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Scott MacDonald's picture

Follow the Leader

By Scott MacDonald in Scare Us

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Description

A challenge to status amongst friends leads four boys on a childhood dare on a foggy Winter's night in Tamworth, Staffordshire, to an abandoned house, rumoured to be the site of murder.

Comments

Sara Hill's picture
Sara Hill July 29, 2012 - 7:46pm

Excellently creepy stuff as ever Scott!  Loved the slow reveal, it really made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck when Carl gets to the step and starts wondering/remembering.  

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland July 29, 2012 - 11:29pm

Great story. I like the execution of suspense. The whole thing keeps building up to great payoff in the end. I really like the writing style of the narrative. You have a great grasp on vocabulary. I wish that sometimes i could rely more on words and less on similies and metaphors to paint a picture. You also get an A plus from me on the horor aspect. This is one of the creepiest I've read so far.

One tiny problem i had: If Carl had been there the previous month did he have a previous set of freinds? Was he there with one person. I would suggest adding a hint somewhere that someone they knew may have gone missing. You may have addressed this so i'll have to read again.

 

Good job. I'd love to read more of your work.

--Jonathan--

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves July 30, 2012 - 3:13am

Thank you for the feedback (made my morning that has).  Glad you enjoyed.  This is one of the first short stories I've submitted on the internet and you get that whole fear that your work will be ripped to pieces within seconds of posting - but your feedback is very encouraging.

You've got a point with the 'was there a previous visit' angle.  I'll mull it over a bit and see if I can bring something in.

Jenn MacDonald's picture
Jenn MacDonald July 30, 2012 - 5:56pm

I love the feel you get from the writing, the relationship between the boys and the build up of tension and suspense as they are silently daring each other to continue even as it gets scarier by the minute,  when they reach the first step it really makes you go cold. Excellent.

Jenn MacDonald's picture
Jenn MacDonald July 31, 2012 - 4:07pm

See comment above.  Forgot to press thumbs up first.

Sancho LeStache's picture
Sancho LeStache from El Paso is reading Hunger August 1, 2012 - 3:57am

Pretty damn cool. Almost like a Lovecraftian Goonies. Just wish it was a bit longer because it feels more like a chapter than a short story. More of a compliment then a criticism, really. I'd like to read a bit more of this.

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 1, 2012 - 6:02pm

Thanks for the review.  I love the analogy of Lovecraft meets the Goonies.  Actually I was a bit concerned about the Lovecraft feel after I'd finished writing.  It was never my intention when I was putting it together to go all Lovecraft, but on a reread I did think there were undeniable similarities.

Hadn't thought about turning it into a longer work as I wrote this just for this competition, but I'll have a bit of a headscratch about that and maybe see if I can build something a bit bigger out of it.

Ian's picture
Ian from Texas is reading Low Down Death Right Easy by J. David Osborne August 1, 2012 - 10:00pm

There was an old, abandoned house in the woods near my childhood home. Those of us who knew it was there would do exactly what you've depicted here. The second you begin describing the house all of that came flooding back. Even the pecking order rang true for me. Beautifully done.

My personal experience aside, your descriptions are excellent. Great use of language, great dialogue, and great monster. I thought you built the tension in the story very well - a sense of nervousness turning into something more creepy and then full-blown terror.

You have a couple of grammar issues and that sort of thing. But we all have some of that. The only sentence that I didn't think really worked is the last one at the bottom of page 4 - beginnning with "A car drifted..." and continuing on page 5. There is an "a" missing in front of the word "world". Also, the use of the word "thiers" confused me briefly as I was reading, e.g. does "theirs" refer to the people in the car or the boys? I figured it out almost immediately but it was a little hiccup in my reading experience. 

Lovecraft meets Goonies pretty much nails it, and I love both of those things.

Thanks for writing this and for the nightmares.

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 2, 2012 - 2:49am

Thanks for the comments. The house in the story is a real place (I think it's been turned into a  care home now) and there were always rumours about some atrocity that took place there.

I know exactly the sentence you mean.  I toyed with taking it out completely, then left it in because I wanted a sense of removal from the safe world beyond the walls of the house, then on rereading it again now, can see exactly where the use of "theirs" confuses things.  I'll have a go at messing with the syntax of that sentence - I know what I'm trying to do with it but, you're right, it doesn't quite work at the moment.

Each time I read through it again I spot other things I'd like to tweak.

Thanks again.

Clare Newton's picture
Clare Newton August 2, 2012 - 10:57am

Damn fine short story thereScott! I think there needs to be more of this, perhaps somethng of a collection of Tamworth terrors? :) Keep it coming. thoroughly enjoyable!

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 2, 2012 - 1:34pm

Many thanks for the comment.  Glad you liked the story.  A Tamworth Anthology isn't a bad idea, especially if the stories could be interlinked somehow - now there's a thought.

Jane Wiseman's picture
Jane Wiseman from Danville Virginia is reading Wide Sargasso Sea August 2, 2012 - 12:58pm

Very creepy!  I really enjoyed it. Only one part didn't really ring true to me. That was the use of the word "boyish" or similar language early in the story. It pulled me out of Carl's perspective, since he wouldn't be thinking of himself in those terms. In fact, I had decided on the basis of such language that maybe the story would turn out to be a retrospective look at the horror from an adult Carl or some other adult perspective. That turned out not to be the case. It's a really small point, though. The story overall was just great.

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 2, 2012 - 1:40pm

Thanks for reading Jane.  Glad you enjoyed.

I take your point about the use of descriptors that aren't particularly necessary (I mean he's a boy - he wouldn't really do anything that wasn't 'boyish', so there's no need really to inform the audience of this).  I tend to find that the early parts of anything I write are the areas that are most in need of rewrite as I tend to use them to establish feel and voice for myself.  For longer works I've started writing prologues that I'll never include in the final version just to get me warmed up into the style within which I'm intending to write - it's not possible to have such luxuries in short fiction and rewriting openings is something I'm going to have to take more time over.

Thanks again.

Matthew Lovatt's picture
Matthew Lovatt August 2, 2012 - 3:12pm

Loved this....childhood memories of going in to disused houses..an old school science lab i recall particularly eerie and dangerous which made it all the more enticing of course...loved the suspense doesnt really matter if it was real or a dream..like the dreams you keep revisting as a kid perhaps thats why he thought he had been there before???

Matthew Lovatt's picture
Matthew Lovatt August 2, 2012 - 3:39pm

Loved this....childhood memories of going in to disused houses..an old school science lab i recall particularly eerie and dangerous which made it all the more enticing of course...loved the suspense doesnt really matter if it was real or a dream..like the dreams you keep revisting as a kid perhaps thats why he thought he had been there before???

notgump's picture
notgump from Florida is reading Michael Kun's My Wife and My Dead Wife August 2, 2012 - 8:05pm

Scott, this is a great, great story. You have conjured escalating suspense, a great monster and a great ending.

I feel presumptuous but I have attached a Word file (converted from your pdf) with some comments. In general, I'd like to suggest you get your hands on a book I've ordered for myself, The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White. I had a copy in college and that was over...... well, never mind how long ago. From what I read in this and other sites, it is still invaluable to beginners and seasoned pros alike. It's actually a short, to-the-point book.

I didn't make a lot of notes, just enough to demonstrate a couple of points. If you agree you can look for other examples within your story.

I have personally benefited greatly from criticism focused on specifics, especially that which stung a little. But I am giving you my perspective in all humility as a beginner myself, so consider the source and feel free to use or reject it, all or in part.

You have a powerful story here, maybe a winner! All I am suggesting are a few possible tweaks.

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 3, 2012 - 3:24pm

Had a read through your comments.  I've received a couple of comments on other works on my tendency to overuse hyphenations.  I take you're point that maybe they may need to be trimmed back a bit.  Part of it for me is trying to establish a distinctive voice behind my writing style and I've taken to trying to move away from too much metaphor or simile and trying to generate feeling through compounding words to give a sensation beyond them.  It doesn't always work and a few rewrites often seive a few of them out - but I've probably ended up with an over-reliance on them and voice, which should only be present in the background, is coming across too forced.  I will take this on board for my next efforts.

I will track down the book you recommend and have a read through.  It's always good to get tips on technique.

Many thanks for your comments though - I'm really pleased that you like the story and I'm pleased that the suspense aspect worked for you.  Build and pace are very important to me, but I'm never sure if they're only working for me as the writer or whether they translate to other readers, as these elements are probably equally as reliant on the reader as on the writer (which is why we all have different favourite authors).

La Emme Nikita's picture
Class Facilitator
La Emme Nikita from Los Angeles is reading Ishmael August 3, 2012 - 3:56pm

Wow! You have a real gift for building suspense and terror. I appreciated the subtle hints and clues along the way, and Carl's increasing recollection and terror were well articulated and believable. You are an incredibly gifted writer and really have a way with words. Thanks for sharing this!

My only problem, and it is slight and really a matter of personal opinion, was the monster at the end. I have no idea what I was expecting but I almost felt cheated that it was an actual monster. Perhaps it was the buildup I praised earlier, which allowed for my own expectations of what was happening to seep in, and this just didn't mesh with that. Definitely not a criticism, just not what I expected in my own mind after reading the rest of the story. 

 
Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 3, 2012 - 4:46pm

Many thanks for reading my story and the comments.  I've said in a previous comment that I'm so pleased that the building of suspense worked, as this is very important to me.  I have very fond recollections of childhood Halloween trips to a local forest where a bunch of us used to sit around and scare each other silly with daft ghost stories and urban legends, and I really like the idea of trying to convey some of that in writing, but I've always been worried that the way the words sound in my own head aren't the way they sound to other people who read them (if that makes sense) so it's really good to get positive feedback.

Point taken with the monster.  I've often found with writing (and with film) that the reveal at the end is never quite as good as I want it to be (Stephen King's final reveal in IT springs to mind), and I've probably suffered a bit from that here.  I don't think I was quite sure what was going to be under that trapdoor until Dave opened it, so maybe next time I'll take some time planning the final reveal and then go back and write the rest of it.

Thanks again.

Sponge head's picture
Sponge head August 5, 2012 - 12:13pm

It's a smashingly creepy tale Scott. Super use of words which took me from today's August warmth straight to an icy Tamworth night and to that weird feeling of dread mixed with excitement when your friends are intent on spooking you out. I agree with Sancho who wanted more. I'd like to know how he goes about wiping out a section of the Tamworth population without suspicion. Lol. More please. Clare

butterfly22's picture
butterfly22 August 6, 2012 - 5:07pm

Thought that this was a really excellent short story Scott, It did it's job and gave me a shiver, especially just before the boys went into the house, thought it was a really good build up to events, and there was just the right amount of creepiness.

You should write more horror you seemed to have developed a knack for it. I thought it was very creative but also with the mix of a real town that I could relate to made it more intense and scary, as I remember doing a couple of dares my self when i was younger and scaring my self half to death to save face from my friends.

 

Keep going !!!!!

 

Carla . x

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 6, 2012 - 5:21pm

Thanks for reading the story, Carla.  Glad you enjoyed and thanks for the encouraging comments.

Mess_Jess's picture
Mess_Jess from Sydney, Australia, living in Toronto, Canada is reading Perfect by Rachael Joyce August 7, 2012 - 5:18pm

Hey Scott,

Great story. I love your setting. I'm from a hot weather climate originally (and have just moved to a stinking hot Canadian summer), and there's something creepy about cold weather to me! So I really liked how your introduction set up a palpable atmosphere for me. 

I think you built up tension beautifully throughout your story. The only thing that left me wanting was the end. This is not a bad comment at all, I just wanted more! Like I said, you created superb tension and I wanted that to really explode (err, this sounds bizarrely sexual now, ha... not intended that way!) in the ending. I think you could do this by slowing down the last scene a bit from the part where Dave screams onwards. If you could stretch this out, explain the demise of Dave, then Jamie and Ade in a little more detail, I'd really enjoy that. You touch on it with Dave's bleeding and the dismembered limbs of Jamie and Ade, but a bit  more smell and taste and gore would be perfect. That's if you like that style, of course! It's not for everyone :)

Thanks for the read.

Jess

 

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 7, 2012 - 7:25pm

Thanks Jess, I'm glad the cold and fog set the tone well.  I have clear memories of Tamworth in my childhood being foggy and frosted in the winter's evenings and I really wanted to get that sense of the type of fog and cold that really gets into the lungs.

I may well look at expanding the ending - I've reread a few times now and I've kind of arrived at the same conclusion as you did.  I had a very clear final paragraph in mind and I was very fixed on trying to build tension until the trapdoor swung open and the monster appeared.  And maybe I kind of skipped over the beast and the slaughter a bit too quickly to get to that point.  I'll be perfectly honest, I wasn't to sure how to get a scare out of the monster and thought that I'd maybe have more success on a couple chills with the concept of Carl's false memory aspect, and focused heavily on that, when maybe a bit more of an even spread throughout would have been better.

And as for the slightly sexualised critique, I was tempted to write this whole response in double entendre, but couldn't keep it going - I got as far as lines such as "trying to improve the climax" and then thought better of it.

Mess_Jess's picture
Mess_Jess from Sydney, Australia, living in Toronto, Canada is reading Perfect by Rachael Joyce August 7, 2012 - 7:51pm

It was all that tension and climax talk, haha. Anything I started typing just got a bit weird sounding!

I think you definitely got the chills across with Carl's false memory, but I'm a bit of a blood 'n' guts girl, so that's why I suggested a big explosion (here I go again...) of action/gore at the end. I still think many readers would be satisfied with the story as is.

Jess

Shawn I.'s picture
Shawn I. from New York is reading Important Things That Don't Matter August 8, 2012 - 4:42pm

Great read. Excellent writing. Loved the building tension and suspense. I don't have much to offer as far as constructive criticism. The things I did notice were very minor and/or personal preference issues.

The third sentence reads more like a line from a poem to me. It felt a little off.

Maybe I'm reading it wrong but you seem to go from singular to plural when discussing the boys' age differences,  "An extra year of age" to "The years seemed narrower".

When you say "sickly moon" at first I thought it was another sickle reference. I had to look up falcate btw (as well as biro). :)

"Between the ice-stiffened blades of grass the torchlight barely made out a square of indeterminate material that was hasped at one side." This is probably just my mind's eye being slow to conjure an image but it took me a minute to get the picture so to speak. If you started the sentence with "Lying (or is it laying?) between" I think it helps.

I kept expecting there to be further explanation of what had happened in the house, the bedroom in particular. Had the monster tore through it at some point? My imagination filled in a few blanks. I thought of there being a page in the diary indicating the murder or suicide of the previous keeper of the monster.

Overall, one of my favorites so far. Thanks.

 

 

 

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 8, 2012 - 7:30pm

Many thanks for reading my story and your comments.  The "extra year"/"years narrower" were meant to have slightly different meanings.  The "extra year" was meant to refer to Carl being a year older, whereas the "years narrower" was meant to be a comment that as people age, age gaps feel less important.  However, the sentences possibly do sit a little too close together and the meanings may well become a little mixed.  Also, I take your point about adding "lying" to sentence later in the story, as at the moment there is no reference to the position of the "square of indeterminate material" and it could be upright for all the reader is told.

I left the explanation out on purpose - I've always enjoyed stories where I begin to conjure possibilities myself, and was aware that these elements were not things that the characters themselves would have known.  The house itself and the murder are both real events (although, growing up, the actual details of the murder changed depending on who told you about them) and I tried to create a scenario that fed into that - I think my personal picture was that perhaps the woman who had lived there before had fed her own husband to whatever lurked below the trapdoor - however, I'm happy for other conclusions to be drawn.

Thanks again,

Scott

Joanne Collyer's picture
Joanne Collyer August 11, 2012 - 4:00am

Glad I did not read that before I went to sleep! Yet again loved your descriptive style that projects you immediately into the moment that you can taste their fear and truly sense how they are feeling. I also liked the way Carl was actually leading the boys into something truly horrid for them without knowing, and the bit when he finds the key in his pocket, very creepy! Keep up the good work!

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 12, 2012 - 10:04am

Hi Jo.  Many thanks for the comments.  Glad you enjoyed.  I was a bit concerned about the key moment - I wanted the trapdoor locked, but couldn't come up with a way of them finding the key without it going all deus ex machina on me.  I kind of liked the solution in the end, because it gave me a chance to deepen the forgotten memory part, although after coming at the same problem a number of different ways, I was worried that the fact that the key just happened to be in his pocket might feel like a bit of a cheat to the reader (obviously I'd been over-analysing the whole thing).  I'm glad it didn't come across that way.

Susie Bedlam's picture
Susie Bedlam August 12, 2012 - 9:52am

Compelling and creepy!  I love the idea of a set of short stories centred around this, especially if there is a care home now standing in the same spot (see earlier posts) that could be linked in to it - older people being silenced by the medical cosh,about what they know, and other strange goings on maybe?

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 12, 2012 - 10:06am

Thank you for the comments Susie.  I'm glad you enjoyed the story.  I agree, I could definitely see a care home set horror story that could be linked to this - however, I'm not sure I'd manage it without getting slapped with a lawsuit.  Perhaps a purely fictional location would get me out of that particular bind.

Wonder Woman's picture
Wonder Woman from RI is reading 20th Century Ghosts August 13, 2012 - 10:48pm

Disturbing and chilling! I've always loved visiting cemeteries and old houses, particularly at night, so this really set me off. Awesome work!

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves August 15, 2012 - 3:53pm

Thank you so much for the kind comments.  Glad you enjoyed.

Holiday Reinhorn's picture
Holiday Reinhorn from Portland, Oregon by way of: Japan, Guam, The Philippines, New York City and now, Los Angeles is reading Hermine by Maria Beig September 20, 2012 - 2:45pm

Follow the Leader by Scott MacDonald

Reviewed by Holiday Reinhorn

This story really scared me.  Mostly, because what's scariest to me are #1.  the voices in my own head and #2. other people, so I found Carl's situation really terrifying.  I was transported back to those blurry days of childhood where you are trying so hard to keep up with yourself and others that you get completely subsumed.  I felt Carl's pain.  The author did a really nice job of creating dissonance within Carl's memory and managing the action at the same time too.

It's brilliant that a hoard of voices from inside a cellar door can become a repetitive maelstrom like this and swallow both kids and towns.  I would have loved even more of what happens to the town itself and what horror Carl walks away from on his way to the next one.

And now, that Carl has lost his one true competitor and friend....what happens next?  I was a little confused if this was the first friend this had happened to or one of a long line.....has he been doing this since he was in first grade?

Language wise- I thought that the author could simplify and trust that dialogue carries the weight of a thousand descriptive actions and adjectives.  Comb through for what's extraneous and revel in the simple interactions between the kids that seems most true.

Thanks, Scott.  In fear we trust ---HR

Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading House of Leaves September 20, 2012 - 4:37pm

Many thanks for your review.  This feedback is really valuable and I'm glad the scares came across - it sounds like we have a few fears in common.

I was aiming at a level of ambiguity, giving the audience the room to make their own connections and perhaps plot their own history of Carl and to decide what would come next.  It's a tactic I've admired for a long time in the ghost stories of MR James, but perhaps I've left it a little too open and really a few more hints at what had come before wouldn't go amiss. 

I was conscious of using too much spoken dialogue as I felt the atmosphere I was trying to create of the house and its grounds would discourage the boys from wishing to break the silence.  However, I take your point that non-verbal interactions could be used to greater effect to carry the action rather than descriptions of surroundings. 

Most of all, coming back to the start, I am very happy that the story scared you.  I don't mean that to sound sadistic (but, let's be honest, any writer of horror has to try and become part sadist if they're really going to set out to unnerve an audience), but in any of my writing that falls into this category I am most focussed on trying to move the audience into an uncomfortable situation, to build atmosphere, suspense and aim for scares that make the skin prickle a little.  I'm also very pleased that you picked up on the impact on the town - that was the part that I was most happy with and, as I've said in earlier replies, I often worry that what sounds good in my own mind may sound foolish to an audience.

Thanks again, your comments are very appreciated and I'll keep trying to polish up that fear factor.