So, since I have some spooky thriller stories, I thought I might post one here.
It is unfinished by comes from a dream…nightmare…hard to describe. Doesn’t seem to fit in any of the 52 Challenges, but…here goes.
Written Jan. 28, 2011
“State of Panek”
A man stood in the middle of the dirt road, legs firmly planted, breath steadily chugging smoke into the frosty night air—one fist spastically clenching and unclenching at his side, the bent rod of a tire iron swung loosely in the other. With the sheen of animal eye-shine beneath thick eyebrows, he scowled at the approaching car as it slowed, headlights revealing him in a sickly yellow glare beneath twilight gloom and overhanging tree cover.
At about twenty feet away, the car, a black Camero with red racing stripes and garish neon plates, braked to a grinding stop. The smoky dust train behind it formed a dimming corona as the stirred caliche particles, reflecting moonlight, slowly drifted earthward. Billows of dust plumed on either side of the car and wafted forward, blanketing the car’s hood and windshield, enveloping the man in the road in pearling fog.
The driver and his female passenger glanced nervously at each other and back ahead, as the man in the road began to stride toward them.
The girl turned her head slightly, keeping one wary eye on the approaching figure.
“Denny, I don’t like this.”
The driver, Denny Jessup, eyes kept forward, briefly considered revving his engine, throwing the gearshift in reverse and fishtailing backward, but he held his ground. Not one to back down first, he smirked and readjusted his sweaty grip on the steering wheel and gearshift.
“Just relax, Carly. Perhaps he’s broke down somewhere.”
“What’s that in his hand?” she asked leaning forward, squinting.
Dappled moonlight glinted off the dull black metal bar in the man’s clinched fist as he steadily approached, closing the distance between them.
Carly, leaned back in her seat, nervously pulling a strand of hair behind her ear, “Denny, there’s something wrong about this guy, let’s go.”
When Denny, made no move, she added, “NOW!”
The man, now ten feet away, nodded to the driver, and crossed against the headlights to the passenger-side of the vehicle.
“What’s he doing?! Denny?!”
The girl reached for the gearshift but Denny caught her hand.
In horror, her eyes met Denny’s and her mouth gaped, shocked.
“Oh, my god! Denny, what are you . . .!?”
The cold night air swiftly entered the car, as did the fisted, gloved hand of the man through the shattered passenger glass. With a firm grip on the girl’s ponytail, he yanked her backward, grabbed her flailing arm, and pulled her through the passenger window, safety glass raking her struggling body as she tried to wrench free. With a loud crack, and a wet burst of blood, the tire iron struck the side of her head and all conscientiousness and fight went out of her. Her limp body crumpled over the car door and slumped onto the dust of the caliche road.
The feral eyes of the man lifted from the girl at his feet and peered in at Denny, as he clenched and unclenched his sweaty palms on the steering wheel. A sheen of sweat silvered his upper lip and his pale face illumined green by the glow of the instruments in the dash.
Fear etched across his face as he trembled at the savagery of what he had just witnessed and had been a reluctant party to. Heart pounding, in short breaths that blossomed in the now cold interior of the car, he shuddered and set his jaw.
“Are we square?” he asked, just above a whisper, eyes not daring to make contact.
“Square,” came the raspy voice of the man at the window, “Thanks for the pig.”
She woke to what smelled like the heavy scent of diesel fuel; confined in a five by eight foot cage, reinforced with welded rod iron and pipe. The side of her head throbbed painfully. Her vision was blurred. And her face was swollen, tender and wet with what she could only imagine was blood. She lay on a thick, coarse blanket and burlap feed sacks, barely dulling the chill she felt in her aching bones. A low rumbling sound, like animals grunting, buzzed in her head. She turned on her stomach and smelled the earthy, fecund scent of mud mixed with raw feces and urine. Beneath the raised aluminum flooring rails, through half-inch-wide gaps she could faintly see a dark, wet gutter of concrete and draining sludge slowly moving towards gray light. Wincing at the odor of the filth below, she groaned and turned on her back. A heat lamp glared above the four by four inch mesh roof of her cage, out of reach, barely emitting enough warmth to keep her shivers down. To her left, something slimy and wet pushed into her arm, and she stiffened. Eyes clearing, with a shudder, she slowly turned her head . . . and screamed.
Cacophonous, echoes of her throaty terror pierced the night air, reverberating off the aluminum walls of her prison, forcing her to cover her head and ears against the terrible sounds that followed. Curled into a fetal position, on the filthy blanket, shivering in pain and terror, she wept uncontrollably praying that this was all just a very bad dream.
The relatively, small farmhouse in the distance seemed odd-shaped as they approached. The closer they came, the more disturbing the sight. It appeared as if the bone-white house was caught in the act of consuming a large mobile home that had long since seen better days. As if enticed into a web, the old road-weary, Fleetwood Pace Arrow had (once upon a time), finally succumbed to the malevolent beckoning of the immobile and envious structure lurking off the beaten path in the dusky backwoods. The back-end of the mobile home sat on cinderblock supports, its tires removed and its barren wheels rusted beyond use. The front-end was buried about ten feet into the corner of the house so it stuck out into the yard at about a thirty-five degree angle. It was obvious that the motor home had once crashed through the load bearing corner of the house at a fairly high-rate of speed and had remained there, and, in fact, been kept prisoner as the resident home-owner merely repaired the edges of the hole around it and incorporated the battered vehicle into its own structure. Tar paper, off-white cinderblock walls and mortar were buttressed and affixed to the once-white, tin walls of the doomed motor home. The remaining portion of the house was old and colored with a patina of orange rust from the leaking roof gutters and a sickly film of grayish green algae and tan dust from the dirt road nearby. It almost seemed ancient, despite the fact that the cinderblock walls and slate gray shingles were clearly building products of the latter twentieth century.
The bathroom was filthy and cold. The floor was bare, sloping concrete with a small calcified, recessed drain in the center. The corner shower area was a mere spigot protruding high up on the wall, a raised tile basin and no walls for even the semblance of privacy. An old industrial mop and wringer bucket sat in the opposite corner, canted on one of its broken casters, with vile brown, oily and stagnant water barely covering the rusted bottom.
A strong odor of ammonia pervaded the room, only slightly vented by a cantilevered 4 by 24 inch window that opened to the outside wall. The interior was bare, cold cinderblock walls, painted off-white like the exterior, and Ryan thought the owner must have gotten a discount and bought the paint in bulk. No imagination was evident, to be sure, and it was as if a sense of the ominous seemed to be the overall effect desired.
By the dirt and rust stained, wall-mounted sink was a small 12 by 20-inch mirrored plate set even with the back of the faucet and screwed to the wall so it could not be moved; too small to see anything more than your hands and the toilet behind you, if you weren’t standing directly in front of it. The mirror was slightly convex, ensuring that anyone attempting to look at their reflection would appear smaller than they actually were.
Ryan wondered if there was something being implied by the mirror or if he was making too much of the pervasive oddity of the place and its occupants.
Ryan pulled out his cell phone and held it up, trying once again to see if there was a signal. The bars were still flat and the LCD display was beginning to dim. He thumbed through the settings menu and disabled the backlight feature, hoping that would add a little to the waning battery life. He clicked the keypad closed and put the phone back in his pocket with a sigh. When he looked up, the man was watching him with a glowering expression.
“Those things are illegal in this state.”
“What state is that?”
The old house reeked with the acrid smell of decay and rot. The weathered clapboards creaked as the winds heaved against them, moaning and whistling across the rough, cracked and warped wood as if slowly grating against an old block of dried cheese. The pier and beam foundation had sagged with age, weary from the burden of time and the weight of the many dark and violent secrets the structure had concealed through the years. The raised porch front and balustrade were dilapidated and the lathed flooring dipped and bowed revealing dark, webbed crevices between the slats and termite-eaten floor beams. Dust swathed every surface with a thin grayish powder. The footpath across the canted porch, bore the dusty signs of scrabbled footprints, signifying that the old house had recent mammalian inhabitants, though none directly related to humankind. Old mounds of tumbleweed collected against the trestles and in the corners of the wide porch; the dried weathered bones of amaranthus and orphaned sage.
The sky was beaten and bruised. Yellow and orange strokes met the red slashes across the horizon and darkened into blue welts overhead, ominous with the threat of the approaching night.
The crazy and insane I can understand. What was most disturbing was the glimpse of the trapped humanity underneath it all. The small child in the shadows, shivering within the belly of the beast.
The snarl of trees defied her—reaching with rough jointed arms, grasping with dead leaved fingers, rustling with her every shuddered step in forward flight—the panicked noises of crackling brush sending out the alarm, dark birds above flapping in response, lifting noisily into startled flight. The rough bark crumbled in her grasp as she sought to steady herself, the hair of their hoary heads, fallen to skirt the sloping floor with mounds of shriveled and decaying scales. With warding hands, she guarded her face against their wooden claws, scratching and tearing her at defenses as she stumbled ahead. Fording through nests of brambles, her clothes snagged, and her heart and labored breaths pounded against the once eerie quiet with each frantic footfall. The man was coming—her hope of slipping away, thwarted by the dense foliage and sloping terrain. He would find her gone in a matter of moments and would find her quickly, thrashing about as she was. As she scrabbled up the hill through the leafy detritus, she knew the furrows and wounds of exposed dark earth where her feet had cut the ground, the traitorous broken limbs that had snapped in her desperate fingers and the strands of snagged vines would eventually lead him directly to her. He would grip her by the hair, brutally backhand her into unconsciousness, and carry her back to her cage in the hog barn.
The beatings would start again, and another pig in a cage next to hers would die. Such horrible piercing shrieks. He would feel this betrayal, and nothing she could say or do now would satiate his rage. Two more cages lie next to the one she had escaped from only moments ago. Two more chances, he had said. Two more days to become human—to become . . . his.
Terror flooded her mind, adrenaline coursed through her muscles as she shuddered at the thoughts of what he would do to her even if she survived. His version of human was not something she could bring herself to imagine.
*staggers in super super late* I’m here!!
Wow, that was a good shortstory. It was intense and left a lot to the readers’ imagination, the imagery for the theme was very vivid and clear but not gratuitous and it had a very punchy pace that kept me riveted until the end. At first I wasn’t sure the descriptions didn’t confuse rather than compliment the narrative but it really kept things in a disorienting crystal clear style and hit the emotional depth very well.
Thanks, Cathy! It was something I was kinda kicking around trying to see what it would be like to write a creepy suspense thriller, but I was distracted from ever writing more on it. Just had some collections of ominous images and a few scenes, but that was it. I was calling it “State of Panek”, with the villain’s last name being “Panek”. It was a kind of weird cross between the movie “Deliverance” and the classic scary stories about a remote rural locale where a man has a psychotic break and becomes paranoid after war, such that he is a sociopath and feels the need to capture and brainwash his victims. [similar to Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” story.] The heroine would be one of his captures that finds a way to escape his nightmare and finds a way to cope with her own insecurities that made her susceptible to this idiot’s control in the first place.
Ooh I would read that! I loved the images like the mirror and the snappy dialogue. It would require a lot of deep characterization to really tap the theme which from the sample is already quite nicely laid. Maintaining intensity throughout would require a lot of emotional variety and range, I think that aligns smoothly with your current writing level and style *…consciously turns off critical analysis mode XD*
Yeah that would be a great novel and it’s pure potential and I think you’d be able to write it really well! <3
Oh, can I ask, are you a planner, plantser or pantser? What’s your method of structuring the plot?
You know, I never really thought about the vocabulary, until I started doing NaNoWriMo back a couple of years ago. I believe I am a panster, but there were some stories that I actually did an outline for…and generally followed. I guess it all depends. Sometimes the story dictates how I come at it. Sometimes it is merely a series of images, kind of like C.S. Lewis talks about when he first saw the image of a faun carrying parcels in a snowy wood by an iron lamp post. An intriguing thought kind of pulls me in and before I know it I am asking questions. I think a powerful way of writing is to start with an interesting image that generates its own questions. I think every scene should answer some questions but lead to more questions, so that the reader is both intrigued but also gets some level of answers to what started them reading the first few lines. A series of incrementing rewards for the continued pursuit of what is going on and why –for the plot questions. And who is this and why should I care–for the character questions. Create intrigue but whet an appetite with hors d’oeuvres to leave the reader hungry enough to get through the entire story until they are vested in discovering the outcomes.
Even though I start as a panster, I revise and edit as a planster.
I do not want to know ahead of what the surprises are, so I need to be in as much discoverer mode as I can to find out what happens. This makes it satisfying to keep the desire of wanting to write throughout the whole process. My subconscious is seeking out the answers as well to the questions and traps and corners I keep putting the characters in to. I think I thrive on the discovery phases, so I am truly working out the issues organically as I go. I believe Steven James has a writing book out called “Story Trumps Structure”.
Check out his style at this link:
Oh same here! I am 100% a panster in the first draft and get more and more planster in the subsequent drafts (I mean ya can’t edit a blank page ;). My mom’s always like ‘Why can’t you write happier stories?’ And I’m like ‘No but my subconscious won’t let me, the Angel of Muse is very strict (oh, have you seen the Phantom of the Opera?).’ Writing really is a spiritual journey and a self-examination for me. I can’t say I like everything it’s brought up but being able to address it now it much better than not XD.
Even when I know where I want the plot to go it still surprises me. My current WIP has so many layers it took me two years just to learn the foundational plot/backstory/political setting (although the backstories really drive the plot) and I’m still startled by new clips of character development and plot twists. Right now I’m narrowing my broad focus to an foundation subplot for the very first part of the story and each chapter I’ve started writing a quick paragraph of my chapter-goals then write scenes as fast as possible and come back and redraft, filling in the details and emotional depth.
*reads through link* Maaan that describes my writing routine pretty well. I start usually 5 am until the lights turn on and then 3 pm until dinner’s ready. Although in the morning I’m working on this story(character development) I’m co-writing with my brother. It’s gonna be a comic-series Prohibition-era steampunk and yeah…then at 3 I work on THAT story *babytalking* my very first darling whose gonna strangle me in my sleep, aren’t you lil’ WIP?
So I guess my best system is systematically having no system XD