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Joanna Parypinski's picture

The Pickwick Horror

By Joanna Parypinski in Scare Us

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When an old, small-town theater is threatened by a thunderstorm, Ashley, the concession stand worker, is dismayed to discover a sewage flood in the basement. But there's something else in the dirty water: dredged up from some deep, foreign part of the sewer is Park Ridge's dark little secret, something bred in the town's underground landfill and hungry for flesh...


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 - 11:53pm

I especially liked the protagonist's feeling that she was in a monster movie, or even watching a monster movie but from the wrong side of the screen. I do think she should have been out those doors and into the storm a lot sooner, and poor Bill with her, but I guess the genre demands that she not do that.

Bev Phillips Parypinski's picture
Bev Phillips Pa... July 6, 2012 - 7:54am

I really enjoyed this story. Very well written and creepy!


Penh's picture
Penh July 7, 2012 - 8:26am

Very good work! I liked the way worms kept appearing before the big reveal. The ending worked well, too.

Chad Stroup's picture
Chad Stroup from San Diego is reading Primal Screamer by Nick Blinko July 7, 2012 - 11:29am

Overall a well done piece here. The setting details are solid, the dialogue generally authentic. You have a real knack for gruesome details as well. There were times where the descriptions were so disgusting (in a good way, naturally) that I could really relate to the sickening feelings that Ashely was experiencing.

There are also a few moments of brilliant imagery. The first that comes to mind is: "Another camera-flash of lightning splashed into the lobby for a brief moment, illuminating the shadows and casting gaunt skulls onto the faces of the exiting patrons." Very poetic. When you include passages like this, your writing really shines.

The only suggestion I might offer for a possible revision would perhaps be a different, more unique title. I appreciate that it's likely a nod to Lovecraft, but I think you could come up with something that stands out more and still represents the story well.

Good job...I look forward to checking out more of your work.

Joanna Parypinski's picture
Joanna Parypinski from Park Ridge, IL July 7, 2012 - 4:32pm

Thanks for the detailed comments! I'm glad some of the gross-out stuff worked. I tend to skew more towards atmospheric horror, but sometimes it's fun to pull out the nasty.

I agree about the title. It was indeed a bit of a nod to Lovecraft, but I couldn't come up with anything better before I posted it, so it stuck. I liked the idea of having Pickwick in the title for some reason... I think because it's a cool-sounding name. Any suggestions for a better title?

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things July 8, 2012 - 10:34am

I like the title.

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. July 7, 2012 - 6:30pm


Overall I thought this was very well done. One line that really stood out: "deadly bits of glitter hiding in the rain-soaked grass."  Your imagery is great.

That said, I think Ashley and Bill would have high-tailed it out of there MUCH earlier...I almost need a reason for them to stay that's stronger than the rain. I'd face a storm over a bunch of giant-worm-creature-things any day. Just something to think about if you keep working on this particular story.

But still. Great writing, totally creepy - congrats.

Joanna Parypinski's picture
Joanna Parypinski from Park Ridge, IL July 9, 2012 - 10:48am

Thanks! I'll definitely keep that in mind if I do another draft of this. I know I would have been out of there in a second, too. I was going to have it all happen right there outside the bathroom door, but after I went to see a movie at the Pickwick I realized there is no bathroom door, just an opening... so I threw them into the main theater at the last minute.

Marc Ferris's picture
Marc Ferris from Carmel, California is reading Animal Attraction by Anna David July 8, 2012 - 9:34pm

Crap and worms. Two great things that go great together!

I agree with all of the stuff posted already. The restroom scene is vivid and effecttive. I like Ashley. I like the dialouge .

I worked in a movie theater and all the details (free passes for another movie, restroom checks, etc) are spot on.

Joanna Parypinski's picture
Joanna Parypinski from Park Ridge, IL July 9, 2012 - 10:45am

Oh, good! I always like when things feel authentic. I've never worked in a theater before, so I was just hoping it would seem realistic (aside from, you know, the worm-monster from the sewer...). Thanks!

SoulBoulder's picture
SoulBoulder from Chicago is reading The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotions July 9, 2012 - 11:51am

Joanna, I think this is a solid plot and the description is vivid. I've always enjoyed stories that brought horror into normal, everyday places. I also liked where you were going with the reverse universes of the people in the theatre being trapped in the movie. It gave a more existential horror going beyond the gore and guts. The title doesn' t bother me...but a title is a title, the story is the meat.

  As a fellow Chicagoan, does this theatre represent a real place? Because the way you describe it, it's reminiscent of many places in Chicago.

Joanna Parypinski's picture
Joanna Parypinski from Park Ridge, IL July 10, 2012 - 8:15am

Thank you! I really appreciate that. I always love having deeper ideas behind plain old gore. Yes, the Pickwick Theater is an actual place in Park Ridge. It's our historic landmark and perhaps the one thing that gives Park Ridge any kind of character other than boring.

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers July 10, 2012 - 4:09pm

Wow, what a gruesome story. Vivid descriptions, gore and gross out scenes. Tension increasing at every turn. Great job. 

Couple of tidbit things I noticed, and only because people have called me out on this so many times before when I see it now I have to make mention of it. Your dialogue is tight and very believable, but some of the tags you used took me slightly out of the story, and in a story like this, the last thing you want is for the reader to come out from the ether.

One tag that you used contantly was 'said Bill' or 'said _____'. You did the right thing by using the word said, but you have the order wrong. Swap 'Bill' for 'he' and now it reads 'said he', which, if you were writing this during the middle ages, would be proper, but not today. Just change the order to 'Bill said' or 'Ashley said' or whoever, and it'll read better.

The other tiny thing is using words other than 'said' to tag dialogue, like 'grumbled' or 'snapped'. Okay, I'll let the 'snapped' one stay, since it worked, but it's really hard to grumble words. 'Said' works because it's invisible; it tags whoever is speaking and lets the words they say do their job. 

Other than that, GREAT story. You should really try to sub this one out somewhere because it rocks. 



Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer July 12, 2012 - 8:53am

I liked the story. It was sort of old school in a way. There were a couple of longer sentences that felt awkward to me, but I can be a bit harsh on long sentences, sometimes.

There were two parts that didn't ring true to me. This chick just got shit all over her and was completely disgusted by it, but doesn't make much of an attempt to actually get it off. In fact, after the initial shock, she seems to go about her business, despite it.

The other was the rain. The rain is cited as the reason she doesn't leave the theater, but it doesn't seem to stop all the patrons from leaving. Even though the skull thing is a cool image, I would suggest either making the theater empty, or giving her a different motivation for staying.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. July 12, 2012 - 2:57pm

The darkness in this story seems to be a little inconsistent.  Sometimes Ashley can see everything (when she was blind a moment before).  Sometimes she can't see anything.  An emergency lighting system or something like that might explain it, especially if it keeps blinking off (bringing more threat of darkness) or if it only illuminates some parts of the huge theater.

There are 50ish uses of 'as' in the story. 

The ball of worms reminds me of the Rat King, which is great.  I love the idea of a bunch of creatures being hive-minded and forming a disgusting monster.  You could get up closer with one of the worms, though.  Probably when she squishes one.  Show the segmented bodies and the way they crawl and stuff like that.  These are fast moving worms, so maybe they slither like a snake instead of like worms.

Other than that, the biggest thing I noticed missing were the 'on the body' sensations (Chuck Palahniuk's essay #3).  All of feelings are told without me knowing how Ashley's body responds to the fear and disgust.  Lots of comments in the LbL.

renwhin's picture
renwhin from Ohio is reading Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson July 14, 2012 - 7:40pm

I love this story, start to finish. It is eerie with just the right amount of gore; I woke up this morning still thinking about it.

I do have to disagree with some other comments.  I think that being an employee of the movie theater is a big factor in staying as long as she does.  I’ve stuck out a few unusual events at past jobs because I feel a loyalty to the people who have been giving me a pay check on a regular basis. Perhaps in the beginning it would be better to describe her dedication to her job; other teenagers might want to be out, but the theater is her place of choice on a Friday night.

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland July 21, 2012 - 1:33pm

Now i have two favorites. :) I love the line "We're on the wrong side of the screen" excelent. Of the five storries i've read so far this one has frightened me most. I'm also particularly fond of the title because i live about 90 miles from a pickwick lake that i frequent. I might be sceptacle of the water next time i go back. Great job. 

Kyle Cortright's picture
Kyle Cortright from Allentown, PA is reading The Crossing August 1, 2012 - 10:45am

I think the combination of an old school movie theatre with a Lovecraft reference makes this a winner.

In all seriousness, I really enjoyed the premise.  The characters are convincing, well established for a short story, and the dialogue works, it has rhythm.

What I enjoy most is the actual "monster."  I believe someone referenced it above, but the hive mind idea is what really takes it from an already spooky setup into a much more visceral sense of horror.  It's raining so these worms are E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E, and once it is revealed what they exactly do, it instills that sense that each character is only one misguided step away from being (i apologize for the terrible pun) worm food.

Overall, it was great.  'nuff said.

MaSmylie's picture
MaSmylie from London, England is reading Haunted August 4, 2012 - 2:48pm

Great title. Very schlocky 'B' movie-esque, and i mean that in a wholly complimentary fashion.

Sancho LeStache's picture
Sancho LeStache from El Paso is reading Hunger August 15, 2012 - 4:07pm

Very very cool. I f***ing love horror that takes place in a theater. It pretty much always works (Popcorn, Demons, etc.), and the B-movie feel of the whole thing went along perfectly with the setting and grotesque monster. Loved it.

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing September 4, 2012 - 11:21am

“The Pickwick Horror,” by Joanna Parypinski
Review by Ed Sikov

If someone forced me to name three things that disgust me most in the material world, I would have to answer worms, decomposing human bodies, and shit. As though she had direct access to my subconscious – no, that’s wrong; they’re all too conscious - Joanna Parypinski creeped me out thoroughly with her story “The Pickwick Horror.” With a most effective mix of casual everyday dialogue and delightfully overwrought Victorian mood and description, Parypinski creates in a few short pages a parallel world in which rainstorms really do signal sinister sewage backups, and the living have very good reason to avoid basements. In the memoirs class I taught here at LitReactor a few months ago, one of my students wrote a wonderful true story about the time his sister and he cleaned out a basement full of cat shit. The final draft was so good I gagged. Joanna Parypinski made me gag, too. I’m beginning to think the mark of a truly good short story is how successfully the writer induces the reader to vomit. Well done, Ms. Parypinski! Well done!

Holiday Reinhorn's picture
Holiday Reinhorn from Portland, Oregon by way of: Japan, Guam, The Philippines, New York City and now, Los Angeles is reading Hermine by Maria Beig September 20, 2012 - 10:25am

"The Pickwick Horror" by Joanna Parypinski

Review by Holiday Reinhorn

As somebody who just had a septic tank overflow last winter in a rainstorm--this story had me at "hello."  What comes "up and out of there" is an inspired idea for both a creature and a "dark secret," and the author did a fantastic job with the atmospherics from the first sentence forward.   Congrats!

What was particularly strong for me was the tone--mixing melodrama with contemporary flourishes and humor in a really entertaining way -- where the Phantom of the Opera meets the Mall of America if you will.   There was some really nice descriptive language with all those worms and the "dirty glitter," too.

High points were the long horrible and protracted death of the co-worker under the door, (I love crunching bones)  the time taken in the empty dark places where the narrator is all alone where she obviously shouldn't be (can never get enough of that) and finally the ending sentence where the narrator and the night, simply disappear.   Looking forward to what's next, Joanna!    xxx HR