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Robert VanCleave's picture

My Infernal Ghost

By Robert VanCleave in Arrest Us

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Once you have read this story, please make sure you rate it by clicking the thumbs above. Then take a few minutes to give the author a helpful critique! We're all here for fun but let's try to help each other too.


Highschool sweethearts on a fated drive reminisce about the chain of events that led to their current predicament. 


Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. June 23, 2014 - 10:47pm


This was brilliant. Easily one of the best I've read yet. I love your elegant yet minimalistic style and the structure was perfect. I loved the way you intercut the past with the present, it made it incredibly compelling. My only complaint is that I really would've liked to know more about why he had to kill her and how her mouth got so scarred up. It was just a little unsatisfying to get to the end and still not be one hundred percent sure of his motivations. Even with that ambiguity though, the story is fantastic. Well done, really. I loved it.


Robert VanCleave's picture
Robert VanCleave from The Land of Ice And Snow is reading "Sex Lives of Siamese Twins" by Irving Welsh June 23, 2014 - 11:43pm

Thanks for the feedback.  It was alot of work cutting and editing the flashbacks so as to not confuse the reader, that was one major area I was concerned about working.  Glad to hear it worked for you. 

I had to do a considerable amount of editing to trim it down below the 5000 word limit (and to crop it short enough to not blow people's tl;dr fuse).  It turned out most of my direct "explanations" had to go and I had to bank off the events to explain themselves.  The scarring to her mouth was supposed to be caused by the cigarette, and the "closing" flashback paragraph was supposed to communicate his motivations.  I'll try and see what I can do to clarify it a bit more without completely spelling it out. 

Joshido's picture
Joshido from Northwestern America is reading Rant June 24, 2014 - 12:36pm

I enjoyed it as well Robert. You have talent. It took a moment for me to get a handle on the narrative. The narrative jumps from character history to setting descriptions quickly and, for me, was a bit jarring. But other than that, I can't really find anything to critique. I even liked the font you chose!

If you have time, feel free to give me a read and rating.


Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK June 26, 2014 - 2:44am

This was dark and harsh. I liked it.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine June 26, 2014 - 3:10pm

Hey Robert,

This was definitely an ambitious story, structurally, what with all the temporal shifting. Like Joshido, I had a little bit of trouble keeping track of what was present time and what was flashback. I actually read about half, and when I realized what was up, took a break and started over. I definitely got a better handle on it the second time around, but there were still some spots I found confusing. Especially towards the end, where you switch back and forth more frequently. My suggestion would be to give the reader a clear, unmistakable signal every time a switch takes place, as soon as possible, whether it be through verb tense (which seems to be your main device) or some sort of descriptor. The more a reader has to stop and think, the more it kills the momentum of your story. And this story's got a nice momentum, like a car barreling down a highway.

I also found it to be a little overwritten. You have a lot of pretty, clever descriptions ("The hairs on the back of my neck danced to the most unnatural waltz." being one of my favorites), but you can also get a little verbose at times. (See that sentence I referenced? How simple yet effective it is?) You talked about having to trim scenes to get in under the word limit, but I think you would have been better served trimming adjectives and wordy sentences. Especially considering how you chose to tell this story, simplifying the language would add clarity. Don't let the words get in the way of the narrative. I also think this would go a long way towards addressing readers' issues with character motivation. Because I think it is there. It's just obscured.

I hope you find this helpful. Despite my criticisms, I think you have the workings of a solid story, here. Good luck with the rest of the challenge!

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 7, 2014 - 12:25am

I really enjoyed this one. It’s a good mood piece, where you manage to infuse it throughout with melancholy, regret and even nostalgia. The think I like most is that there is no exposition in here – no info dumping. You don’t overload with information, and nobody could accuse you of tell over show. The little dropped hints and tiny amounts of information dribbled in here and there allow the reader to build the picture, but never is it presented to us. That is strong writing.

My only issue was that I got lost every time you switched between the past and the present. I note from your comment that you spent a lot of time on the flashbacks, but all I can say is it didn’t quite work for me. I think I was mostly with you until near the end. Both timeframes kind of bleed into each other, and I couldn’t work out which one I was reading. With a little more clarity, I think these sections would work perfectly.

I would like to know a little more as well. What did they see in the house all those years ago? Why does he feel as if he has to kill her, and why is she so accepting of the fact that he needs to do so? Why are they being chased in the present? A little ambiguity is great, but I feel like I’ve followed the story all the way through, and have earned a hint or two for the answers.

These are both minor issues though. It’s a story I can (and have) re-read and get something different from it each time. Big thumbs up.

Juice Ica's picture
Juice Ica from Rhode Island is reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin & Beautiful Creatures July 9, 2014 - 10:59am

This is a dark story and I dig it big time! My biggest (and only) complaint is that I too was confused when you shifted time periods. I would be reading along and then it would switch and I would be thrown out of the narrative which is a shame because it IS a compelling story. And it's the strength of the tale that kept me invested and wanting to know MORE. 

Great job! Good luck with the rest of the challenge!