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cazann34
March 13th, 2013, 06:45 PM
I wrote this for a magazine competition. The prompt was insomnia. 1500-3000 words. But I couldn't submit it because of subscription restrictions, I wasn't a subscriber. So I thought I'd hit the forums with it. in writing it I was trying for a Dean Koontz style horror. All comments welcomed.


Shadows


For at the last twenty minutes Erica Greene fought the impulse to look at the illuminated clock by her side of the bed. She knew if she did the clock would mock her.


Look, it would say, it’s 3:34 am and you’re still awake, another night the sandman didn’t pay you a visit, no way are you are getting any shut-eye tonight, you might as well stop pretending and get up.


Erica had wrestled with the temptation to look at the luminous digits: if it was still night she still might manage a few hours sleep, but if it was nearly dawn, it would be too late, she could never sleep if light was breaking through. She’d always needed a dark room to sleep, even as a child. While other children needed nightlights to protect them from monsters under the bed, Erica found comfort in the black void, it was like being wrapped in a protective blanket.
Erica gave in and looked at the clock.
4:26am.
She thought as much, the clock had been right, or at any rate her inner voice had been. There was no point in attempting sleep, she should just get up.
She glanced over at Daniel he was sleeping soundly. Erica envied how easy sleep found him, he’d never suffered even one sleepless night in all the years she had known him. Smiling fondly at her husband Erica peeled away the duvet, slipping out of bed then replaced her side with care--it made no sense waking Daniel yet, the alarm would do that in a few hours--he needed a solid eight hours or he’d inflict his grizzly bearish qualities on the world.


She tiptoed towards the door, opened it, and eased herself out into the hall and down the stairs.


This was getting serious. This was her third sleepless night. Already she was feeling the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Her coordination had been first to go: misjudging distances between pieces of furniture and catching herself on chairs and tables. Daniel thought it hilarious: laughing at her clumsiness and calling her Mrs Magoo--a female equivalent of the long-sighted cartoon character, Mr. Magoo. Erica had laughed too at the similarities but underneath her joviality she was concerned.
Confusion was another effect she had to endure. She empathised with Alzheimer suffers understanding how distressing it was to lose your facilities. During the last few days she had lost the threads to many conversations or fell silent trying to conjure up a word that should have been obvious to her.


Erica considered doing what thousands of people did, reach for sleeping pills. But she wasn’t one to hide behind pills, she would rather discover the cause.


Searching her cloudy brain she attempted to find a reason for her sleeplessness? Could it be the unfamiliarity of the new house? Probably not: they had been here for over six months. It could be noisy neighbours? But their neighbours were quiet, considerate people who never played loud music or caused a ruckus.


More likely it was the novel that troubled her. She still hadn’t finished it. The extension was almost over and her publisher was getting anxious. Soon it would be time to hand over the goods but Erica still wasn’t satisfied with the ending. She’d discarded many endings as being trite, convoluting, unrealistic, even boring.


The real wood floor felt cool under her feet after the over indulgent heat of the 12 tog duvet as she stepped softly into the kitchen. She stood in the dimly lit room until her eyes became accustomed to the silhouetted furniture. She disliked this open plan living: one large room separated into kitchen, dining and living areas. She was a traditionalist, she liked doors--doors were the natural transition between rooms. Six steps to the right she found herself in the dining area, another seven and she would be in the lounge--that’s modern living for you and how she detested it.


Erica’s laptop lay open on the dining table. The orange light blinked, indicating it was in sleep mode. Why was everything sleeping but her? She pressed the button awaking the laptop. She entered her password then retreated into the door-less kitchen.


Opening the fridge door she searched for something to drink. Choosing a chilled caffeinated drink she straightened to close the door when something caught her eye. She turned to see the profile of an animal. It moved seamlessly along the skirting board. It was small and rounded like a hedgehog but without the spikes. It travelled a short distance then faded into the wall. Eric grabbed at the fridge door, opening it wide. The fridge light shone a cleansing beam at the wall. Erica stared at the wall confused. Where had the creature gone? Doubting her sanity she crept over to the wall to search for the creature’s hiding place but found no sign of it.

Giving up she leaned against the wall glaring into the kitchen. She tried to assure herself that the shadowy shape was some object in the kitchen casting a shadow. But couldn’t see anything that resembled the shape she had seen. The animal shape had moved. Shadows don’t move nor do they melted into walls.


Erica massaged her face and tried to think racially. It was probably a trick of the light together with her sleep deprived brain. Yes, that was it.

Feeling reassured she returned to her seat at the table and tried to focus on finishing her novel. She stared fixatedly at the text in front of her and read the first line but stopped half way. Then restarted. She couldn’t hold on to the words they seemed to dissolve into the air.


Erica’s eyes widened and her mouth gaped as she watched a full stop from the first paragraph slowly float down the page to position itself in the middle of the fourth. Then all hell broke loose as words broke away from their confines, and began to intermingle like old friends at a party or they bunched together leaving an incoherent bundle.


Eric rubbed her eyes and blinked at the screen. What was happening to her? She gulped her cold Cappachino and willed herself alert. Escaping the confused text she stood up, knocking over the chair. Leaving the table to took a turn around the room, switching on lamps as she went.

Erica hoped that the extra light would help her concentrate but it didn’t. It introduced shadows into the room. Then something flittered from the ceiling. Erica forced herself to look. An irregular shape, no bigger than a match box, floated down the wall like a mini parachutist. It stopped as if landing then began to move from side to side then another splotch appeared like a ghostly stain beside it. Then they both began to rock. Erica watched slack jawed as the shapes sway. Then they began to flicker like candle flames in a draught. A beautifully choreographed dance ensued as the shadowy flames rose and fell in alternate flashes. Erica almost giggled with delight. Then the dance stopped. Erica frowned. The shadowy flames spread out until they were double their original size. Then their peaks morphed and stretched until they were elongated appendages like a octopus’ tentacles. These tentacles spread out until they covered every corner of the room. Erica legs buckled as she grabbed for a dining chair as though it was a shield that would protect her.


Eric’s childhood fear came back to her in an instance. This was why she didn’t have a nightlight as a child. A light would cast shadows onto the bedroom walls and shadows were be to feared, they were sinister and had evil intend.


The monstrous shadows used their tentacles to manoeuvre themselves around the room, stretching from one wall to another. Erica stood poised with the chair if a tentacle came at her.


She watched as the shadowy octopus’ curled around the room making for the open doorway, either to escape out into the world or propel themselves up the stairs to stifle Daniel as he slept.
They had to be stopped? But how do you stop a shadow? Erica willed her brain to work. She was a writer she could conjured endings up at moments notice. How could a creature such as this be defeated? Think! Think! She implored herself.


Then Erica was hit with an eureka moment, a cartoonist’s bulb pinged above her head. Erica bolted for the main switch. The shadowy monsters seemed to sense what she was about to do and they whipped multiple tentacles at her. But the monsters weren’t fast enough allowing Erica time to skip or duck the shadowy whips then she lunged for the light switch. The shadow monsters reared up in terror as Erica’s finger flicked the switch and the room burst into brilliant light. She crumbled to the floor exhausted basking in the glare so glad she hadn’t swapped the hundred watt light bulbs that Daniel had complained were too overpowering.

knightforce
March 14th, 2013, 03:10 AM
I like this line, "Erica envied how easy sleep found him"...personifying sleep kind of adds to a mystical, dream-like atmosphere, at least for me.

I also really like this part, "She disliked this open plan living: one large room separated into kitchen, dining and living areas. She was a traditionalist, she liked doors--doors were the natural transition between rooms. Six steps to the right she found herself in the dining area, another seven and she would be in the lounge--that’s modern living for you and how she detested it."

First off, its just interesting, plus I think it also sort of helps build up a kind of fantastical atmosphere in some way...talk about the lack of clear, clean transitions helps to sort of make the reader, or at least me, think that something is a little different, a little strange. That perhaps, there are not clear, proper transitions between the normal world and...you know, the world of spooks or what have you.

I think the whole story is very, good...I like that the shadows are driven off at the end. To me, it makes things more memorable. Plus, if she drives them off, then she's still around to reflect back on what she experienced in some awe, and transfer that awe to us.

If I could say one thing, and I really think that this is an excellent story, I think that maybe make it a little longer and more drawn out. I think you build up the atmosphere very well and then thinks start to move a little too fast.

What would you think about making her something other than a writer, as well? What about her having a more mundane occupation?

wehttam
March 15th, 2013, 07:37 AM
I liked it, but there were a lot of grammar errors. even the first line, "For at the last twenty minutes" The at is unnecessary. And in the third paragraph, the second word is redundant. There are also a lot of verb tense disagreements. But, barring the grammar, this was a good story.

cazann34
March 15th, 2013, 09:53 AM
Many thanks for reading my short story.


To kingtforce: I am pleased you enjoyed it and found it to have a fantastical atmospere - that was the feel I was going for. The main reason I make the kitchen, dining and living areas one large room was if there were no doors, there was no easy escape for Erica, she couldn't just close a door and evade the shadow monster. She had to face her childhood fear and defeat it.


Yes, the story is fast paced perhaps a little too much so. It is something I will considering in my next draft.


The main reason my MC is a writer is to show the reader even someone who can conjure elaboriate characters and mind boggliing plot twists can be crippled by the symptoms of insomnia leaving them as useless as someone in a more mundane occuptation


To wehttam: Ah! Thanks for point out the extra words. I missed them in my last proofread. Still need to hone in on my proofreading skills. Not sure about the error in the third paragraph, perhaps you can point it out to me. When it comes to your own writing sometimes you can be blind to mistakes that are obvious to others.

Nathan_Milward
March 16th, 2013, 08:38 PM
A few grammatical issues, but a bone-chilling narrative!

Gasher
March 18th, 2013, 07:57 PM
Insomnia is interesting by default to me and I thought Erica had a decent monologue about it. Though I question why she was drinking a caffeinated drink if she knew she needed sleep. She was up at that point, yes, but isn't a common tactic to get up, do something or other to make yourself more tired, and then take another shot at sleep?

I hadn't made the connection between the bit about architectural transitions, or lack thereof, and the sudden transition into horror the story takes when the shadow monster appears until knightforce mentioned it. Was that intentional? :D

The final confrontation leaves me unsatisfied. I felt like the childhood fear aspect was grafted in without it being given a chance to develop. Also, turning on the light was an obvious solution and doesn't offer much of a climax. I also feel like you foreshadowed that the climax would involve writing/creativity/insomnia in some capacity and then didn't deliver.

Saiknohx
March 19th, 2013, 01:19 AM
isn't a common tactic to get up, do something or other to make yourself more tired, and then take another shot at sleep?

For a once-in-a-while sleepless night, yeah, that would most likely do the trick. Insomnia, however, is a more fickle demon. I've had instances where I would drag myself to bed with the full intention of blacking out, only to have the sleep inexplicably leak out my ear, or something. Wide awake, I'd try to waste time away to make myself tired, but the same thing would happen on the next attempt.

I've never gotten to the hallucination point (thank goodness), but I do recall the feeling of forgetfulness and lack of attention. Making Erica a writer was also great. What's a worse situation for a writer than being unable to write? I'd love to see more of this.

cazann34
March 19th, 2013, 07:50 PM
[QUOTE=Saiknohx;1614159]For a once-in-a-while sleepless night, yeah, that would most likely do the trick. Insomnia, however, is a more fickle demon. I've had instances where I would drag myself to bed with the full intention of blacking out, only to have the sleep inexplicably leak out my ear, or something. Wide awake, I'd try to waste time away to make myself tired, but the same thing would happen on the next attempt.

I've never gotten to the hallucination point (thank goodness), but I do recall the feeling of forgetfulness and lack of attention. Making Erica a writer was also great. What's a worse situation for a writer than being unable to write? I'd love to see more of this.[/QUOTE

It's great you understood what was going on in my story. A lot of readers didn't and I was beginning to wonder if it wasn't clear enough but you hit it all on the head first time. :D

The beginning of this tale is from personal experience but like yourself I have never experienced any hallucinations. I based some of this on a man called Peter Tripp, a New York radio DJ who stayed awake for 201 hours for charity. He had hallucinations. The hallucinations are a result of the having REM (rapid eye movement) dreaming during waking hours. Fun stuff.

I'm afraid there is no more. That's it. It's just a short.

At Gasher who said the last thing an insomniac would do would be to drink a caffeinated drink. I have to disagree. Years ago when I drunk gallons of coffee I would sometimes lie awake then I'd get up and have a coffee, go back to bed and fall asleep in a flash. My theory: my brain was craving its caffeine fix and wouldn't rest till it got it.

Bandage
March 19th, 2013, 09:43 PM
I found this quite enjoyable. Insomnia is a very interesting topic to cover

Saiknohx
March 19th, 2013, 10:16 PM
Years ago when I drunk gallons of coffee I would sometimes lie awake then I'd get up and have a coffee, go back to bed and fall asleep in a flash.

I find that whenever I drink coffee now, I get tired. It's like some weird Opposite Day effect going on, which annoys me to no end especially when I'm working overnights.

VoidMoon
March 22nd, 2013, 11:37 PM
The shadowy monsters seemed to sense what she was about to do and they whipped multiple tentacles at her.

I've seen enough anime to know where this is going ;)

Ranji
March 25th, 2013, 07:23 AM
Strong writing. Quite beautiful if you ask me.
What I would like to mention is that the details in the beginning were quite remarkable. Many stories and novels cannot to carry it but paired with your writing style is was a smashing success. But from the moment the small animal-like creature appeared, the narrative lost it's sense of mystery. Speed is your enemy. The idea of the shadows was wonderful, no doubt but the quality did drop. My opinion is that re-write the last few paragraphs and add in small details that evoke fear and curiosity. Not mundane details, but rather feelings that will automatically create beautiful visuals in one's head. But overall, superb work.

cazann34
March 27th, 2013, 01:34 PM
Strong writing. Quite beautiful if you ask me.
What I would like to mention is that the details in the beginning were quite remarkable.

Thank you very much.:icon_cheesygrin:


But from the moment the small animal-like creature appeared, the narrative lost it's sense of mystery. Speed is your enemy.

I completely agree. Speed is my enemy. I squashed this tale into a 1500 word framework that didn't do it justice. Worse I rushed the ending without considering pace or building tension.
I am trying out a new writing technique, 'just write' rather than the plan every detail approach I normally take. So when I start this short story I had no idea where it would take me, giving me such a thrill but as it went on I found myself stuck on how to end it until (which shows in the middle) I had an eureka moment (like Erica) and dived to the end probably breaking the land speed record in the process which did take away the tension.


My opinion is that re-write the last few paragraphs and add in small details that evoke fear and curiosity.

I am working on the third draft and hope to inject some fear and spine shivering chills to the tale.
Here's a question to the forum: do you think the story would be better/scarier/tenser if the shadows could interact with Erica? If the shadowy tentacles could grab her lifting her from the ground and swing her around the room or suffocate her like a Boe Constrictor? Any feedback very welcomed.