visage.

The bulbs continued to flicker, now even wilder. Their hum grew louder, like the gears of a giant machine that would grind Bill up and digest him. Bill was aware of It moving towards him as that grotesque smooching sound came closer. He was now shaking so violently he could no longer hold his head straight. Bill’s heart strained and thudded spasmodically in his chest, he felt it throbbing in his ears. He closed his eyes and meant to pray but could not remember a single verse or snatch of hymn.

The thing behind Bill was so close it was almost touching him. The wet smacking sound was right in his ear and the thing making the noise was so cold, Bill felt warmth he didn't know he had being drained away, taking his concept of cold to deeper frigid depths. He felt It reach passed him casting its icy shadow across his arm. Bill heard a soft click on the counter in front of him. His mind tried frantically to recall what he had left on the counter. His pen? The fork he ate his lunch with? Bill desperately wanted to lunge forward and leap through the tollbooth’s window. He’d hit the ground running, never looking back, not stopping until he reached the closest building. If he couldn't make it, there was always the water. Bill would gladly take the sixty foot drop and welcome the freezing waves below because jumping off a bridge was preferable to the sadistic horror he felt breathing down his neck. Perhaps as a younger man, he would have had a chance, but in his heart Bill knew he could not make it.

Bill stole himself, preparing to be struck or stabbed by whatever was taken from the counter. His frantic mind seized a prayer from his scattered thoughts. A fragment of a psalm, lacking context, Bill whimpered into the night.

“Shadow of death…”

And then it touched him.

Bill never heard himself scream but felt the jagged blast of his cry ripping through his raw battered throat. Bill screamed until he was hoarse. He screamed until his throat was ragged and there was blood in his mouth. The creatures hand had barely grazed his elbow but its touch, so cold and vacant seemed to encapsulate the horror of its presence. When his senses returned to him, Bill opened his eyes and saw the window was no longer reflecting anything behind him. The lights no longer flickered and there sound had returned to a vapid hum. The Cadillac still sat idling before him and the two radios were still on but his own was now in the midst of a commercial break. The Cadillac’s speakers issued forth a bitter sweet piano piece, Bill thought Rachmaninoff or Liszt.
Even though he believed whatever had come into the booth had left, it still required a sizable portion of Bills nerve to turn around and look behind him. As he suspected there was no one there, the half door of the tollbooth was only slightly ajar. For just an instant, Bill flirted with the idea that he imagined everything, and then he heard the Cadillac switch into gear and begin rolling forward.

Bill turned slowly to look in the cars direction, it pulled forward before he had a chance to see if there was anyone inside but continued rolling into the island at the same lazy speed it arrived. Suddenly, he had the idea to take down the license plate. He had yet to give any thought of what he would do with it but taking the number down seemed like the least he could do. Bill memorized the number but very quickly forgot it when he looked down to the counter to grab a pen. The number plate suddenly seemed less important. Something else had caught Bill’s eye.

Its edges were worn down and smooth, its silver luster had been almost totally smothered by the dismal no color of tarnish and wear but placed on the counter beside Bill’s pen and fork was a fifty cent piece.

Bill took the coin into his hands and distractedly rubbed it as he watched the Cadillac sink deeper into the fog. All he could see were the brake light as the big town car paused before turning left onto Main Street. Bill reflected on the night and considered what would be worse, staying on an island with whatever it was in his booth, or waiting around to collect its toll when it’s ready to leave.

Bill looked down the length of Fall’s bridge and decided it was a nice time of year to take a holiday on the main land.

The (new) end.

So that's it. I'm not really sure about this. I like the destination but I feel like a better route might have a stronger effect, (improve the journey.) I feel like it's too dragged out but I also feel like it's all essential to GET to the ending.

Suggestions? Keep em' brutal, keep em' coming.

jedellion
January 22nd, 2013, 10:52 AM
Hmmm

I loved the first half of the piece. Evocative, it had some nice expression.


It was a gorgeous night. The clouds, which had spent all day obscuring the would-be shinning splendor of autumn, had descended into a luxuriously thick ground fog, revealing an elegant full moon.

This was nice.

In fact there were lots of nice pieces of prose which, taken on their own, are really well done.

But for some reason I felt cheated at the end.

habe you ever seen the movies made of Stephen King books? In particular needful things. Scary, sets up a really interesting denoument, and then we got a cheesy monster that spoiled the ending.

This felt a little like that. In the end it's a scary monster that kills the poor man. What was with the car? why did he have to die?
I am not sure why I feel let down, it just felt like tall that work in setting up the scene just ended with a quick, fairly scary death.

I am not sure how to suggest changing this, perhaps it feels like it deserves a longer story, maybe that's it.

Sorry I can't be more helpful.

Jed.

Higurro
January 22nd, 2013, 02:09 PM
Interesting - I thought the pacing was very good and you set the scene strongly, it felt quite believably set up. There were one or two SPG errors, but a quick edit would catch most of them. The only thing I really wasn't sure about was the briefness of the ending. Although the car appeared, perhaps a little more build-up would have stretched the tension further. I don't know how you wan't to play it, but taking a hint from a lot of the big monster horror films (eg Cloverfied), as soon as the monster appears all the tension is lost. Making it stalk him for a bit longer, and perhaps taking him outside the comfort and safety of his booth might help here, and would do something about the very sudden shift from him being completely at ease to panicking. Hope that helps.

Ariel
January 22nd, 2013, 02:41 PM
I feel that the creature releases all the tension. It becomes, well, just another monster story with a big red herring.

I think everything before the monster sets it up well to become a really good, short little psychological piece. Maybe we don't need to know what the creature looks like but only that he saw something that made him run. Maybe we see that he ran off in a news report the next day? Maybe instead of his throat being torn out this creature does something really weird like take just his tongue or his eyes? There's all kinds of ways to tighten this up and make it truly creepy. Good luck!

OLDSOUL
January 22nd, 2013, 02:50 PM
The whole 'explain-in-agonising-detail-what-the-monster-looks-like' thing really doesn't do it for me. It's amateurish and to be honest; you're a better writer than that. You seem to be on the precipice of 'levelling up' so to speak. Some excellent imagery tucked away in some trite, watery bulldust. The scene was set up well. That was the most impressive thing about this. I caught myself doing the action of 'getting a bad taste out of my mouth' which is always pleasing for a writer to illicit in his reader. It implies immersion. To be honest though, the cliche'd monster bit at the end really brought this down a few pegs. You're honestly better than that. Take the good, cull the bad. Speed up the pacing at the end. Analogies that are short and sweet are much more buyable when the protagonist is in danger. If the scene is frantic, your writing needs to reflect that. Cut down on the long sentences.

You've got yourself a decent little story otherwise homie. Keep it up.

James_KirkPatrick
January 23rd, 2013, 12:19 PM
Thanks for all the advice. Almost without exception, the response to this story has been, "the monster ruins it." As I said, this was written for a contest with Vampires being the prompt. Before writing this story, I looked at the other entries and found the majority contained Lestat/Twilight type vampires. I wanted my story to stand out. In contrast to the romantic and socially brilliant creatures of Anne Rice, I tried to make my vampire brutal and ugly, lacking anything more than a predatory cunning as opposed to intelligence. That being said, I could have accomplished my goal without resorting to a cheap scare.

@ amsawtell, I love the idea of the creature taking something specific, like the eyes or tongue. If I had thought of it, I definitely would have had the monster take some kind of morbid trophy from Bill.

Needless to say I'll be rewriting this. I actually have an idea that I hope will make a better ending.

Again, thank you all for the input. I may rewrite and finish today. If I do, I'll just put it in this thread rather than create a new one.

Thanks!

J

CharlieParker82
January 25th, 2013, 04:50 PM
The new version is a lot better than the old. I agree the monster and the quick ending ruined the first draft. I thought the build was great, and there were some lines that i really loved. "like Christ casting out demons into a herd of swine" and "He screamed until his throat was ragged and there was blood in his mouth" were some of my favorites. I've read a lot on these forums where good writing goes nowhere, but this piece really has moments through out that grip you.

Perhaps there is a better route to get the reader to where you want but I really like the route you've chosen so far.

Its a classic horror story, well done

Ariel
January 25th, 2013, 05:39 PM
I like the new ending but felt like it was dragging and slow. I think it could do with shorter sentences where he's screaming. The fifty-cent piece was really nice.

Stephanie1980
January 25th, 2013, 10:10 PM
It’s great to read that you want constructive criticism. That is why I decided to join this forum. I liked what I read thus far, you have a nice way of expressing actions and gore. Are you editing this story to have it published one day?

All the best,
Stephanie

SunnyE
January 27th, 2013, 02:28 AM
I liked it. You have a beautiful writing style and create some really wonderful imagery. There were a number of typos and other such problems. Like, "all though" instead of "although," "passed" instead of "past," "were the brake light" instead of "were the brake lights," several possessive nouns lacked an apostrophe, that sort of thing. But overall, good job. Interestingly, I was surprised to read your comment that this was a vampire story. Nice description of the monster, but really, "vampire" never entered my mind.