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sean of the dead's picture

1,000 Steps

By sean of the dead in Scare Us

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Five Four kids set out for a day of care-free fun, but what they discover shows them a completely different side of life.

7/14/12 Note: This is an edited version of what I originally posted.  I changed a bit, adding some detail that I hope develops the characters better, completely removing one of the boys.  It's a little longer now too. I welcome any and all criticisms (and any kind words too).  I hope this one flows better and tells the story as I imagined it, but let me know if it doesn't.



Jane Wiseman's picture
Jane Wiseman from living outside of Albuquerque/in Minneapolis is reading Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks July 13, 2012 - 2:50am

This is a powerful story, and each character stood out. The tension builds from the first sentence, so that by the end we readers are on fire to know what they're looking at, what happened, and what is going to happen. I have two concerns: is there a monster, so does the story meet the contest criteria? That actually doesn't concern me much, though, because a powerful story is a powerful story. What concerns me more is the credibility of the final action. The reference to "Lord of the Flies" helps some with this, but probably not enough. The story about the dog in the driveway helps the most. I wonder if the boy who acts at the end could be characterized in a little more detail so we'd find it more credible that he's willing to do what he does, whereas the others wouldn't.

Brad's picture
Brad from Australia is reading Speculative Fiction Quarterlies July 13, 2012 - 4:14am



This was a good coming of age story with a good "scary" twist. I think the strongest part of the story was the retelling of the boys on experiences with death. Most of that flowed strongly and was engaging. The framing device of them telling these stories around a body was good.


I have attached a LBL for you with some grammar fixes and some cuts. I think your prose is good but you have a tendency towards longer sentences which can become a tad burdened. As I note, I think you sometimes feel the need to explain or justify parts of the story as you tell it. I cut those out, see how you feel about it when you let the reader decide how things are playing out on their own.


I have a few other areas for you to consider which I think could make your story stronger:

There are five boys and you make some effort in distinguishing them, but it takes a long time to get any kind of feel for which name belongs to which personality. They all overlap a bit in terms of character. You only have so many words to work with, but try and think of ways you can distinguish their personalities some more in the opening scenes.

Another thought, what if there were only four boys? Three? Two? Go with the minimum you need. (It's more than two, I'm thinking four). If you think you can tell the same story with one less character, it's less confusing for the reader.


Your twist - it's good. You keep the reader guessing about this body. I think there's room to improve the twist. The referring to the body as "it" is a major distraction, particularly after it turns out to still be breathing. When a person is alive and breathing it's hard to imagine someone referring to him or her as it. I know that it's part of camoflauging the twist, but perhaps it could be made nicer.

You also paint some nice scenery in the opening scenes, but obviously do not dwell on the body's appearance. This stood out to me as "TWIST WARNING, NO DESCRIPTION OF BODY." If you could add some ambigous description to the body discovery it might make the twist a bit better.




Emma C's picture
Class Facilitator
Emma C from Los Angeles is reading Black Spire by Delilah Dawson July 13, 2012 - 7:44am

Great descriptions, and I absolutely didn't expect the ending. I liked the kids' reflections on death but would have liked to see maybe one more perspective (and I felt the dog one went on maybe a bit longer than it needed to). Like the kids, I'm left wondering what happened to this guy- animal attack? Fall? Argh! 

Per the criteria you need a "monster",  but I think you already kind of have one if you tie a few things together.

Small fix: on page six, rivers have currents, not waves.

sean of the dead's picture
sean of the dead from Madisonville, KY is reading Peckerwood, by Jed Ayres July 13, 2012 - 10:31am

Thank you all very much for the critiques.  It's funny, I stayed up way too late last night reading and re-reading, then reading it out loud to myself, and by the time 3 a.m. hit I thought I was in good shape.  Now all day at work I've been thinking how I could have changed this or that.  There's one lesson learned already: once I think it's done, sleep on it.

I completely agree that the characters need a bit more ____ (something) to let the reader know more about them and kind of paint the final picture better.  I had decided on 5 kids because I was thinking back to me & my four friends in grade school (not that we ever did this!), but maybe I could remove at least one and make this flow a little better.

And yeah, it was tough trying to keep the suspense and hide the final reveal without giving too much away.  But hey, I'm here to learn, and I've got time to edit.

I actually agree with pretty much everything all 3 of you have said.  I have some work to do, for sure, but you guys are helping point me in the right direction.

Specifically @Brad, I'm going to check out your LBL when I get home from work tonight and take it to heart.  Thank you for taking the time to do that!


Lawrence's picture
Lawrence from Dallas, Texas is reading Mr. Mercedes - Stephen King July 13, 2012 - 6:03pm

I have to say first that was a great ending. The part with the dog was a gut punch and really got me. I hate reading bad things happening to dogs. Your story made it work though. I still had to keep reading to figure out what was happening. I won't make any grammar notes since others have. I leave stuff in my stories all the time. It's hard to edit your own stuff. Great job. 

sean of the dead's picture
sean of the dead from Madisonville, KY is reading Peckerwood, by Jed Ayres July 14, 2012 - 11:52am

@Lawrence, believe me when I say I cringed the entire time I wrote the dog part.  I absolutely love dogs, all animals really, so that part was based on one of my greatest fears.  Thank you for your kind words.

Emma C's picture
Class Facilitator
Emma C from Los Angeles is reading Black Spire by Delilah Dawson July 18, 2012 - 10:18pm

Just read the rewrite- good work. The boys feel more defined and yes, you got rid of the girl (awww) but it makes the piece stronger. The expanded description of the body gives the ending a bigger punch, too, since you now have a reason to empathize with it. Nice job. 

And for the record- dog killing? Not cool. Bravo for writing about something so difficult for you! I'm not at that point yet (in my stories the animals are resurrected, if anything).

telegraphkiss's picture
telegraphkiss from joplin, mo is reading microbiology notes, unfortunately July 23, 2012 - 5:42pm

This was awesome :)

I used to always try to explain to my friends how I had my first kiss when I was like 4, because my mom's best friend's son was my age, and we always saw our parents kissing so we just thought it was totally okay... My friends still thought I was a weirdo for kissing someone so young, but to me it was a totally normal and acceptable part of playing house.  Obviously I never did a very good job of conveying how, with innocence, our perception is distorted so things that aren't necessarily okay seem to be. 

You, however, did a spectacular job of this - priming your characters for perfect moments to lose their innocence, where their childish conceptions are clashing with adult ideals.  The back stories for multiple characters was amazing - separate incidents which both begin with that hopeful anticipation with such endings really are what mold us in those instances. 

On one hand, I think the lack of description with regards to the "scene" was a good way for us to horrify ourselves, wondering... and on the other, I think more of a description would have created more of a broken-hearted feeling.  You know, because we kind of want them to get it over with too, and then we realize what we, as the encouraging reader, have just done.

Whyend's picture
Whyend from Memphis TN is reading Under the Dome July 24, 2012 - 11:42pm

Check your tense. I read some present tense verbs mixed into the surrounding past tensr. Overall, well done.

Wonder Woman's picture
Wonder Woman from RI is reading 20th Century Ghosts July 25, 2012 - 8:43pm

Really solid story here! I didn't read the original, but I have to say, this had total gut-punch moments and truly sincere characters. Each of their experiences with death were both sad and horrific and really got me. On the whole, the story is well written and begs to be read a second time! The suspense ate me up until that last sentence. Awesome work.

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland July 27, 2012 - 5:35pm

Evryone pretty much said it all. I agree, this was a very moving well-written story. Not much criticism left to give. I did wonder one thing and maybe it is something i overlooked. I'll have to read it again once i've finished my own story and read the other submissions.

Did you give us indication why the injured boy couldn't speek. He was concious and old enough. I know "words" here would had ruined the payoff so i was wondering if in your description of injured if you mentioned if his throat or larynx looked damage or if his mumbles were just inauditory sounds. You may have but i didn't catch it.

Thanks for sharing


Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland July 27, 2012 - 5:37pm

I meant inaudible. lol

Caleb Aaron Dobbs's picture
Caleb Aaron Dobbs from Sallisaw, Oklahoma is reading A Game of Thrones July 28, 2012 - 1:39pm

It seems that we agree the dead dog bit was the cherry on top, but something was not working here. Perhaps, though the characters are great and I like the story, it was because you built up our curiosity so much we were expecting something more...


I don't know what to tell you, because it was a good read. I just wish it had a little more meat.

Nathan's picture
Nathan from Louisiana (South of New Orleans) is reading Re-reading The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste, The Bone Weaver's Orchard by Sarah Read July 29, 2012 - 6:45pm

Thumbs up from me.

Has a nice professional opening. Solid work connecting the tone and the characters with their atmosphere.

1st page reminds me of the movie Stand By Me. Can’t go wrong there.

There’s a line in there: “The look of mis-placed anger…”

Why “mis-placed?” Why not Misplaced?

Another line: “But something within the fibers of Jason’s story had grabbed him and tightened it’s grip around his throat…”

That should be “its,” because it’s = it is

But enough of that. On to the story…

Yeah I really enjoyed this, same as everyone else so far. Brad has great advice as far as calling the injured boy “it” the whole story, meaning to change it.

Because it isn’t realistic for a group of young boys to refer to another injured human being as “it.”

But it’s an easy fix. You can still have them say “him” without giving anything away, because we’re already convinced as readers that they’re standing over a dog or possibly another animal.

Another thought I had with regard to previous comments.

Narrow it down to 3 boys.

Just an opinion, but I feel that it would be chilling to focus in on two of the boys being the best of friends since childhood like you describe, and then with the third one, we get enough information about him, but not too much.

Then you have the two best friends arguing over how to handle the body, making that the conflict, and readers at that point aren’t even dwelling on the third kid’s opinion, and then when that third kids steps in and kills boy while the two best friends are arguing, I mean that would be Terrifying. 

It’s also more believable that way. Like any bank robbery gone wrong. A group that trusts each other for the most part, except for that one loose cannon who opens fire when under pressure.

Also helps you to cut some weight with backstory, and to keep readers focused while avoiding any potential confusion.

Another great thing about that is how it sets up room for another story. You have that now, actually, with the current draft. There’s so much more story you could tell with the Aftermath of this. I’m saying that’s excellent. Nicely done.

My only gripe with this story, and it’s a small one, is the lack of creature, which I thought the injured boy was going to turn out to be at first.

Everyone’s saying you can get a “monster” out of this, and while that’s certainly true with a lot of Human Monster Characters, the guidelines call for a Creature. Not a monster. Think people are forgetting that.

Great story, Sean. Definitely looking forward to more stories from you. 

But yeah this one was great. 

Mess_Jess's picture
Mess_Jess from Sydney, Australia, living in Toronto, Canada is reading Perfect by Rachael Joyce July 31, 2012 - 3:57pm

Hi Sean,

This was a great story. You write really clearly and it's easy to read. 

The twist at the end was unexpected and clever. And it tugged at my heart strings – I love kids and dogs so much, and I teared up at both deaths (floating adult bodies? Yeah, just a bit gruesome for me, not so sad ;)).

I went through and made some comments in your word doc, I hope they are helpful. 



sean of the dead's picture
sean of the dead from Madisonville, KY is reading Peckerwood, by Jed Ayres July 31, 2012 - 11:45pm

Thank you all so very much for your comments/criticisms/kind words on my story.  I appreciate it more than I can express here.  Initially, I got some great ideas on how to fix my first draft, which I was happy to employ.  Since I posted my revised version, I received some amazingly insightful suggestions that I'm going to try and incorporate when I have a chance to really sit down with this again.  Thank you all so much, I need all the critiques I can get to help me get a hold of where my strengths and weaknesses lie.

@Caleb, thank you for reading and reviewing my story.  I have to ask though, can you point to something specific that made you have a hard time with it?  You liked the characters and the story, and thought it was a good read, and I appreciate that very much.  But help me to understand what didn't grab you.  I only ask because I want to know exactly what people did and didn't like.  It'll help my story as well as help me going forward as a writer.

Sancho LeStache's picture
Sancho LeStache from El Paso is reading Hunger August 5, 2012 - 2:13am

I read this on my lunch break at work and it kind of stuck with me the rest of the day. I don't know if it's technically horror, more of a Stand By Me coming-of-age sort of thing, but it was horrifying and vivid enough to kind of be one in a Deliverance kind of way. Such a bummer, but in a really good, haunting way. Liked it a lot!

OtisTheBulldog's picture
OtisTheBulldog from Somerville, MA is reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz August 9, 2012 - 6:33am

Hi Sean,

I really liked this story - it's powerful and resonates. The tension builds and builds. Small details giving glimpses into the boys home lives were very well placed. The dog story, gut wrenching and really resonated with me. Very well placed foreshadowing. And the final scene was just, ugghhh. The complete loss of innocence. Powerful stuff. Really well done, Sean. Hang on to this one. I don't know shit about getting things published, but I think that this could and should find a home some day.

In terms of the contest, you didn't have an original creature or three deaths. So I couldn't give you a thumbs up. But I wouldn't be able to live with myself on this site giving you a thumbs down, because again, I thought it was a really well done story that's going to sit with me for a little while. I look forward to reading more of your work.


TigersMS's picture
TigersMS from Australia is reading House of Leaves August 12, 2012 - 6:26am

Good story, thought that maybe you have cut this way down to fit the word limit. Seems like if you have no word limit this could be really expanded upon. First off I thought the place had some bad ju-ju and was bringing the kids to a bad mental place but then there was the body and then the punishing finale...Really good work, the stories that the kids told (wish there were more of them) were fantastic.

Ian's picture
Ian from Texas is reading Low Down Death Right Easy by J. David Osborne August 13, 2012 - 12:11pm

I enjoyed reading this. I think you've got three deaths and a monster here. Granted, you may have stretched the boundaries a bit but that's okay. I could be accused of the same thing. I think that's part of what makes this exercise interesting. 

I agree that this feels like an abbreviated version of something but I still thought it worked. You write well - particularly your descriptions and your dialogue. The description of the body in the water... Really effective. Haven't been able to get that out of my head all day.

Good work. Thanks for writing it.

Shawn I.'s picture
Shawn I. from New York is reading Important Things That Don't Matter August 16, 2012 - 11:11am

Hey Sean. Very enjoyable. Well-written, good characterization and disturbing in all the right ways. I agree with some of the others that this feels like something larger condensed.

For me, the line about not using the f-word and subsequent laughter seemed out of place. While it helps show how the others view John, it just didn't sit right. Its a sudden 180 from the arguing.

Speaking of John, he seems to get a little lost in the story. You interject him in small ways throughout as the low man on the totem pole so to speak, but we don't get to know him in any specific way like the other boys.

I thought there was a little too much detail in the early parts of Jason's story about the dog. In the almost half page you describe Rachael and the specifics of him sneaking out I lose some of the urgency of the situation at hand. It's a somewhat lengthy sub-story so I think by getting to to the part where he runs over the dog quicker you better maintain the overall mood.

Towards the end I was left wondering why they never try to communicate with the injured boy.

Hope this is helpful. Thanks.

sjwatson's picture
sjwatson from Houston, Texas is reading How It All Began by Penelople Lively August 16, 2012 - 6:49pm

Hi Sean:

I'll try not to repeat everything said above (except for the compliments. ;-)  You did an excellent job setting the scene--I could see where the boys were, even smell it. And it was skillful, inserting the story of the tragic accident which does make the reader wonder what exactly the boys are seeing.

My big problem is that (like Jane), I didn't buy Dave's motivation. You tell us up front he sees violence at home and is generally angry but that wasn't enough for me to accept his action. The boys in Lord of the Flies (ugh!!!!) take some time to lose their civility. I am not following why these normal-seeming boys wouldn't just go and get help --- that to me was the missing piece. Why exactly do they treat the injured boy as "it" right away (later, he's called "he"--but shouldn't their objectification of him be greater at the end of the story than at the beginning?)

Don't get me wrong: I can imagine a group of boys being utterly immoral and killing instead of saving--I just didn't buy that behavior from this group as written. What triggers the lack of compassion, the apathy, the monster within?  Would Dave kill the injured boy out of compassion (which he seems to think or says he's doing) or as he might squash an disgusting bug or out of contempt? In some people, weakness in others triggers anger to cover their own fear of their own weakness.  

For whatever that's worth...

Thank you for sharing!