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Ethan Cooper's picture


By Ethan Cooper in Arrest Us

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Miriam got married today.

Today is supposed to be the best day of her life.

Today is supposed to be perfect.

Well, it's not.


Update 2014.6.30

- Grammatical/clarity/flow corrections


jorjon21's picture
jorjon21 from Wisconsin is reading Shotgun Lovesongs June 16, 2014 - 10:31am

Really good story.  Good twists and turns along the way, and I enjoyed the pace.

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep June 17, 2014 - 11:18am

Thank you very much for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball June 17, 2014 - 5:35am


Damn, man. Oh, the cover was a nice touch, btw, but wow. It was a great tale. Just when I got the suspicion, that I knew what's going on - it was in the rest-stop for me - I still wanted to keep going. And I was only sort of right, but the ending was insane. Excellent job here. Can't think of anything story level, or even nit-picky, to critique in this. This is solid. 

But there is one thing... How in the hell do you draw a seven stick-figure orgy???



Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep June 19, 2014 - 10:58am

I appreciate you talking the time to comment. Thanks for your feedback. For some reason, I have to have some sort of cover image when I'm writing. I think it keeps me in a cinematic sort of mindset.


Hope that helps!

Nick Kolakowski's picture
Nick Kolakowski from New York City is reading A Sportman's Notebook, by Ivan Turgenev June 17, 2014 - 9:21am

Great story. Noir has a proud tradition of messed-up incest and thwarted love, and I'm glad to see this continuing the tradition. The big flips are nicely paced out.

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep June 19, 2014 - 2:01pm

Thanks for reading! I half felt like I was writing the plot to a movie on the Lifetime network. Not that I would know anything about that...

Geert Mostrey's picture
Geert Mostrey from Belgium is reading Gone Girl June 17, 2014 - 12:10pm

Hi Ethan,

Enjoyed reading your story. Thumbs up from me.

Only two small and very subjective suggestions from my side. I wouldn't give her dementia. Even if it sometimes occurs in younger people, it is mostly a disease related with elderly people. Schizophrenia might work just as well ?

And after the horribly unexpected reveal that Miriam and Aaron are actually brother and sister (didn't see that one coming) I would do a final editing to cut out as much as possible. Wrap up the story quickly whilst everyone is still trying to catch their breath from the unexpected twist.

Other than that : great !

Oh, and feel free to totally ignore my subjective inputs :-)



Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep July 6, 2014 - 11:57am

Thank you for reading my story.

You weren't the only person that brought up Miriam's sickness. In fact, had I had more time for research, I's like to think I would have done better here. After talking with one of my editors who understands this more than I do, and based on the comments here, I removed that reference entirely. My original concept was that she's ultimately a psychpath, but I hadn't fleshed all that out like I should have. When you only have 5k words to work with, every word counts for something. Miriam's primary belief--that Aaron can love her--is her primary "delusion," and she's willing to do anything to get that. I can see now that there are parts of the story that lead the reader away from that, so I need to go back and make sure that her psychopathy is continually reinforced.

I've been assessing the ending based on everybody's comments. It's definitely that part in the story where you're running out of words and you're trying to fit everything in. The prose is already pretty sparse, so I'm gonna have to figure out parts are super important and what isn't.

Thank you for your comments. I appreciate it.


Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK June 20, 2014 - 2:53pm

Not a bad story, readable and entertaining. There were a couple of spelling/grammar mistakes, but only two or three. I found the whole unreliable narrator thing and related twist predictable, but the incest element was a surprise. I have to say I found this story trashy (maybe not the right word?), but in a good way, and it had a real pulp feel. My only problem is I felt you were trying too hard to shock, like a seventies exploitation movie. I admire your storytelling prowess and command of the craft, but this story didn't do it for me, sorry.

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep July 6, 2014 - 12:09pm

I think my current draft hammers out (hopefully) those grammer mistakes. Most of them were "duh" moments that should have been caught.

As far as trashy, I certainly won't debate you there. Maybe it'd work on the Lifetime Channel... I don't think my writing will ever be described as subtle, so while it is something I'm aware of and working on, I've mostly embraced it.

I'm sorry this story wasn't your cup of tea, but I do appreciate you reading it and taking the time to give me feedback.

Now if I can just figure out how to not try so hard...and still shock. ;)

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland June 23, 2014 - 2:02pm

I really like this one. I knew Miriam was batshit crazy in the first couple pages. I kind of expected Aaron was dead in the back of the car the whole time. The fact that nothing was waking him. Come to find out he was drugged. That was better.

I figured out they were sibblings write when you cut off Beth's dialouge. I know it was meant to be a teaser or a clue, but I just filled in the blank and was correct. Plus it just made sense with the trips as children and everything. So if you wanted the reveal to be later than that, then maybe edit that dialouge. I figured you'd be okay with us putting it together by then.

The prose is sharp. Real sharp. Do you read Gillian Flynn? Reminded me of her writing, All that said, the mystery aspect of this one was good.

I also like watching Criminal Minds where they profile serial killers in that show. Every now and then they have an episode where the killer isn't aware exactly of what they are doing, or aren't very lucid. Merriam reminded me of that.

I'm not sure why but I got a bit lost toward the end. Could had been readers fatigue or something in your text, but the scene with the shooting when Elizabeth and the baby die, at first I thoght it was beth with the gun trying to shoot Meriam. Maybe one pronoun to many? I worked it all out by the end.

So yeah, nothing about it really dragged on. I was rooting for Eleazar but he didn't make it :(

It did seem like you did some things for shock sake but nothing was overly shocky. If anything I'd like to get behind the psychology of it all a little more. What caused the confussion? It's not necessary but I'm really into that shit.


Great work. Deffinite thumbs up from me.


ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. June 30, 2014 - 9:23pm

That's an interesting ride into a diseased mind.  In the version I read, I had a little trouble with the authenticity of her state of mind and view of reality.  (Trying really hard to avoid spoilers ...)  Otherwise great read.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 1, 2014 - 9:08am

There is a lot to like in this one. It’s engaging the whole way through, and your prose is very good. I get the impression you weren’t too worried if anybody got the first twist early, because you have the second twist a little while after that. If that is the case I can understand why. Like Jonathan I guessed the first twist very early on, though the story kept my interest. By the rest stop I’d guessed the second one, due to the scrawl by the stick orgy. There seemed no reason to mention that picture unless it was relating to something in the story.

In a lot of my comments on stories with twists involved, I’ve said much the same thing; to drop more hints throughout the story so while the twist is still surprising, it’s not out of the blue. Here though I could almost say the opposite. Your writing is very clever, but there are too many clues here. In the first paragraph alone there are three big signs – Eleazar crying, Miriam forgetting formula, Eleazar not taking the breast. You could chop two of those out easily. I’d certainly get rid of her forgetting the formula, and remove the mention later on to breast feeding – “she couldn’t remember the last time she’d nursed him. Had it been long enough for her milk to dry up?”

I like the frantic nature of the ending, but I can also see what Jonathan means about losing it a little at the end. All the way through there is clarity to the narrative, up until that ending. It’s almost as if there is too much going on. Some of the action feels married to convenience as well. I can buy Beth bringing a gun, just about, as you’ve already laid the foundations with her earlier violence. Having the bullet pass through the wall so it kills the baby is a stretch. I believe in the need for suspension of disbelief in the reader, and artistic licence for the writer, but this instinctively feels too far. Then you have the police turn up at that exact moment to terminate Beth. One contrivance is fine, three takes away from the levels you have built into the story.

This is a good story, I enjoyed it, and it’s definitely a thumbs up from me. I do think you can improve on it, and I really don’t think it would take much to do so. Best of luck with it.

Damon Lytton's picture
Damon Lytton from Augusta, Kansas is reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow July 4, 2014 - 8:05pm

Hi Ethan,

While there was a lot conceptually that I liked here, for some reason I was never fully invested in the story.  You have some strong prose and good characterization, but the whole time I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  An unreliable narrator is a great tool, but for it to work I think you need to build up a connection early on and then slowly unravel it.

I didn't see the incest element coming, which is good, but I would echo Adam's sentiments on the contrivances of the ending mounting up too high.  Your prose kept me reading until the end, but I didn't actually care about any of the characters (even when Eleazar's fate was revealed I didn't feel anything).

Overall, it's a thumbs up for me.  I just wish it wasn't so obvious that the story was heading in the general direction it went - even though the specifics aren't as obvious.

madsmaddox's picture
madsmaddox from Berkshire is reading Fated July 10, 2014 - 3:36am


my apologies, I downloaded this a while back but only just got round to reading. I found the tale a little predictable just due to some of the elements used were similar to things I've seen (Hand that Rocks the Cradle and even a minor plot arc in The Venture Bros), but you're writing is solid and the only thing that didn't work for me was the extended ending, which has been raised already by other posters, the double twist was one twist too much. Had you finished after the first reveal, that would've worked just fine. Take my comments with a pinch of salt.

This is a definite thumbs up, I do like your writing style.

All the best and good luck with the contest.


mattymillard's picture
mattymillard from Wolverhampton, England is reading Curse of the Wolf Girl - Martin Millar July 13, 2014 - 8:01am

Hi Ethan,

I really enjoyed this! An excellent story, plenty of twists and turns and some great characterisation. The story progresses well in that I liked Miriam from the beginning but could slowly see where it was going, and this change was well paced and clear throughout. I'd guessed the incest part pretty early like many others, but there was plenty of other stuff in here to keep it going.

Possibly my only suggestion to improve this would be to slow down the scene at the end when the police have come in. It felt a little rushed.

All in all, a really enjoyable read! Thanks,


Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 19, 2014 - 2:35am

Hi Ethan,

Well, you can certainly write. But you've picked yourself one (two?) of the most difficult challenges you could - the unreliable narrator, and the nutter... I don't think you've quite nailed it, but it's a valient, ambitious attempt, which deserves the thumbs up I'm giving it, and the time spent on the feedback below! Hope you keep honing this one until the pitch is perfect.

 You mention "ceremony" a couple of times before you say "Wedding", but you're not spoiling the surprise if you say wedding straight out. 

When the story starts, I have difficulty locating them. They're on a driveway - presumably outside of someone's house. Her house? His? His and Elizabeth's? Someone elses? Naturally, you don't want to give too much away, but it's distracting.

Some of this could do with a polish, just word choices, really. Right at the start, you have a "Every time" and then "maybe it wasn't.. this time". You can name the baby on line one if you like as well - as soon as you mention formula and carseats we know it's a baby. (Maybe Miriam thinks Eleazar is a dumb name. Maybe she makes a comment about that being a battle she lost...). The other thing you need to be careful with, is there's a lot of deliberate repeats - Aaron being sick, is a little too often. Go the tired route more, perhaps.

Miriam recognized the convertible’s driver—it was red, a rich, whorish red— What, the driver is red? Plus, you just told us it was a convertible, so the repeat seems unnecessary - just driver if she's recognising her, or "it" or "car" or something else if she's recognising the car?

How does Elizabeth know to come home and confront Miriam? Coincidence? Or something else?

Elizabeth is described a lot, and the confrontation on the driveway clashes a little with "And Elisabeth was kinda gorgeous." That her parents LIKE Elizabeth, that Miriam can claim she'd "wormed her way" into their affections, would be a better angle to take?

Plus, you need to downplay the way you tell the reader that it's odd/crossing the line for Elizabeth to be "attracted" to Eleazar, it's too much. Ramp up the jealousy, and the fact that she "couldn't take it" that they three were a family, but Miriam ISN'T deluding herself that she is the mother (though you are at pains to make sure the reader thinks she is) - tread carefully on this particular tightrope!

Miriam didn't steal the keys to the cabin - she took them or she borrowed them?

I don't know about anyone else, but i don't know how to pronounce Laocidea. So everytime it comes up, there's a "durrh..." moment. If this is just my ignorance, fine(ish), but does it have to be that particular mouthful? And is the real name Lake Idea? There's an explanation missing somewhere... (Plus, Aaron's wife hasn't been to the family holiday home?)

That's a hell of a punch Elizabeth has. She should be heavyweight champion.

I think when you have Miriam contemplating NOT calling the police, you have a chance to mention there had been run-ins before. Be vague, but it then helps explain the level of conflict between the two.

Queen sized bed in a cabin, for a child? Surely the parents room?

As we need an awake Aaron for the ending, perhaps some comment on giving him the "last" of the medicine? Maybe after the soup?

Miriam's dad is pretty ineffectual. Seems they wouldn't have let Elizabeth in on the ride if she hadn't been awfully convincing that she'd be calm. So the second punch needs an extra motive, and there probably needs to be more shouting, Miriam winding her up. Plus, don't the parents see the damage the first punch did?

Aaron not remembering the priest sooner isn't really likely. What if he's collapsed from his medicine before she kills the priest? What if that was an accident, the trigger finger, the priest trying to remonstrate, or just brought to some protest when aaron collapses?

What happened to Miriam's handgun? And would Elizabeth really take a gun to this "domestic"? (Well, yes, because these two have history, but since we never find out quite what that is, except that Beth is more likely to hit first than talk about it over a nice cup of tea...). I think you could make this Miriam's gun. What if she dropped it in their initial driveway argument?

Ultimately, is this one manic crime too much? The incest? (Effectively rape, though I think we forgive the "no sex crimes" issue for not overplaying that!) The way it has been set up, these are childhood friends, who really only know each other from Laocidea. What if they were half-brother/sister? Would that explain that slight sense of detachment in the memory? (Still incest, of course, but ...) The suggestion that she is also a virgin is again tricky, (this is how a read the blood flecks, but you do provide other possible explanations, so ? And truly, do you need Miriam to be having her period? Is it not stronger to leave that entirely out?) we know she's older than Aaron, and we know you can't mention that earlier (because of baby) but you can mention that Aaron was always the only one for her, or something, that then is just an issue of timing... (Actually you might need to lose the "honest woman" comment in phone call to parents, as that is usually short hand for the legitimising of pre-marital sex!)

If you want a glimpse of extra darkness - when Miriam is in the washroom, if her wrists still bear the signs of attempted suicice (I'm thinking she's been institutionalised inthe past) and is thinking - never again - dark days in the past, now she had a reason to live for - then you get a better glimpse of what is between 7 day risk campaigns and blowing a priests neck away...

Strong stuff, hope some of this feedback helps.


Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb July 19, 2014 - 5:49am


Hi Ethan,

I wrestled with how to rate this story for a while before giving benefit of the doubt: thumbs up, because I enjoyed your style. Thinking back to Anomaly, I think the reason it's one of the stories I remember from the last contest was that you have a writing style which is recognisable as your own. I sometimes find the way you construct certain sentences awkward, but I have to admit that it's not unreadable awkward, just different. I'm talking about things like Miriam looking at the colour of her jaw and the '(whore?)' being in brackets - I don't like it, but I can't think of any reason to say 'don't do it this way.' Perhaps I'm just not sure what it adds.

Same thing happens with things like the stickmen orgy on the wall. I felt amused at the image but I didn't really connect it to anything that had been going on in the story. I get the feeling the idea amused you and you were looking for a place in writing to use it. I do this all the time, but sometimes I have to concede that it might not really fit what I'm working on, however much of a grin it puts on my face.

A story like this one is risky because you've gone for someone who's clearly off her rocker and tried to hide it and use the revelations as surprise. The trouble is, none of it really surprised me. I guessed at the sister thing almost right from the first moment where I realised things might not be what they seemed. The line about how Elizabeth 'wanted Eleazar' for some reason made me think perhaps the baby actually was hers, and Miriam was not Aaron's wife and from there I made guesses based on how a set-up like this usually turns out. What I think you have here is a story that's really well written but doesn't deliver the surprise it promises. 

As far as the craziness of Miriam goes, you do a good job with keeping it believable and depicting someone whose troubled past connects to the present. I liked the line about how she avoided hospitals because she'd seen a lot of them as a child - I asked myself what might have been the reason for that, and once I figured it was for mental patient treatment I liked how you never explicitly detailed that. The past-present connection with the My Little Pony blanket was a brilliant touch - the idea of childhood innocence and sweetness and then that child ending up a very damaged adult who attempts to recreate the same innocence almost as a way of denying that she's about to illegally marry a man, murder a priest and then drug and kidnap her own brother and nephew. Brilliant writing. The action scenes were paced perfectly, and the story as a whole had a pace that made the reading quite satisfying.

I like climaxes where one bloody thing after another happens; I'm fond of doing that myself when a story calls for it. I didn't get a feeling of overkill (which I did remember getting from Anomaly) and I liked the open ending about Aaron possibly knowing what she'd done but possibly not. 

Best of all I liked the cabin by the lake idea. Perhaps it's got a Cabin in the Woods feel to it (not actually seen the film but the image of it in your story made me think of the poster) and it definitely reminded me of Stephen King's Bag of Bones. I could say more reasons why this story reminded me of that book but I'd be spoiling it if you've never read it.

Hope this helps, C.

SamaLamaWama's picture
SamaLamaWama from Dallas is reading Something Wicked This Way Comes July 20, 2014 - 4:06pm

Hi Ethan, very cool story. Right from the beginning it had that 'off' feeling to it, the bit about the breast milk, but the more I got into the story I started to see the 'off' was totally on purpose. Excellent job there! It was an enjoyable read. The only advice I could possibly off is that Elisabeth seemed to have only one gear and that was bitch-gear, so maybe soften her in spots to show a great range. Other than that, you have another wonderful story here. Great job. ~Sam