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Ben Graves's picture

Cold Skies

By Ben Graves in Arrest Us

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Description

This is a story fairly closely based on an incident that took place in England in 1993, involving the horrifying torture and murder of two-year-old James Bulger at the hands of two ten-year-old boys, but this story is from an Illinois child killer's perspective in a kind of reflective, semi-remorseful confessional. The incident takes place within the fictional town of Parsons, Illinois in the winter of 1999.

Comments

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk June 3, 2014 - 12:01pm

Hi Ben, 

Crikey, wow. Where to start with this one? An incredibly tough read, not in the way it's written but in it subject matter, I had to stop reading this about three times and come back to it. Please take any feedback here as just my point of view and offered in the helpfull nature it is entened.

I think the issue I had with this story is that at first the narrator obviously tells us about how he regrets the actions that he took, but then seems to go into great detail about the crime, almost like a shock tatic. Now to be honest it was the things hinted at around the crime lightly touched on that really intrested me. The search for the body and the arrest, what firends and family and neighbours woud have gone through. I would have. The media explosion afterwards.

You mention James Bulger in the description, maybe what you could have as like the real case the murderers got out with new identities, it would have been intresting from that prespective also of trying to be a completely new person but also know the damage they can never take back.

A really tough read, but only for the subject matter. I'll give it thumbs up for some really brave writing.

Dave

madsmaddox's picture
madsmaddox from Berkshire is reading Fated June 4, 2014 - 3:11am

Ben,

Child torture and killing is not something I want to read regardless of how well it is written. But this is a contest and it would be unfair to you and as such I have.

Firstly the description you’ve used already sets my mind working. I’ll be honest, by relating your tale to the murder cheapens it already as it feels like you’ve written it for shock value. And as such, my mind is now biased. This is not a good starting point for a reader.

I remember when the story you’ve based yours on was in the news and the media $hit storm that followed and as such, this ruins the tale for me before its even begun because there is already an emotional reaction in play and staying subjective is very difficult. The reason why you wanted to get into the mindset of such a character is your business. It is certainly controversial and you’re either brave or nuts for writing it. Fantasy is one thing, but the moment you add reality to it, there is an automatic level of discomfort, if this was your goal then you have succeeded.

In terms of writing, its steady but the protagonist is a little confused, perhaps its just the narrative, but for someone that is meant to regret their actions and have become a shell of a human being, they certainly lament over the crime in great detail, which again felt like shock value.

I think if the subject matter had been handled more carefully this could’ve turned into something else, but I just can’t shake the shock value from the subject matter and not the story itself. If that’s what you wanted, well you got it in spades.


All the best and happy writing.

Mads

Ben Graves's picture
Ben Graves June 4, 2014 - 12:13pm

Thank you for the feedback, big_old_dave and madsmaddox. I appreciate the input.

To start with, I'll address the notion of shock value. This was not my intention, and I was slightly concerned that people might take this as such, but what I wanted was for this narrator, who truly is confused about how he feels, to go over the crime in sequence as an attempt to really make sense of what happened to him, his friend and this unfortunate child on that fateful day. The narrator is displeased with his own lack of emotions looking back, but he feels the day of the crime needs to be told, moreso than all of the ensuing investigation and media frenzy that would of course portray these kids as total monsters from the start. As I wrote, it was his way of forming "sequential coherence" from the insanity. And unlike the UK judicial system, I believe that American law would have been much harder on these kids and locked them away for life, and in the limitations of the short story form I found the most impactful place of focus would be on the day of the crime itself, and from the viewpoint of a perpetrator who is slightly more sympathetic than Brad.

That said, I did want to provoke a visceral reaction from the reader, but it was just as difficult emotionally to write as I hoped it would be for any reader to experience, in spite of the more clinical approach of the situation by the narrator. If I really wanted to go for shock value, I would have written the story from the entirely psychopathic and sadistic perspective of Brad.

As for the reasons for why I decided to write from this perspective, I was curious to know how killers like Jon Venables and Robert Thompson could possibly do what they did, particularly at such a young age, and I wanted to better understand the possible dynamic that occurred between them. From what I've read, little about their lives prior to the murder was explored, and we know little about their individual personalities, especially now that they're under different identities. The deviants in life are often among the most interesting personalities to study, and they often come from a mindset that deviates from the norm in the most fascinating ways, but that's my opinion.

Joe P's picture
Joe P from Brainerd, MN is reading Wheel of Time June 6, 2014 - 7:21am

Ben,

This was an easy thumbs up for me. Any good story should make the reader uncomfortable from time to time. You achieved that with fully realized characters and a compelling story. I love it when a writer can make a reader sympathize with the bad guy. After all, who hasn't made horrible stupid mistakes as a kid?

I really enjoyed this and feel its one of the better submissions I've read so far. Keep up the good work!

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) June 9, 2014 - 5:38am

This is very brave subject matter. Like Mads, I saw what this was about and it immediately put my guard up. I remember the furore at the time, and as the details came through, was just astonished that a couple of kids could do this.

I think it is exceptionally hard to write about this subject matter, not only because of what it entails, but because you are on a hiding to nothing to try and humanise the perpetrators. The trouble here is that Brad skirts dangerously close to cliché. He’s just the psychotic result of violence in an unhappy home. While you try and paint Harvey a little more sympathetically, ultimately he is a weak character who makes a half arsed attempt to talk Brad out of it, and then almost immediately takes an active role in the crime. Sure he’s regretful now, but there is no real glimpse as to his motivations. Why did he go through with it? Just so as not to threaten his friendship with Brad? At no point do we get any idea as to why Harvey does what he does; why he becomes inhuman and addicted to causing the kid pain.

There was no sense while reading your story that you were looking for shock value, though I agree with Mads that mentioning the Bulger case does give that impression. My issue is that you don’t really answer any of the questions you pose. Why do these boys kill Henry? Because one of them has an evil stepdad? All of the emphasis is on the kill itself. Harvey can’t really explain why he did what he did. You say you were curious as to why Venables and Thompson could do what they did, but you haven’t come close to giving any kind of answer.

Did you ever consider not having the actual killing being the basis of this story? That would have enabled you to explore those themes you wanted to look at without being quite so open to accusations of shock tactics. It would have the added effect of demonstrating Harvey’s regret with more effectiveness. If he’s the narrator, and the narrative keeps swerving away whenever it approaches the crime itself, it would be as if he couldn’t face it. Having him discuss it in this detail makes it seem as if on some level he is revelling in it, just with less honesty than Brad.

This is provocative writing, so that is one aim you’ve achieved. I would seriously consider developing the motivations more though. Avoid going from “You know, I’ve always wanted to kidnap a little kid”, to “I think we got a target” in a page. Show us a more conflicted and tortured killer.

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK June 17, 2014 - 6:45am

Ben, I didn't read the description until after I had finished the story so had no idea what it was about, but very quickly found the Jamie Bulger case coming to mind. This is a tough and brutal story, scarily honest and revealing, and brings a terrifying humanity to the narrator. The reveal that he is also in prison was fairly obvious, as was Henry's fate, but it was still tense and involving. I can see why people wouldn't want to read this, or why they might not like the subject matter, but I found this to be a well-written and engrossing story. I liked it, both in spite of and because of the brave and daring subject.

Cmangano's picture
Cmangano from Maine July 27, 2014 - 3:54pm

Decent story. the only thing that got me was that you continuously make the point that Harvey is a better person than Brad, but then make him just as bad. I understand that you're creating a  sick character who is supposed to have "blood lust" but you throw in nearly redeeming factors. It seems to me that it would be more likely he would have more qualms about the event but continue on through excitement. Maybe he starts beating the boy and stops realizing that the kid is helpless and not much more than a baby. The part about their parents moving across the country didn't work for me. It comes out of nowhere, and feels like you're trying to tie up loose ends. The idea of one family moving and changing identities is unrealistic, both families doing this would never happen.

I do think that you developed the story well and had a nice voice. a second draft of this story should bring it to the front. Good luck.