This week was really tough for me. Not because of the critiques or the story, I just had a really hard time at work, and the last thing I had energy for was being creative. But even through the hell that was my life for the last 6 days, I managed to find a few minutes here or there where I could actually sit down and write.
My wonderful critique partners Kay S Beckett and Nicole Vane gave me the best feedback ever. It was a nice mix of positives and improvements, and I really tried to take what they said and bring to life the best story I could, hidden under my own self edits. They helped show me some places I was severely lacking, and other places where I was making a comical amount of repetition. I’m so happy with having them, and I think I did this story justice.
My story last week came in at exactly 1000 words, and there were so many comments similar to “if you have the words, build on this description”, and when everything was all said and done, I was closer to 1100 than 1000. So began the cutting, and rewording, and condensing, to make everything come in at a nice, under budget, 995 words. There’s so much more I want to be able to say in this story, and hopefully with the editor critiques coming up next week, and no word limit, I’ll get to stretch those word counts again and make this story fully what I’m seeing in my head.
I love the 1k word limit, but goodness, some cuts feel like the best of a bad choice, where everything is important. But even with all the cuts, the additions I made have definitely made this a stronger story. It’s more in line with my original vision, has more description, and drops all pretenses of being MG. My character might be in middle school somewhere, but that doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s all about how much anxiety and dread I can evoke in the reader at this point. Full on horror, and it’s awesome!
“You need to get off Twitter, see reality for a change.”
My twin brother Jack’s words echoed through my head as I watched the sun set slowly behind the mountains in the distance. They sky was filled with deep blues and purples, but the colors struck fear, not comfort. I needed to get back to camp, I’m not even sure when I left…or why. I hated the outdoors. Those colors meant it was almost nighttime. I was alone in the woods, and was officially lost. Nightime was my worst enemy.
Every minute closer to total darkness, I could feel my heartbeat race faster and faster. The sense of dread told me that I’d be spending the night in the woods. Alone. The forest, once too hot for comfort, was now cold enough to see my breath. The change felt instant. That’s when I noticed how quiet the forest had gotten. No wind rustling leaves, or crickets chirping, nothing indicating that the forest was full of life. It was silent.
I started to wander aimlessly. With no idea where to go, no path to follow, I decided my best course of action was down. Just keep going down. Stoping briefly to drink some water, I said a silent thank you to Jack for packing the bottle. I only took a few small sips, not knowing how long I’d need to make the water last.
The silence was unsettling, unnatural.
“Hello?” I tried yelling out. My voice cracked with nerves, but I still managed to make it loud enough that something should have moved. Instead, the sound just died, like it didn’t go anywhere.
“ANYONE?” I screamed. Again, nothing made a sound. My voice was as silent as the forest around me.
Mist covered the whole forest, obscuring the moonlight, and making it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of me. Jack, planning ahead again, had also packed a flashlight. Did he know I’d get lost? I didn’t remember how I got out here. With a flicker, the light came on, cutting through the mist like a warm knife through butter. But it only brought more dread. In front of me was a pair of deep red eyes. I couldn’t see what they were attached to, but they looked like something out of an old painting of demons.
Freezing in place, 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 air became cold again, and my hair stood up on the back of my neck. The eyes were gone, but I could still feel them watching.
I turned and ran as fast as I could. I didn’t hear anything, but whatever was out there was following, no matter where ran. Heavy, labored breaths told me I needed had to slow down. I tried to believe that the chilled air, and the eyes, and the silence weren’t real.
Looking up to see where I was, I found myself in the middle of a clearing, with no trees for at least a hundred yards in any direction. When did I end up in a clearing? I thought. Right next to me, I saw what looked like an abandoned campsite.
“This looks like where we camped…”
Four logs, a long since burnt pile of ashes, and empty cans of soda. “Dr. Pepper, just like Jack likes,” I thought as I inspected the area.
“Mackenzie?” A soft, deep, voice behind me said. Turning to see who was there, I couldn’t find anyone.
“Don’t sit down Mackenzie.” The voice came again, this time from all around. In front of me, a young man who looked like he was just a few years older than Jack appeared. Brown hair and a bag that looked exactly like mine. Rainbow pin and everything. His sunken eyes 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. I headed towards the edge of the clearing, pausing only to take one last look at the old campsite. I didn’t see anyone there anymore. Did I imagine that man who reminded me of Jack? Following his advice, I started off again, back into the woods.
Moving like my life depended on it, I tried to be careful about things like tree roots or rocks that would cause me to trip. However, the mist kept me from seeing the small cliff. Without enough time to stop, I fell and landed with a loud thud and the sound of a crack coming from my arm.
I tried to scream out, but the sound disappeared. Laying on the ground, I saw my breath freezing infront of my face.
“Keep moving Mackenzie, or the forest will find you, and keep you. Forever.”
Before I could process the words, the red 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. Feeling the pounding of my heart, I took a quick deep breath, gathered my courage, and charged. The eyes were red, and evil. I knew for certain that I was done for. If the forest wanted me, it’d have to take me fighting. Screaming, 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 the same four logs, a campfire, and Jack holding a Dr. Pepper. Holding my arm in pain, I ran towards Jack. I had found my way back. Somehow.