Last week I posted my completely unedited rough draft of my story from the writing prompt. There was a lot I wanted to work on, a lot I needed to learn about my characters, and a lot I needed to expand on. And I was already “over budget” on my word count by 38 words. So this week has been really challenging, but rather than go over everything at the start, I want to jump right into the story and then talk afterwards!
“You need to get off Twitter, see reality for a change.”
My brother Jack’s words echoed through my head as I watched the sun set slowly behind the mountains in the distance. I was trying to get back to camp, but got turned around somehow. I’m not even sure why I left camp, I hated the outdoors. Phone’s weren’t allowed on this trip either, or I’d have been back already. The sun finally fell below the ridge, leaving me alone on an empty ridge with no sign of a camp fire in the valley below. I was officially lost.
My anxiety rose as it set in that I would be spending the night outside. Alone. Shivers ran down my arms as a cold chill set in the air, and the forest got quiet. Without Jack, my brother, to guide me back, I felt helpless.
With one last glance at the forest below, I turned, and started walking. Without a plan, I wandered aimlessly, following branches that looked interesting enough, hoping that they could lead me back to camp. I stopped to briefly to catch my breath and drink some water.
My brother had left a water bottle in my backpack[ I think this is going to be Jack’s backpack. I’m pretty sure he’s the guiding force to help her out of the forest, and he knew she would get trapped tonight. Or….his future self did. But for now, I’m leaving it this way and we can fix that in the 3rd pass of edits.], and I was grateful for his foresight. I sipped the water gingerly, not knowing how long I’d need to make it last. Only then did I realize how quiet the forest was. There were no animals rustling, or crickets chirping. No leaves blowing in the wind. It was silent.
“Hello?” I yelled out into the vast quietness. Nothing called back, or moved from its spot. “Anyone?” I screamed. Again, nothing made a sound. It was like my voice wasn’t traveling anywhere. Like I was as silent as the forest around me.
The moon provided a small amount of light, but the canopy of trees blocked most of it. Jack planning ahead again, had also packed me a flashlight. Did he know I’d get lost? Did he even know I’d wander off? I didn’t remember wandering off. With a flicker, the light came on, and shot through the forest, illuminating a single pair of eyes in front of me.
I learned in school about the fight or flight reaction, but I did neither, freezing in place as I felt my stomach drop like I was on a roller coaster. As quickly as the eyes were there, they were gone. Was my mind playing tricks on me? The chill in the air grew worse, and I could still feel the eyes watching me.
A sense of dread overcame me, so I turned and ran as fast as I could. I didn’t hear anything, but I could still feel whatever was out there, watching me, no matter how fast or far I ran. After a few minutes, I had to stop and catch my breath. Gym was never my best class. Focusing on my breathing, I tried to believe that the chilled air, and the eyes, and the silence weren’t real.
I looked up to see where I was, and found myself in the middle of a clearing, with no trees for at least a hundred yards in any direction. Scanning the area with my light, I saw what looked like an abandoned campsite.
“This looks like where we camped…” I said to myself. Four logs, a long since burnt pile of ashes, and empty cans of soda. “Dr. Pepper, just like Jack likes,” I thought to myself as I inspected the area.
“Mackenzie?” A soft voice behind me said.
I spun around to see who was there, but no was was. I had to be losing my mind. Not only was there no one there, but even if there were, they wouldn’t know my name.
“Don’t sit down Mackenzie.” The voice came from behind me again. I spun again and saw a young man who looked like he was just a few years older than Jack. Brown hair and a bag that looked exactly like mine. Rainbow pin and everything. He looked at me, with an expression filled with sorrow.
“What?” was all I could get out.
“The forest knows you’re here, Mackenzie. You’re not safe. You have to keep moving. If you stop, the forest will catch you, and never let go,” the young man said with a sense of urgency he didn’t have before. I grabbed my bag and headed towards to woods again. At the edge of the clearing I took one last look at the campsite. I didn’t see anyone there anymore. Did I imagine him? I didn’t know why, but I felt an urge to follow his advice.
I started into the forest, moving like my life depended on it. I was running so fast I didn’t see the small cliff, and fell. I landed with a loud thud on the ground, and the crack of my arm.
“Ahhh!” I screamed out, but the sound disappeared. I felt the chill of the night creep upon me, sending the hair on my arms into the air.
“Keep moving Mackenzie, or the forest will find you, and keep you. Forever.”
Before I could process the words, eyes appeared in front of me. I was trapped. A cliff behind me, the eyes in front. I had nowhere to go. Without any options, I stood up, pain screaming in my arm. I paused briefly to gather my courage, and charged at the eyes. They were big, and yellow, and I knew for certain that I was done for. But I charged anyways. If the forest wanted me, it’d have to take me fighting. The eyes were mere feet away now. I screamed as I ran straight for them.
Breaking through the tangle of branches where the eyes were, I stopped running to get my bearings. No eyes in front of me, or behind. Instead, I was in a large clearing, complete with 4 logs, a camp fire, and Jack holding a Dr. Pepper. I had found my way back. Somehow.
There’s at least 4 different colors (ignoring the rough draft black letters) in my self edited draft, as shown above. I made A LOT of changes. I think they all help the piece get at what my goals were for this week.
- Learn how Mackenzie gets stuck in the woods
- Learn who the man who helps her out is
- Better show when the forest is closing in
- Fix my grammar and typos
I think there’s enough hints dropped that the man who helps Mackenzie out is her brother. I don’t really think it matters how he knew she was trapped, or the mechanics of how he was helping him. It’s like Inception, where these people can go into dreams. All that’s really important is that he is able to, not the how. I also love that he feels some guilt or sorrow that she’s gone. I’m sure any brother would grieve the loss of his little sister, but Jack seems to feel some guilt for her being gone, and I think that allows for the leap to “Jack helped her out of the forest”.
I also think I did a lot better job of showing when the forest is closing in. The deafness, the cold, the eyes showing up. All of that indicates that whatever force “the forest” is, is closing in on her. I also think that clearly defining those attributes a few times helps give it some added tension and stress when they start happening each time, especially as Mackenzie starts to learn what they mean.
As for how Mackenzie ends up in the forest…I’m not sure it’s actually relevant anymore. I think the better question to answer is “Does Mackenzie know she is already trapped in the forest?” I tried showing this with her lapses in memory, the appearance of her brother who is older than she remembers him, the abandoned camp. All these things that indicate Mackenzie isn’t actually experiencing things correctly, and that she is already trapped in the forest. I think this adds a bit of mystery and dread to the story. The idea that she’s already trapped and doesn’t even know it terrifies me, because how are you supposed to get out of a situation you don’t know you’re in?
Ultimately, with the help of Jack, she’s able to face her fears and break out of the forest’s grip, which creates this really great ending to the story. It creates an actual growth arc for Mackenzie, and I love the message of facing your fears head on.
Next week is Critique Partner week, which I am SO excited for. I know that bringing in 2 new voices to the story, new eyes on it, will show where things are over told, or missing. I cant wait to see what my CPs have in store for this piece to make it even better!