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Dylan Mackey's picture

My Messiah's Complex

By Dylan Mackey in Arrest Us

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They say crime doesn’t pay, but that don’t necessarily make it so.

True, I’ve always lived the wrong way, so I got no one to blame for my predicament but myself, but knowledge and awareness don’t make it any easier to accept. It’s like swallowing castor oil; sure it will exact something honest, but it goes down like Vaseline and tastes like it sounds. I took left turn after left turn until the road became repetitive; miles of loping, winding streets with nothing but signs for my bad habits posted every couple of miles. What no one ever told me is that soon enough, you can’t ever go right again.


Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb July 4, 2014 - 12:55pm

Hi Dylan,
Shame this hasn't had any reviews yet, but on the other hand I'm glad to be the first to review this, because this is a hidden gem. I'm writing this immediately after reading the story, because it's got me thinking of a whole bunch of comments I've either never made before or never made at all.

Let’s start with the pacing of this. I knew right from the start it was going to be a slow one to read, but I welcomed that. Many stories impress me with how they start with a bang - quick paragraphs, gets to the point, draws me in with just a few words. This one’s the reverse: you have lengthy first paragraphs and a first person narrator who’s detailing everything around them without worrying about cutting straight to a chase, and you’ve captured my attention with this guy’s straight away. No pyrotechnics needed, nothing flashy, just well written description that makes me wonder who your narrator is going to turn out to be and why he’s living where he lives.

Your narrator has no name throughout the story until someone calls him Jack later on. I like this - I was almost expecting him to remain anonymous, because you have a ‘quiet man’ thing going on with him throughout this story. He’s an observer and a commentator, rather than being a character baring his soul for the reader or offering up much of his personality or history. He offers enough to keep me interested and yet his talking style of narrative makes me more interested in those around him and the plan he’s getting involved in. This is not at all easy to pull off, and you’ve done it brilliantly. I was never bored during this story, even though I was reading at a slower pace than usual.

When you got to the action (IE the carrying out of the robbery and the surprise at the end) you didn’t worry about increasing the pace either, or shortening the paragraphs, or adding more dialogue. The whole thing had this trance-like calm about it even though things were starting to heat up. What Jack does at the end is the main surprise of this, because he’s almost been completely passive as the narrator and now he’s knocking people’s teeth out with guns and then creating the body count at the end when it’s revealed that the whole thing was his plan to ‘change everything.’ This whole thing with passivity turning to violence at the drop of a hat and still keeping it believable reminds me of the film ‘Drive’ where Ryan Gosling’s character spends most of the first half of the film with the ‘I don’t carry a gun, I just drive’ attitude and then halfway through (I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen it.) It takes a pretty skilled writer to do this sort of thing, to be honest, and the slower pacing and longer paragraphs are a risk you took with such material that really paid off. I honestly don’t think I’ve read anything that had such a combination of style-to-content before.

Looking through this a second time to find something to criticise, I have to tell you I found it pretty damn hard. The best I can do is say that when Lassiter is telling the story behind Sheila, that was the only moment at which I almost feared things were going to go downhill after such a good beginning, simply because the ‘someone else is fucking woman and I want revenge’ idea has been done to the absolute death. If there’s one reason why some people might have started reading this and abandoned it, it’s probably that. I wonder if the motivation for Lassiter doing the job has to be about something more than just Sheila, or if there’s some special quirk you could add to that story that would make this version yours, IE go for the ‘loads of people have done it but nobody’s done it my way’ approach. I’m not sure quite how you’d do that if I’ m honest - it’s an idea that I’m not sure I could make new myself, so I’ll just let you mull that one over with minimal suggestion.

I’ll get into the ‘personal touch’ side of things now, because this is a perfect example of how you can reach a reader you have no idea about in ways you couldn’t possibly have planned for. The golf course detail, the description of that neighbourhood and the way you describe the temperature and the time of day take me back to how my grandparents lived next to a golf course in Arizona - I was imagining your characters on that exact course, using it as the route to the job they were going to do (which I pictured taking place in the clubhouse, even though in your story it wasn’t a clubhouse it happened in.) Combined with the image of Stoufer’s style of smoking and the line about how his head looked like it was about to take off (which is quite possibly the best simile I’ve read this year) and the whole thing really talked to me, because this is exactly how my grandfather used to smoke, and you’ve even got Stoufer smoking Winstons, which were his brand too. I just felt like sharing this because it’s a perfect example of why these sorts of details are so important even though they’re a backdrop to plot and situation - this is how you connect to the reader on deeper levels, and this story worked so well for me because of that.

Anyway, I liked this so much I’m going to recommend it in the Community’s Arrest Us discussion thread. Hope that gets you some more readers and that you’re still checking this story for updates. Trust someone who’s trying to sell their first ebook right now: that ‘zero’ can suck when you see it every day, but now and again someone comes along who really appreciates what you’re up to.

Just one nitpick: you're good at avoiding comma splices using semi-colons, but ironically you sometimes use them in places where a comma would probably be better. I won't LBL this but if you want specific examples of where I'm thinking that, let me know.


EDIT: I've tried to give this the thumbs up but for some reason it's not registering my vote. Perhaps the site's got a problem. If it keeps on not picking my vote up I'll drop the organisers a line about it - there's no way you're missing out on my thumbs up!

Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 9, 2014 - 9:14am


Thank you for taking the time to read my short story and taking the time to comment.

I appreciate your insight and always appreciate feedback.

Glad you enjoyed it and that it took you down memory lane.

I'm new to LitReactor, so trying to get my bearings, but hope to find out more about the community and how everything works and look forward reading stories by other aspiring writers.

Thanks again and give me a shout anytime.

Danh20's picture
Danh20 July 9, 2014 - 7:07am

SPOILER ALERT – I felt it was necessary to put this at the start of my comments as I intend to discuss matters that occur throughout the story.

Firstly just in terms of a general review, I thought this story was fantastic. This is the first story I have read from LitReactor as I only joined a week or so ago but it has certainly set the bar very high for future stories I read her.


The character you have drawn here is very detailed and whilst clearly a career criminal you do a very good job of keeping him on the right side of likeable. One thing I would say is that whilst his past indiscretions and bad luck are alluded to, perhaps a hard example would add just a touch more weight to the character. However, I do think this story can live without that, it may just add some extra gravity to his initial dire situation.


The story is perfectly paced as well, the slow build up seems to be dying a death in literally terms and I think the story benefits from an introduction to all concerned.


However, I do feel that the opening paragraph where we meet the narrators two accomplices needs a bit of work.


“Down at the warehouse, I’d charmed my way into the tight clique of two young fellas who invested more effort into appearing to work hard than just working.”  In my opinion, a clique is more than just 2 people. This is a minor point but I would like to find out more about how the narrator charmed his way in with them, whereas Lassiter seems easy going, Stoufer seems a bit of a tough nut to crack so that made me question how easy it would be to gain his trust.


I enjoyed the twist at the end of the story, I had guessed (more through just speculating what might happen rather than it being telegraphed in the prose) what was going to happen but the final twist with Sheila took the story to another level. This was very well written.

I do have two minor criticisms of the ending. Firstly this line - “I got out the road map and studied the highways and junctions that would take me to a new life.” - jarred with me. Whilst it is quite a romantic notion I did find that it contradicted the narrator’s character as he has been organised to a fault at this point. He didn’t have any real exit strategy after completing his double-cross. It seems to me that he would know what his next move was.


The last line is excellent though. A brilliant cyclical end to the story.


Secondly, as a horror writer, I’d like to maybe see a little bit more in terms of description of the violence that occurs. The raid on the country club doesn’t have quite enough tension or suspense. As a reader, we are made to accept that it is going to go off well without being given an element of doubt. Lassiter has talked about how Lind is stealing his girl yet he doesn’t take the opportunity to put the boot in or exact any physical revenge? I feel this scene could be embellished and ramped up to create a real sense of dread.


Again the scene at the end could be played up to give it more impact. Sheila knows that this guy is prepared to screw over everyone he knows to make a few bucks yet she turns up naively on her own to meet him with no weapon. Maybe she approaches him with a bit more caution and he has to win her round before he kills her. She is a flaky character and seems to me she would lose her nerve before a dead body? Would Lassiter bleed out in silence or would he scream and moan in pain? I think just a bit more detail here would really ramp up the ending.


I hope this hasn’t come across as a negative critique as it certainly isn’t, the prose in this story is great, “It was supposed to be temporary. So are some jobs, summer romances, and youthful desire for tattoos.” Lines like this are almost lyrical. You have some really great turns of phrase and pieces of description. This is a very solid story that could be even better a couple of minor tweaks. Great writing in the main and I will be looking out for more of your stuff.

Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 9, 2014 - 9:13am


Thanks for reading and for the insightful critique.

I'm always open for feedback and discussion and don't really disagree with your overall assessment, but sometimes sacrifices are made to hit a word requirement. I do agree that adding the bits you suggested could help the story.

I wish the requirement/word limit was a little more as I ended up cutting a few other areas I liked as well.

Welcome to the LitReactor community!

Danh20's picture
Danh20 July 9, 2014 - 3:05pm

Hi Dylan

You're right, I didn't take the word count into consideration. Good point sir. Really hope you found what I said helpful anyway. Great story and well done.


Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 10, 2014 - 10:47am


I did find your suggestions helpful - thanks again for reading.

Larry Lavitsef's picture
Larry Lavitsef July 10, 2014 - 6:50am

I'm also new to the litreactor community and really enjoyed your story. I'll try to sum up my thoughts the best I can.

First off, I'll echo Chacron's comments about the pacing as well. . .it started off slowly and then built into a crescendo of bloodshed and violence. Yet, I happened to *like* the fact you didn't beat the reader over the head with an excessive and graphic depiction of the violence. It was the matter-of-fact way it was told that made it even, shall we say, creepier for me. . .much in the same way that it's far more jarring to read news reports of atrocities committed by the "guy next door/everyman" type rather than the stereotypical, thuggish career criminal. Although clearly, Jack was every bit of the latter, but the reader wasn't let in on that little secret until he started dropping his accomplices.

Speaking of which, I thought the story took a major twist even before the killing of Stoufer and Lassiter, however, when Jack roughed up the mouthy little poker player. At that moment I was jolted into the reality that this was not Jack's first rodeo, and beneath the veneer of the paunchy, downtrodden everyman was a stone cold thug who could handle himself adeptly in a dangerous situation.

My only criticism, if you can call it that, was Sheila's appearance at the end. Granted, it was another plot twist, but at that point it almost seemed superfluous. Although the reader does get the satisfaction of seeing Sheila get her come-uppance, Jack already had his loot, and I think it would almost be more suspenseful and jarring for the reader if it wasn't some big elaborate plan concocted by Jack and Sheila. . .but just Jack himself, who happened to wander into this web of deceit, saw the weaknesses of the parties involved, and took full advantage. But that's just me and my personal preference, and it certainly doesn't take away from the story.

All in all I very much enjoyed this story and look forward to reading your future works! 


Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 10, 2014 - 10:55am


I appreciate your kind comments and feedback.

Thanks for taking the time to read the story as well as respond.

Mostly, I appreciate the ability to provide a criticism - that truly aids in seeing things from an outside perspective. Sometimes you can only look at the story for so long so many times before you can only see things one way.

Welcome to the community as well.


Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch July 11, 2014 - 6:49am


I enjoyed this story quite a bit. At first it did feel like it was going to move a bit too slow and that we were going to stay in Jack's head through the entire thing, but things started to pick up when Stouffer and Lassiter came in and the plan started to form together.

It struck me like you were going for a hardboiled PI kind of narration, and I thought that worked really well here. It almost felt like Jack was a man out of time, with his narration playing better in the 40's and 50's, but the references to the XBox and cellphones pointing to a more modern time. I really dug this and one of my advices would be to play with this a bit more. The card game for example, feels a bit too cliche and standard. I rather see a more modern take on it just so it's juxtapose with the dialogue and narration.

Not a fan of the first two paragraphs but that might come down to personal taste. I don't like when stories open up with full on narration, and thought your third paragraph, "I pissed away" was a better start.

The ending didn't really work all the way for me. It's done well and the writing is good, but I didn't understand Jack's motives for this. Part of this comes that even though we're in his head for the entire story, I never got a full sense of who Jack is. I got snippets, but he never struck me as the stone cold killer that he's portrayed as being in the end. I also did wonder why Stouffer and Lassiter went to him in the first place. Even a single line or two about their reasoning behind it would suffice.

This is clearly the ending you built the whole story up to, so I'm hesitant to try to dissuade from changing it or altering in any way. Either way, a really strong story that I enjoyed.

Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 11, 2014 - 7:27am


First, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I always appreciate feedback and candor when someone reads something I have written.

Second, you make some good points and valid suggestions. After reading the comments so far,  everyone who has commented has given me a great perspective on how the piece could be bolstered.

Again, thanks for the read and the comment.


YouAreNotASlave's picture
YouAreNotASlave from Birmingham United Kingdom July 11, 2014 - 1:32pm

Liked this. Really good characterisation through narrative, especially of Lassiter. Stoufer reminded me of the silent blond guy in the Fargo movie. Stoic and strong, I liked. Only criticism I can think of is for the paragraph beginning 'So Tuesday of an abnormally slow week' -- you give us a lot of details through narration which I felt could have more naturally come from Lassiter's mouth, him telling the MC the set up would have characterised him even more. Other than that I loved the prose style, sharp and witty and really personalizes each character, I could imagine each one. Same goes for the environment and setting. The ending as well was excellent, dark and the MC really fleshes out in the final few paragraphs.

A final minor point 'She's not like that', he shouted -- I felt Lassiter wouldn't need to shout that, it makes him seem more petulant than you need to make him.

Thanks for such an entertaining read, thumbs up


Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 14, 2014 - 2:17pm


Thanks so much for taking the time to read the story and especially the time to leave a comment.

I'm glad you enjoyed the read!

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 13, 2014 - 6:45am

This is great stuff, it really is. It had me hooked from very early on, and though I was expecting a double-cross (or even a double-double-cross), the ending surprised me. You have a fantastic consistent voice, and I loved the protagonist. Chacron’s reference to Drive strikes a chord with me, and he does come across as a quiet but very capable man.

The only quibble I have is with the ending. I love a good twist; they make me want to immediately read it through again to look for the clues and hints. The conventions of the genre mean I’m looking for the double cross. Admittedly I thought it would the duo would try and make the protagonist the patsy, but I’m more than ready to buy him taking them out first. Sheila’s appearance tripped me completely. I can’t see anything in the story which may have subtly hinted towards this ending, and I don’t see that it adds anything either. It makes her a little bit more of a femme fatale, but ultimately (for me at least) her appearance detracts from the story.

That is a pretty minor quibble though, and I really did enjoy reading this. Best of luck with the contest.

Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 14, 2014 - 2:21pm


I appreciate the comments and the feedback.

I've quite enjoyed seeing this story through the eyes of other readers and truly appreciate each and every perspective.

Thanks for the read!

Alec Cizak's picture
Alec Cizak July 15, 2014 - 3:32am

Excellent writing. I may be more impatient than other readers, however.  For a majority of the read I kept thinking if Lovecraft wrote crime fiction, this would be it. That's really a stylistic matter, though, not necessarily a negative criticism.  I thought the strongest part of the story was the end, when things really broke into scene.  

Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 15, 2014 - 9:34am

Thanks for reading.

Again, really liked your story, Alec.

Good luck with the contest.

madsmaddox's picture
madsmaddox from Berkshire is reading Fated July 15, 2014 - 5:27am


saw that Chacron touted this out so couldn't resist reading. It's a good tale, well balanced, has some great rhythms / sentence structuring that rolls off the tongue most of the time, take a second pass at this and you'll easily see what I mean (assuming it already hasn't been pointed out by Chacron lol, he's like a sniper for these things). I liked the ending, but the way you finished did make it feel like the beginning of a larger story, not a bad thing, left me wanting to know what happens next.

Thumbs up!

All the best and good luck with the contest



Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 15, 2014 - 9:38am


I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on the story.

What happens next to Jack is a good question. Maybe he will turn up in another story one day.

Thanks again for checking it out.

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK July 15, 2014 - 7:00am

Very visceral, like it. There's a couple of massive coincidences, but in a short story that covers ground you'll need them, and a couple of minor errors, for example:

Lassiter speed through a yellow as it blinked red.

Good story, nicely done.

Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 15, 2014 - 9:43am

Thanks Seb.

You make good points - It's a challenging aspect to meet a word requirement while also bringing everything together.

I do enjoy seeing all the comments though. I think I've gained a new appreciation for the perspective other readers provide.

As to your minor errors - I think I may have 'speed' through my review.

Thanks again for the read and comments.

Damon Lytton's picture
Damon Lytton from Augusta, Kansas is reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow July 20, 2014 - 6:33pm

Hey Dylan,

I thought this was damn fine storytelling.  Slow burn but a lot is going on in this piece.  Like others have stated, the opening could use a little love, but as soon as I got a half-page in I was hooked.  My only real critique is Sheila coming in at the end.  It could imply that everything was set up by Jack from the beginning, but if it was I could have used a few more subtle hints toward that.  If Jack is just an opportunist (which is what I really think), then he took advantage of an existing situation and adding Sheila to the body-count doesn't put any more money in his pocket.  It just seems superfluous.

That's my only problem with the story.  Just a little more clarity at the end and I'm sold.


Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 21, 2014 - 6:09am

Hi Dylan,

Basic heist / double cross. Your inner character dialog is enough for a reader to suspect something is coming, and overall the crime still feels too petty for all of the planning (makeup! detailed plans of streetlight coverage!) and repercusions. Also, it reads awfully long (5000 worder) where it could easily be trimmed to be a bit more punchy. You have a lot longer over the mexican diner than the heist and double cross.

How am I supposed to read your title? My Messiah is complex? The Complex belonging to my Messiah? Or "My Messiah complex" - my delusions of grandeur? None of which particularly fit the story in any case...

Newspapers that don’t exist anymore - the implication is that he read these newspapers, back when they did exist, meaning he's 50+. 'cept that ain't so... Maybe the hotel lobby has these as framed prints?

I'd lose the 2nd para (castor oil one) and go straight to his current dead-end situ.

As Jack has a job, does he stay at his shithole hotel because he's kind of got lazy, or isn't making enough to change, or what? Plus, it's a hotel with druggies and whores, flashing lights as signals isn't entirely plausible, nor is emerging presumably dressed as a cop.

Lassiter threw two tens the table. "on" the table?

Our hero here isn't initially tempted by the money in the card game, (not three ways, with the risk) but then is in after he finds out Lassiter's lovelife is on the line? Hows about, Lassiter offers up his share, as long as the other two do something to Lind's face?

stick close to the peripheral, - periphery

Is ten thousand enough for a triple murder? After all, he's the only one with the gun, why not just blow town after waving it around some? Why invite sheila over?

Plus, you never give us enough back history on Jack to know if this is something he's done before, which might then link back to the crime not paying, messiah element.

I'd slim it down, make it more a casual heist (the other two aren't exactly pros...) and up the stakes at the game. And I don't buy, given her ways, Sheila sticking with Lassiter when she's onto a good (better) thing with Lind? Maybe NOT have them live together is the solution.

Hope this helps!


Joe P's picture
Joe P from Brainerd, MN is reading Wheel of Time July 31, 2014 - 5:35am

You have some nice turns-of-phrase in this piece. "Bouquet of bad news," "he contemplated complicating matters," were a couple of my favorites.

The story itself is well crafted. I like the juxtaposition of the two worlds, one gritty and blue-collared, filled with criminals and punk rockers, the other layered with mansions and golf courses. For some reason, we rarely see both in one story.

There were times when the descriptions got a  little long and I was waiting for the next plot twist or bit of action. I consider trimming this down if you want to move forward with it.

All in all, a good read. Thanks.