The Ghost Strikes At Midnight

At one of the recent writer’s group meetings, we decided that everyone should write a flash-fiction length (under 1,000 words), scary story for the month of October. Here is mine.

-Christopher M. Palmer

Every Halloween, the neighborhood tradition was for the older kids to stay out after dark to play “The Ghost Strikes at Midnight,” a version of hide and seek. Abigail Richmond wanted to play every year, but her parents arranged for her older sister to bring her home after trick-or-treating, saying she wasn’t old enough to stay out and play in the dark with the other kids. This year, she was seven and Halloween was on a Friday, not a school night, and her dad convinced her mom that it would fine as long as she didn’t get scared.

Abigail wasn’t scared of anything. She was the first to volunteer in class, she loved to perform, she wasn’t even afraid of the dark or of scary movies and TV shows, not that she’d seen that many of them—her parents were rather strict with her TV viewing. Her sister, Penny, and her friend, Renee, had teased her all week about how scary it was to play in the dark. “You’ll get so scared, you’ll be the first one the ghost finds because you’ll be peeing your pants and running home to mommy,” Renee told her.

“You’ll see,” was Abigail’s response.

She had already picked out her first hiding spot: behind the loose latticework under the porch of the deserted, dilapidated, and spooky-as-all-get-out Lindholm house. She’d spied it out after school three days before, first checking that no one was watching her approach the house. They had been warned to stay away from it, but also she didn’t want anyone to find her hiding place. She thought it might be be dirty and icky under the porch, but the soil was dry and packed down hard. There were a just few beer cans and cigarette butts, and a couple of cobwebs she swept away with her hand. She wasn’t afraid of spiders, either, she just didn’t want them in her hair. She was sure that no one would think to look under the Lindholm house’s porch, since many of the kids said the house was haunted and dared each other to enter the yard to touch the side of it.

She hoped she didn’t get picked to be the ghost, because hunting was not as much fun as hiding, but since she was the youngest, she doubted that would happen. Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe seemed random enough, but kids always threw in a few extra phrases if they didn’t want to pick someone.

Abigail was so excited to be playing with the big kids, trick-or-treating was almost perfunctorily rushed through. She only wanted to hit the few houses that gave out the best candy every year and, by the time the sun fully set, she was ready to drop her plastic pumpkin full of candy off at the house and ditch her plastic dinosaur mask — she was not happy with her store-bought costume this year, but it didn’t really matter, the green dinosaur suit would be hard to see in the dark. She grabbed a couple of candy bars and ran out the door and up to Caleb’s house, where all the kids would be meeting.

“Who’s the baby?” Caleb asked, knowing good and well who she was.

“Shut up, Caleb,” Abigail retorted. He just laughed.

They finally started the game at eight thirty. It was a perfect Halloween night, crisp as a tart apple, with a light wind stirring the fallen leaves. As Abigail suspected, when she was about to be picked as the ghost, Caleb threw in another “old dirty dishrag” and the clenched fist bumped on Penny to be the first ghost. The game was about to start!

Her sister wasted no time in starting the count. She yelled, “It’s noon!” Then quieter, and in a spooky voice, she said, “The ghost strikes at midnight.”

The kids scattered, most of them had already figured out where to hide. Abigail ran behind a row of bushes to get out sight quickly. The limits were Oak Street to one side and Chestnut Street to the other. Anywhere on the two cross avenues, Morgan and Cameron, was fair game. With such a large area, Penny played fair and counted slowly. Abigail was on the backside of the house next door before she heard, “It’s one o’clock!” followed by the fainter promise of the striking of the ghost.

Abigail wanted to win so badly, she didn’t want anyone to see where she hid. She waited in the bushes until Zach and Jess passed by. She saw Ashley hide behind the shrubs beside the Johnson’s back shed. She wouldn’t be able to see the Lindholm house from there. The coast was clear and it was already seven pm according to Penny’s chant. Abigail ran into the shadowy yard of the Lindholm house, pulled the latticework skirting aside, and slid into the darkness under the porch, pulling the lattice back in place. Safe and hidden and no one saw her.

Faintly, she heard the last count, “It’s MIDNIGHT! THE GHOST STRIKES AT MIDNIGHT!” Penny yelled. Abigail giggled to herself, certain that she would impress everyone with her bravery and her skill at hiding.

Penny found Lionel right away. He had a crush on Penny and probably wanted to be found. He tagged along as the Penny the Ghost searched for the rest of the neighborhood kids.

Next was Patrick and then one by one, they all fell to the searching of the ghost and her minions. Penny looked anxious the one or two times she’d passed in front of the Lindholm house. Abigail had to be nearly the last one left and she smiled thinking that Penny was actually worried about her.

“I’m going to win,” she said to herself in a soft voice.

“Yes, you are.” A damp, gritty hand closed around the lower half of her face. “No one is ever going to find you.”

Would You Rather….

image from open clipart.org by oksmith

 

Fellow writers: would you rather a reviewer tell you that the book’s story and characters were amazing but the writing quality didn’t meet expectations or that your book’s writing was mind blowing but the characters and story were cliche retreaded territory?  Follow up bonus question: are your feelings hurt by either or these critiques?

 

I’m asking because I write a lot of book reviews (check me out on Goodreads/shameless plug) and they are critical, even on books I like. I wonder like many aspiring writers might, what effects if any of my reviews have on the authors and on my ability to reach out/break into their world of publication.  Am I speaking to other readers or do authors also follow discussions on their books?  Am I closing doors by breaking a book down or am I showcasing a thoughtful and attentive mind by considering so many facets?  For me these answers break down to whether my comments are offensive and insults are often in the eye of the beholder.

 

Assuming for the moment that critical discussion on aspects of a book don’t automatically equal injury, I want to know what specific kinds of critical discussion would be fair to discuss with an author.

 

Personally, I’d rather have characters and plot that a reader falls in love with than pitch perfect writing.  Things I want to hear include: “The characters felt very real,”, “I felt like I knew everything about these characters,”, “I needed to know more,”, “I’ve never seen this kind of story explored this way.”

 

That said, I have a distinctive sing song almost poetic style in all my writing.  I have an unique “tone.”  If someone compared my writing to another person’s style, I’d be curious to read more of that person’s work and excited to meet a kindred spirit.  If someone doesn’t like my style, I get that too.  It’s heavy in description, relies on alliteration, and is simile/metaphor heavy.  I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

 

Grammatically, I know I need serious help.  Critiques to that effect can dishearten me after I’ve gone through editing that relates to correcting grammar, but it doesn’t cut me.  Either I can go back in and correct the grammatical errors (a bonus to electronic publishing), or I’ve made the error in favor of how a phrase flows or draws out a feeling fragmented instead of a full detailed thought.

 

Does it all boil down to where we as writers are insecure?  My confidence in writing style makes me believe problems in my book must be character/plot related, and therefor I’m more concerned with feedback from those quarters.  I still want the feedback.  For me there is never enough feedback or feedback that’s too harsh as long as it comes with specific examples so I can follow another’s thoughts.

 

Please give me your thoughts.  Do you fear another kind of feedback?  If someone published you would negative or mixed reviews hurt your feelings?  And how do you rate books/media?