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Blair's picture

Anchorstone (3.6k - 2nd draft - now w/ added creepy bits)

By Blair in Scare Us

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A meteor hits Southern California and the resulting dust cloud poisons people so that they're forced to remember things they'd tried to forget. Suicide spreads like an epidemic while the narrator struggles to get into the cloud and then get his wife and child out.

My main concern is that I'm trying to stuff a ten gallon story in a five gallon container.

All kinds of criticism are welcome.


[Update: This is the second draft. Most significant changes are between pages 12 and 15]


sean of the dead's picture
sean of the dead from Madisonville, KY is reading Peckerwood, by Jed Ayres July 1, 2012 - 6:28pm

I am brand new here, and this is (obviously) my first review, so hopefully it's helpful (I'm still in the process of observing my surroundings).

I'll start by sying I'm kind of a horror movie fanatic; i.e. total nerd.  I have watched so many that I am no longer disappointed when a new one just reminds me of ten others, I just accept it as fact and move on.

That being said, as I read this story, it reminded me of "The Happening," the over-hyped, "first R-rated movie" by M. Night Shyamalan.  Except that your story was actually interesting.  I wanted to know what was going on (as opposed to my yawns and "oh, come on!" shouts at my tv during earlier-referenced disaster), I was concerned about the characters, as I got toward the inevitable end I truly was curious to see how things would turn out.  In other words, I like this story.  Quite a bit.

I will say one thing, and you already know what I'm about to say: I think there is too much going on to limit the story to this short of a piece.  I can see where details needed to be abbreviated and where so much more could be developed.  But that was part of the requirement to this event, so it's not so much a criticism as it is a hope that you are able to come back to this and add in the "extra" that it deserves.

I realize this review is not very critical in specific aspects, but I hope you take it as a polite nod to your story.  I will say that reading this is giving me my own push toward trying to finish something for this writing challenge, so thank you for that.  I enjoyed your story and look forward to more.

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things July 1, 2012 - 6:56pm

Thank you very much. I'll have to cut out a bunch and expand some of the more significant parts.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. July 1, 2012 - 9:50pm

I feel like I'm missing a bit of the story that's happening.  The 'dead half' story isn't shown to me.  I know there's a second voice in everyone's head that's telling them to kill themselves (and giving them perfect recall), but this stranger in the mind isn't really exposed to us.  It should be, through the narrator.  He has to battle this somehow.  When he sees it infecting his kids and wife, it will make it scarier, because he'll know how tempted they are to just die.

In the story, the narrator becomes half-dead after a traumatic incident, and doesn't recover from it until the birth of his son.  The dust brings back the trauma and erases all the healing he and his wife have gone through since then.  That's what makes him feel half-dead.  What about the other people?  Why do they have the same desire to kill themselves?  This can possibly shown on news reports or through dialogue with his wife or maybe even the son talking about kids at school remembering horrific things and talking about how they don't want to live anymore. 

I would like to see more darkness (hehe).  The dust settles over the town and keeps spreading out, but there are very few mentions of how it coats the world and changes the light.  Shadows would be everywhere.  Light would be something very special.  The headlights cutting through the dust, the light-bulbs dimming as soot covered them, the lack of sunshine confusing the senses (mentioned once), the way he sits on the hood of his car and stares at the dead people (he would be in darkness while his headlights shine on the corpses).  Show us exactly how dark it is.  Cormac McCarthy does it really well in The Road. 

There are a lot of 'on the body' sensations missing from the story and too many 'telling' parts.  I think you know this with your comment about a 10 gallon story in a 5 gallon container.  The story would work more for me if I were closer to the narrator, hearing things directly from people's mouths and feeling the sensations he feels.

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things July 2, 2012 - 5:27am

Excellent criticism, Howie. Thank you for investing your time on it. I'll keep your comments close while I re-draft it, and I may wind up creating a 10-15k story out of this after the contest.

lspieller's picture
lspieller from Los Angeles July 2, 2012 - 9:59am

This was creeptastic. I really enjoyed the tension in the beginning as he makes his way home to his wife and kid, but I was surprised when you seemed to skip the reunion altogether. ("By Las Vegas I knew that they were safe, Natasha and Nick.) I think its a missed opportunity to see him racing through the streets, his neighbors covered in dust, houses recked, his own front door left wide open... then we could get the kissing and hugging scene. 

You do a good job setting up the memories, so I think you can skip any direct mention of it being a memory ("this is one of my memories...").

I love the idea of our selves being split in two, but I'm unsure of exactly what that means here. Is there literally another body hanging somewhere, or is it just a voice that we hear in our own heads? Is it all our memories that come back, or only our terrible thoughts? This has the potential to be the scariest part, so I think it definitely needs more development . I think you're right that 4,000 words isn't enough space.

Thanks for the read!


Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things July 2, 2012 - 11:44am

Thanks Lauren - I like your idea about the homecoming. I'll do something like that with the next draft; and yes, I'll have to develop the "half-dead" thing.

WesFord's picture
WesFord from America (CO, NE, NC, AK, NY, WA) is reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Portable Atheist by Hitchens, 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill July 2, 2012 - 12:50pm

I don't have anything new to add. I, too, feel that you have a great start to a great story, but with the word limitation you were unable to explore it's full potential.

There's some great little scenes (the tree that accumulates bodies is a personal favorite) and I like the incorporation of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It felt... appropriate. I have not read it, but loved the movie.

I truly do hope you develop this story more, it has such great potential.

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things July 2, 2012 - 1:24pm

Thanks, asshole!

Johann Thorsson's picture
Johann Thorsson from Reykjavik, Iceland is reading Echo Lake July 4, 2012 - 6:12am

I LOL'd. 

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin July 4, 2012 - 6:43am


This is a great concept ~ not the meteor destruction, the idea of the overwhelming guilt of remembering everything.

If I'm going to suggest anything it would be: The darkness of everything would work well as a metaphor for the darkness clouding everybody's minds. If you expand, I'd like more darkness. The surroundings offer some great moments to unpack ~ Howie mentioned the contrast of light which is a great idea, but also consider foot prints in the dust, messages, suicide notes finger written in dust, on car windows. The darkness of humanity ~ oh you know there's gonna be riots and crime and free for alls in abundance. But what I'd like most of all is to see the darkness that creeps into the narrators mind, and how he see's it creep into his families ~ the desire for suicide. show me his thoughts, how he pushes them away - i want to care more, feel panic and desolation.

The way you describe the boys at grown zero - there voices crying for their mothers carried in a dust cloud, that's my favorite part.

Great story, i enjoyed it.

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things July 4, 2012 - 7:08am

Those are some great suggestions voodoo - thank you! I still have 400 words to play with, so maybe I'll be able to incorporate some of that in the next draft.

And once this contest is over, I'm going to keep this thing in mind as something that I might develop into a novella.

Jane Wiseman's picture
Jane Wiseman from living outside of Albuquerque/in Minneapolis is reading Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks July 6, 2012 - 1:28am

I just love this. I'll say something nobody else seems to think, including you. I like it this short. I like it evocative and elliptical. It's why I think "La Jetee" is better than "Twelve Monkies." I could be very wrong about this, and the revision into novella length could turn out just great, but I was gripped by every word and I don't think it needs to be longer.

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things July 6, 2012 - 6:21am

That's very kind of you to say, Jane. Thank you. I began to read your story and you've earned my respect. I'll post my thoughts on your piece sometime this weeked.

I think the second draft addressed a lot of the empty spaces that my initial reviewers wanted filled. I also eliminated an over-arching story element that couldn't be fully realized in this space.

I'll let this incubate for awhile before I decide whether a longer treatment is due.

Margogo's picture
Margogo from Albuquerque, NM is reading Imensee by Theador Storm July 7, 2012 - 10:17pm

I agree. I like it this length. Oddly, a very beautifully written horror piece. I, too, love the references to the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, because what could be more horrific? Trapped with your thoughts? It works so well!

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things July 8, 2012 - 10:56am

"Oddly, a very beautifully written horror piece" might be the best compliment I've gotten on this piece. Thank you very much, Miss.

Margogo's picture
Margogo from Albuquerque, NM is reading Imensee by Theador Storm July 8, 2012 - 6:11pm

Awesome. You're very welcome!

Caleb Aaron Dobbs's picture
Caleb Aaron Dobbs from Sallisaw, Oklahoma is reading A Game of Thrones July 9, 2012 - 2:16pm

I'm giving you the thumbs up, but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE take out some of the breaks. Lol.

There was some HOT descriptions in here. Some of your illusions and metaphors were truthfully fresh and exciting...they took me to this terrible-pretty place.

It isn't exactly a smooth read...I had to stop for a bit to catch my 'cement-breath' every once in awhile...but cool.

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things July 9, 2012 - 4:42pm

Thanks a lot Caleb - I appreciate that you took the time to read my story and offer some feedback. I'll consider how I might smooth out some of the unecessary breaks. I'm glad you liked it.

Johnny Kirk's picture
Johnny Kirk from orange county, ca is reading lord of the rings July 18, 2012 - 1:50pm

hmmm. not good at reviews.. so yeah... fucking awsome story man. im a huge fan of all nerdy scfy shit and whatnot. perfect recall, can very well be used as some military/religiounesque endgame... deffinatly more than enough layers to expand this(i cant imagine what grows in your head) but the length and the brutulness of being in another land, thousands of miles from your true loves, is prevailant, the killings and the sideaffects of the dust are cool, but what really rings true is the human factor, he ties his wife, cause she is unwilling to leave the godlike dust. yeah man, very cool.

Emma C's picture
Class Facilitator
Emma C from Los Angeles is reading Black Spire by Delilah Dawson August 2, 2012 - 7:35am

This is absolutely beautiful. You pack a lot in to a short story but it doesn't feel like it's too much; you've found just the right amount to give away, and keep hidden. There are so many levels here, so many stories lurking beneath the surface. I'm most impressed by the humanity you're able to convey, the sense of longing and loneliness and isolation. This is a disaster but it's not all running and screaming; it's sadness and resignation. I'm impressed with your incorporation of The Diving Bell, too; I love that book. 

This reminds me of some of Douglas Coupland's more surreal stuff, like Player One or Girlfriend in a Coma. He's one of my favourite authors so that is a huge compliment.  

So good!

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things August 2, 2012 - 7:55am

Thanks :)

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland August 2, 2012 - 6:24pm

WOW! This story litterally moved me. It simultaneously made me extremely happy and devestatingly sad.  I'm just learning how to critique and most of the comments above covered any (if any) concerns I may have had. Someone above mentioned adding an element that describs what causes the overwhelming desire to commit suicide. To me it was evident. That is what makes the horror "Real" If i could remember everything bad that has occured to my life so vividly it would haunt me. I would want to make it go away.

You tapped into the human emotion, and the primal instinct in the bathroom really took it to a whole new level for me.

The line" it was easier to just leave things behind than it was to carry them with you." near the end was GREAT. Bone-chilling. You have my vote and i would love to read an extended version if you decide to go in that direction. But the length here is really of no significant concern for me.


Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things August 2, 2012 - 7:21pm

Thank you very much :o)

Christa Faust's picture
Christa Faust from New York is reading The Brat, by Gil Brewer September 10, 2012 - 1:20pm


I loved this story. I was instantly drawn in by your lyrical yet understated voice and the compelling sense of dread. In less skilled hands, this concept could come off as a blockbuster disaster movie with lots of flying CGI cars and pretty people running away from explosions. Instead you gave us a very mature, thoughtful and emotionally complex story that feels deeply personal and authentic.

But this story reads more like a teaser for something bigger than a stand-alone piece. For purely selfish reasons, I’d love to see this story grow up to be a full length novel. Like many of the other commenters, I want more.

One possible way to expand this concept into a novel would be to turn it into an ensemble piece with multiple, intertwining narrative threads. Something like The Stand or Contagion. That might allow you to provide more varied perspectives on the enhanced memory phenomenon and address some of the currently unanswered questions about the science behind the disaster. I’d love to see into the heads of one (or more) of the suicides and know what’s going on with them that leads them to that choice. I’d also like more insight into what’s going on with the son, or other children at the school.

Regardless of where you ultimately decide to go with this piece, you’ve got my attention. I’m very curious to see what’s next from you.

Good luck and keep writing,

- Christa Faust

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things September 11, 2012 - 6:53am

Thank you very much, Christa. Once I finish my current work, I'll take a long look at this and decide whether I want to pursue it any further. I like your idea about the ensemble structure - I'd definately pursue that. If you'd really like to see some of my future work, how should I contact you?

- Josh

Christa Faust's picture
Christa Faust from New York is reading The Brat, by Gil Brewer September 11, 2012 - 8:00am

Josh - I'd like to think that you won't have to contact me, that if I want to see your future work I'll be able to just buy it from a bookstore like any other reader. That being said, you can always reach me via email at christafaust AT gmail DOT com.

Keep it up. xxx

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things September 11, 2012 - 8:42am

Cool. I'm probably a few years out from having anything on bookstore shelves, but I'll get there someday. In the meantime, I'll stalk you on facebook and email you if anything significant develops (for example, if Anchorstone gets published). Thanks again.