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leah_beth's picture

Driving After Dark

By leah_beth in Scare Us

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A drive home through the Pine Barrens takes a turn for the terrifying for a lonely little girl.  


Jane Wiseman's picture
Jane Wiseman from living outside of Albuquerque/in Minneapolis is reading Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks July 5, 2012 - 6:20pm

I thought you did a great job of characterizing the little girl, but then what happened to her was awful. I guess that's just part if the genre, huh? Make em care, then kill em off? In spite of entering this contest myself, I don't read much horror. Anyhow, I really liked the little girl, I really liked how you helped us see what her problems were, and then POOF, eaten by giant buzzards. Not a criticism of you, just why I'm not a huge fan of the genre.

Andrew Kelly's picture
Andrew Kelly from Florida is reading Kiss the Dead by Laurell K. Hamilton July 5, 2012 - 10:35pm

Boo! on killing the little girl. Boo! but well written. And, for the second time: what Jane said. Again (if you didn't see it the first two times): Boo!  :-)

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. July 5, 2012 - 11:59pm

Much as I'm sorry to upset you it weird that I'm a little flattered that I did?

Thanks bunches for reading and commenting - I'll try to be nicer to my characters in the future. :o)

Stephen McCusker's picture
Stephen McCusker July 6, 2012 - 6:32am

Awesome!  Would fit right in with any of King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes :)

SoulBoulder's picture
SoulBoulder from Chicago is reading The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotions July 6, 2012 - 8:38am

Two things that stuck out with me...first the moon, it was totally dark, no stars, no moon, total darkness...then you mention she can see the creature blotting out the moonlight (let alone see the creature for what it is in that 'total darkness'). I guess consistency or at least some signal to show the change in atmosphere. Or maybe you can use the moonlight as a an eerie setting to reveal the true darkness. Play it into the witnessing of the creature.

Though, the idea of the giant bird and the relative descriptors were great! The wingspan of a soccer field, the beak the size of a car... I had a great visual for what the size of this thing.

My second fit was when you mentioned the police had seen worse. Much worse. I want this story to be 'the worst' I wanted the pure was built up so well with her fears, and then left sort of pg -13ish at the end. I didn't get the terror that i was anticipating.

Keep up the work!

jennydecki's picture
jennydecki from Chicagoland is reading The Foreigners July 20, 2012 - 2:46pm

I was going to mention the darkness vs. moonlight issue but didn't want to be overly picky if it was just me. Seems it's not just me. So I wanted to second your suggestion. 

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. July 6, 2012 - 2:17pm

Thanks so much for the feedback - it's really helpful! 

Marc Ferris's picture
Marc Ferris from Carmel, California is reading Animal Attraction by Anna David July 9, 2012 - 8:54pm

I'm always up for a Pine Barrens story.

I like the character building in the beginning, the girl is well fleshed out, and we are rooted in her family's situation.

I would be willing to sacrafice some of the beach stuff, and family stuff to get more of the monster attack. The end works just fine for me.

Fun reading!

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. July 10, 2012 - 7:22am

Thanks!! I'll definitely keep that in mind!!  :) Glad you enjoyed it!

Lawrence's picture
Lawrence from Dallas, Texas is reading Mr. Mercedes - Stephen King July 12, 2012 - 11:03am

I really enjoyed the ending. At first I thought I didn't care for the monsters or for the scenario but the ending brought it all together. Really fun read. 

RichardJtann's picture
RichardJtann from Atlanta, Ga is reading Kane Chronicle- Rick Riordin July 20, 2012 - 12:55pm



I really enjoyed your story!  I thought you were able to really express the fear the little girl felt!  Between focusing on the fears of dark and working on a child's desire to save herself and her father, you really nailed it!  Good job.



jennydecki's picture
jennydecki from Chicagoland is reading The Foreigners July 20, 2012 - 2:44pm

I thought it was really interesting. The relationship between the girl and her father and how the fears of the relationship worked into the fears about the unknown in general and then the unknown bad thing in the dark were all tied up with each other. My only suggestion would be to describe the size in some other way besides a "mac truck" - I would have liked to really feel how big the things were. But overall a great read. 

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. July 20, 2012 - 5:06pm

Can I just say this has been amazing? All the feedback I've gotten (critiques, I mean) has been on-target, and it's stuff I'll look at if I edit this again, and definitely stuff I've kept in mind on other pieces I've worked on in the past few weeks.  Y'all are amazing, and I appreciate it so much!!

And just knowing people are in general enjoying a story I wrote? SO COOl! 

So thanks to all who've read! :)  Hope to see you around!!

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep July 20, 2012 - 10:04pm

One of my favorites I've read so far...even if you depressed the hell out of me.

You have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Yay! Yes, it can be done in a short story!

The moment where the girl wakes up and realizes she's all alone...pure horror there. This is a well-written story that just needs the polish all stories need. The ending section with the sheriff is a decent closer, thought I'd suggest removing the last sentence. I think "Safe, he thought.  At least until next summer." is a stronger sentence to end on.

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland July 21, 2012 - 7:48am

Great storry. Perfect charachter developement of the little girl. Loved the descriptive beachfront outing. Like some of the other readers, the only real problem i have is in the description of the bird monsters. I'm wondering, with beaks the size of cars how they were able to get the eyes. Do they do that with there talons? Also, the lighting with the moon as was mentioned before. The creatures are so large they drown out the light, yet she sees the moonlight coming in later when they are still hovering above. Other than that i was quite impressed. I'd read your storries anyday. 

Cody John Beckius's picture
Cody John Beckius from Colorado is reading a lot of American Modernist literature July 23, 2012 - 11:54am

This story is great.  The girl is interesting and relatable and she makes you want to keep reading, to go along with her in the dark.  There are a lot of great little details that put the reader there and create a believable world, but without being too wordy.  All of my notes below are just little things that might help tighten up whatever (very small) loose ends there might be.  And I apologize if these have been pointed out already, but I haven’t bothered to read anyone else’s comments on it yet.  Thanks for sharing this!  Keep kicking ass!  

I really liked how you described the pre-trip gathering of materials and the wait for the father, but compared to the actual day at the beach it seems too long.  I wonder if there is a way to balance out the two – give more to the fun day at the beach and a little less to the lead up.  That will help give us a better feel for the dad, too.  It will help make us like him more.

“As the sun set and the warmth of the day slowly seeped out of her skin, the girl wondered for a fleeting moment:  Really? Do you mean it this time?  But then she allowed sleep to cradle her in its arms, rocking her to the rhythm of The Eagles’ “Lying Eyes” on the stereo.”  This seemed out of character for the girl.  Nothing before this point has shown us that there was any doubt in her eyes that her dad could take care of her.  Maybe there is a way to tie it to her fear of the dark, and not a lack of faith in the dad.  Or give the reader a small hint that he had let her down before for this line to make sense.

“The windows fogged with steam from her sweat and snot, and when the spasms had finally passed, the girl sat in a pool of her own tears that soaked through the worn-out seat of last year’s bikini.”  I don’t know how well the “pool of her own tears” works here.  It feels clichéd and a little unrealistic.  Maybe a combination of tears, the humidity, and a spilled bottle of water?  If her fear debilitated her could she have peed herself? 

In describing the flying things there are two comparisons to cars.  Maybe change one?
Some clichés to avoid – “adrenaline coursed through the girl’s veins” “Blood froze”  (This is nitpicky stuff.  You have some really great original language through the rest of the piece and this stuff is easily replaced)
This is a little clumsy:  “The creatures across from the moon, which lit the interior of the car and the keys, which sat in the cup holder. They glittered.  They sparkled.  In them, the girl saw salvation.”  I’m not sure what the first sentence means?

Here’s a question about the car – earlier it appears that the battery is dead, as the lights flicker and go out, but a few minutes later they come on, the music blares, etc, but the car won’t turn over.  If the battery had already died it wouldn’t allow the lights and stereo to come on that soon.  I think you could get around that problem by having her shut the door when she first gets out, then when she tries to start the car she can’t get the engine to turn over because she doesn’t know that she has to have the clutch pedal depressed.  That allows the character to have the lights blaring and the Eagle’s song to play.

“Instead, an unturned orchestra…”  Was that supposed to be untuned?

In the police section the first sentence is a little jarring.  I think you could cut the first sentence and put the important details about the call into the introduction to the sheriff.

“He nodded to himself.  Probably was broken.”  Feels unnecessary.  The description is enough for the reader, and the sheriff, to know she is broken.

Same with “They’d taken her eyes.”

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. July 24, 2012 - 5:03am

Holy cow, that's detailed...and awesome! Thanks a ton!! I plan to check out your story tonight to return the favor, friend!!


(P.S. Once the challenge is up, I plan to edit edit edit this piece - everyone's feedback is going into my editorial decisions! Yay!!!)


cristina's picture
cristina from Tucson, Arizona is reading The Peripheral by William Gibson July 23, 2012 - 12:38pm

kudos for doing so much in so little space - and i liked the ending a lot (which I think is the hardest part of a short horror story). there were a few typos which other people addressed above. i can't think of anything else to add except to disagree with some other commenters who mentioned there was inconsistency with the sky being dark and then the moon being there - you address that when the little girl leaves the car "The moon was just starting to break through evening clouds that had gathered while she slept."

great job on a story both touching and really scary!

Sancho LeStache's picture
Sancho LeStache from El Paso is reading Hunger August 6, 2012 - 7:40pm

At first, I thought you skimped on the 3 deaths until I got to the hermit crab part. Very clever! I've only thought this about a couple of other stories so far, but it would be cool to see more of this. It would be really cool to get to read more about this town's sacrificey ways, and to learn more about these vulture monster things. Good job!

Shawn I.'s picture
Shawn I. from New York is reading Important Things That Don't Matter August 14, 2012 - 7:13am

I definitely liked this. Good suspense. You make the reader care about the girl then take her away! And the surprise of the enormity of the creatures is great. The only things I can point out are small stuff.

I think this line works better by keeping it simple. “Rest, baby,” the girl’s father said.  “I’m here to take care of you.”

I would consider switching around the first two paragraphs after the break when the girl wakes up in the car. In the first paragraph we see signs of her being scared - racing heart, trembling, goosebumps. It was a little confusing until you mention she thought she heard a scream in the following paragraph. And the tone of that second paragraph is more of that disorientation when you wake up. Like she was wondering, Are we home already? Before realizing she was alone and started to get nervous. So I think it builds better by going from one the other. I hope this makes sense.

     The knot of bravery wavered, threatened to dissolve when the three creatures, backlit by the moon, turned to the girl. Then a fierce wind blew her hair forward across her face.  She dropped to her knees beside the Lincoln, shielded by the door.  Bone scratched metal like giant fingernails on a blackboard.  For me, this paragraph was too subtle. I wanted to feel more of the aggression of the attack of the creature. Love the imagery in the last sentence though.

Some else had mentioned this and I agree this sentence is a bit clunky. The creatures across from the moon, which lit the interior of the car and the keys, which sat in the cup holder. 

I thought maybe you could use a simile here rather than tell us about the car. They were preparing to swoop again, and the holes in the roof proved the Lincoln was unable to stand up to them. readying to rip the car open like a can of sardines. (Or something to that affect).

This may sound funny but I was really disturbed by the way the sheriff just tossed the girls body. A surprising last tug at our emotional strings, just when we think we're safe. Nice touch.

Thanks for a good read.

Shortgirl's picture
Shortgirl August 28, 2012 - 2:22pm


I tell you the moment that got me the worst was just her waking up in blackness and silence so absolute. That moment of panic when you wonder, "Holy crap, where am I?" And that's adult fear that has nothing to do with the fear of darkness this girl ALSO has. The mix of snot and sweat and steam and fear, visceral and palpable.

I also like the sheriff. He's so matter of fact. Sad that this "pretty little thing" is dead but relieved that "it" is over for the season. And the cop in him can't NOT notice seemingly mundane details like her suit is from last season. Nice touch.

Like Shawn above, I think "I'm here" is a better line. Short and sweet but also, "Let me take care of you" was a red herring for me. It seemed a bit creepy. "Daddy will take care of you, my pretty" kind of thing. I kept expecting HIM to be the baddy. Unless this false path was intentional, I'd try to get rid of any indicator that Dad is the monster.

Otherwise, look forward to seeing whatever else you post here. Good job!

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. August 28, 2012 - 4:33pm

Wheeee! Thanks, Shorty!! (I *think* I am taller than you.)

I've definitely taken Shawn's advice about "I'm here." It's already changed in m latest version.  Want to see it??

Sage A. Mauldin's picture
Sage A. Mauldin August 28, 2012 - 3:49pm

First and foremost--great title! It's truly an attention grabber. Every story needs a great title, and you accomplished it. 

Secondly, fantastic story. I was engrossed in it from start to finish.

(There are several solecisms throughout, so make sure you go back and correct those.) 

Thirdly, the description of the bird-like creature was good, it's huge, I get it, but you could make known what it hunts, how it hunts, and where its habitat lies. (Do this in two sentences.) 

Fourthly, I don't think it's such a big deal to describe the dad more, as someone recommended you doing. He's not the protagonist; the ten-year-old girl is (she is the star of the show--not the dad). 

And, fifthly, hark back to the scene where the creature is attacking the car: add more punch. Make known the bird's need for killing and the girl's desperation for survival. Make the situation more personal and psychological. 

Overall, great job! 


leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. August 28, 2012 - 4:32pm

Awesome feedback, thanks!! SO glad you enjoyed it!! Thanks too for the tips - nice to hear you don't think I need to enhance Dad too much. I've worked on some edits since this was posted, and I maybe added another sentence, but not much more than that.  Very cool of you to come check it out.  :)

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. September 24, 2012 - 11:29am

Rats! Hi! I just tried to upload my latest version of my story - I've edited it pretty heavily and would love for my reviewer(s) to read the latest copy.

But I can't figure out how to do it! So sad!

If you want to read the latest - please shoot me an email here - I'll be checking.

And if you care to read/review the currently uploaded copy, that's fine too and I'll be super-appreciative of any feedback you offer.

Many thanks and cheers!!

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep September 25, 2012 - 12:04pm

I'd love to read a revision! If you're logged in on this page, you should see an Edit link near the woman's bloody foot (right unde My Dashboard). Click that and choose Remove on your file, then upload a new one.

If you get any sort of error, then you might have to contact support. I did and they fixed whatever was causing the error with uploading really fast.

Looking forward to reading more...

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. September 27, 2012 - 12:40pm

Alright - you totally win my Genius Of The Day Award!!

New version is uploaded - with many, many thanks!!!

(And exclamation points)


Chuck Palahniuk's picture
Chuck Palahniuk from Portland, OR October 9, 2012 - 11:15am

*Note: This is a placeholder profile for Chuck Palahniuk we are maintining on the site.  While the below review was originally emailed to us by Chuck Palahniuk, it is being pasted here by the moderators of the site.*

'Driving After Dark' - Feedback by Chuck Palahniuk

This story demonstrates how beautifully a small animal can carry the emotion in a story.  Think of the movie Alien.  Think of the cat, “Jonesy” and how it allows the lead character to demonstrate her humanity and compassion.  We root for her because we see her protecting a weaker, smaller creature.  Likewise, in The Hunger Games we want the protagonist to win because she’s put herself at risk in order to protect a weaker person.  That’s why throughout Driving After Dark I worried about the well being of the hermit crab.

The characters all have generic titles: the girl, her father, her mother, the sheriff.  Only the hermit crab occurs as something specific and real.  It’s trapped and sold as a souvenir, completely at the mercy of its circumstances.  That makes it the perfect foil for the girl who’s also in peril from larger forces.  Thus, once the girl is in danger, instead of summarizing her internal shifts with abstract language – “She tried to keep the panic at bay… Clarity followed hysteria…” – demonstrate those shifts by having her seek out the crab.  She can protect the tiny animal and attempt to save it.  When a character displaces the obvious danger and resolves to rescue an ‘other’ we love the character and want her to succeed.  We want lovable people to win.

So, find the crab.  Protect the crab.  Flee with the crab.  Use the crab as a foil for expressing inner feelings.  Have the girl say, “I guess dad’s drunk again.”  Or, “Mom was right, but don’t worry.  I’ll get us home.”  We will adore that brave little girl saving her pet, and it will break our hearts when we find it dead.  That crab is the heart of the story.  Please consider giving it a name to make it seem even more real and sympathetic to the reader.

Otherwise, consider being more specific about the parents’ divorce.  Don’t tell us the long backstory, but tweak some bits of the existing dialogue.  For example, instead of the mother saying, “I guess that’ll be more fun than…”  Have her say, “Maybe now that he’s been clean for almost a year.”  Just a couple lines of dialogue can suggest the entire reason for the divorce.  That reason can suggest a reason for the abandoned car.  And the huge battling birds can carry even more emotional weight because they’ll seem to suggest the battling parents and the angry fights from the girl’s vague, suppressed childhood.

I loved the phrase “dropped a kiss on the girl’s head.”  I loved that the only name was the sheriff’s correspondent “Sam.”  I loved that it was ultimately revealed to be a ‘cycle’ story that suggests an infinite series of such killings.

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. October 9, 2012 - 5:50pm

A more proper thank you than my simple twitter blubber - thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to review our stories.

Your feedback is such that suddenly I want to thwack myself in the head for not seeing it sooner - of COURSE she would protect the crab! How did I not see it before?

ALIEN(S) is/are on my list of all-time faves - and your thoughts on how Ripley protects Jonesy (and Newt, in (s)) are absolutely right-on.  

Seriously, I can't believe I didn't see it sooner.

I know we're all so appreciative that you took the time to provide us feedback - unbelievable. Thanks again!