Crawl - Halloween 2018

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Inks

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User name: Inks

Crawl



Once, when you were thirteen, one of your friends (Johnathan Brooks, his mother called him Johnny and everyone else called him Jon) double-dared you to climb the grand old oak tree in the center of Ridgeland Park. It was a stupid dare. For one, the oak wasn’t just a tree; it was a memorial, or something, had a plaque in front of it and everything. The city kept it maintained, free of weeds or debris. If you were caught up that tree, your dad would have your ass, and everyone knew it. Jon sure as shit knew it. For two, it was a bitch of a tree; and Jon didn’t just dare you to climb it, but to go to the top.

“I’ll give you twenny bucks if ya make it,” he’d dared with a smug ‘I know you won’t’ grin. Twenty bucks was his weekly allowance; you didn’t get any allowance.

So you had (just to spite him – just to spite stupid smug know-it-all Jon and maybe, a little bit, to spite your dad, too). Kris had given you a leg up, and you’d caught the lowest branch with enough momentum to swing a leg up and over. From there it wasn’t too bad. Mid-September, with the park a kaleidoscope of red and orange and yellow, a blanket of crunchy brown, and the thick old branches of the grand oak (or was it the Grand Oak, like that, you’re not sure now) under your palms, your heart soared.

When you were high enough, you leaned over a Y-shaped branch and looked down at your friends. Their faces were turned up, watching you. “Go, go!” you heard Kris(Kristen Jordan, scrawny, tall, and too tomboyish to hang out with the girls at school anymore) shout. You grinned and climbed higher. You looked out over the park, its woodland trail cutting a path through the dense forest. You’d reach the top, weave your way up using all the biggest and thickest branches to climb, and you’d show Johnathan, and then you(saw something dark)–

You fell. Like an idiot(one zero five one two zero zero zero).

You don’t remember a lot after that – concussion, the doctor had said. You remember the fall, though, hands and feet flailing, grabbing uselessly for a hold. Like a feral thing, like it knew you’d violated it and was pissed off, the oak’s branches had cut like whips. The bark bit your palms and left them bleeding, scraped the knee clean off your brand-new pair of jeans. You hit one or two bigger branches on the way down, probably saved you a broken leg or arm. Then you hit the ground. Then, nothing.

You’d woken up in the fallen leaves, Kris and Jon’s faces swimming over you, eyes wide with fear. You’d been scared. “I don’t feel so,” you’d said, then vomited right there at the root of the grand oak.

You’d woken up in the back of your mom’s car, pitched to one side in your seat. Your head pounded. (Later, after the MRI and results and your dad’s belt and your PS1 broken to pieces on the floor, Kris had asked you, “Why did you jump?”). Pounded(“I fell,” you’d replied, bewildered.). Pounded(“No, no, you jumped,” Jon had said.).

You’d woken up before the MRI. You had to stay awake for it, they said. It might affect the results otherwise, they said. “Try to hang in there, sweetie. We’ll get ice cream later, okay?” your mom’s voice had said over the intercom(she was a liar). So you lay there in the MRI while it clunked and thudded, half-nauseated, half-terrified.

You’d forget it’d ever happened, but you always remember your dad throwing your PlayStation up against the wall. How it shattered on impact. Even years later. And that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t climbed that stupid tree(if you hadn’t fallen). So, in a way, you never forget(if you hadn’t jumped).


--


It’s late.

It’s so fucking late(four one eight).

You were supposed to be out of the office three goddamn hours ago, but Lawrence had made it pretty clear that if you didn’t have the paperwork for your new accodomations request done by tomorrow morning, you wouldn’t have a job tomorrow morning. You’d fucking let him fire you, honestly – he’d be shooting himself in the foot – but your last round of interviews went like shit and you can’t afford even a week without a salary. He knows that, the asshole.

Usually, after work, you grab coffee at the Starbucks on Fifth and Main, change in their shitty public restroom, and make your way to Ridgeland for a run. Jogging helps to clear your head, so you aren’t thinking about work when you get home. It’s nearly seven, though, and the sunlight slanting through the office blinds is deep orange. By the time you get to the park, it’ll be dark, and like hell are you jogging the nature trail at night. You’ll have to skip the run, tonight, and that pisses you off more.

Once you’ve emailed the RLOA paperwork to Steven fucking Lawrence(the prick), you get the hell out of the office as fast as your feet can carry you. Your workout duffle bag sits there in the back of your poor, beat-up old Sunfire (still hanging in there, though, what a trooper). You frown at it, the setting sun hot against your back.

Whatever, you tell yourself. Hot as hell out today anyway. Why would I wanna run in this shit? And it’s true enough to soothe your temper. Wasn’t September the start of fall? Shouldn’t it be getting cooler by now?

Fuck it. You get in the car, convince it to start up, and head home. Well. You still stop for Starbucks; the day Steven Lawrence stops you from getting your daily double-shot of espresso will be the day you quit, and to hell with what comes next. While you sit in the drive-thru line, you cut the radio on and thumb through your preset stations. Advertisement. Advertisement. Bullshit weather update(“-are saying it’s gonna be the worst heatwave in fifty years!”). Advertisement. You cut the radio off.

The young man at the window reads out your total with a distracted smile. He takes your cash(you only ever pay for indulgences with cash, helps keep you on budget) and turns to make some snarky comment over his shoulder. The girl back there, running a blender, grins at him. The kid hands you your change, hands you your drink, and then the window shuts in your face.

You sip at your coffee as you pull out, and it burns the shit out of your tongue(of course it fucking does, you idiot). God, you just want to get home.



--



You wake up in fallen leaves(ten).

…th’ fuck…? You think, blearily, still half-asleep. You sit up. There’s dampness under your palms, seeping into the seat of your pants(you don’t sleep in pants, hate how the legs bunch up at your calves), and so you stand, stumbling a bit.

It’s dark as hell, and it looks like you were sleeping in a goddamn forest. What the fuck? As you look around, you realize the only reason you can see at all is a nearby lamppost. The old-fashioned kind, curved at the top, the bulb encased in a cage of metal and glass. It casts a dingy orange light. Staring at the lamppost, you suddenly know exactly where you are. You’re in the Ridgeland Park. Actually, you’re on the Ridgeland Park nature trail. You shiver and notice for the first time how fucking cold it is.

You look down at yourself(distantly, your head aches). You’re dressed in your old oversized hoodie, one of your nondescript grey undershirts, jeans, and the old hiking boots you never wear. It’s not what you wore to bed.

You’re dreaming(you swallow). You’re dreaming, right? You’ve never had a lucid dream in your life, but that’s what this is, has to be. There’s literally no other explanation. You don’t sleepwalk, you sure as shit didn’t fall asleep out here. Hell, the last thing you remember is watching some ‘Best of America’s Got Talent’ videos on the couch, swaddled in your favorite fur-lined blanket. Must have nodded off and—

A shriek pierces the silence, and your heart rate skyrockets. What the fuck?! you think again. You turn in a circle, there in the lamplight, heart pounding. You don’t see shit, though. Just…fucking…trees and leaves. The bare branches look eerie in the dull light. “…hello?” you try. You’re not sure why, maybe just to hear your own voice. The shriek hadn’t sounded human – one of those screech owls, maybe. You’ve never heard one before, but that’s probably…that’s probably what it was(nine).

Now you’re scared. Can you have lucid nightmares? Weren’t you supposed to be able to control your dreams when you knew you were asleep?

You take a step forward, and kick something with the toe of your boot. It makes a dull, metallic tang. You look down, and there, half-buried in the rotting autumn leaves, is a…

…what is it?

You bend down(your head hurts) and pick it up. It’s a…scythe? No, that’s not right. Scythes have long handles, big blades. This is a

“Varför hoppade du?”

You throw out a hand with a short shout. You swing, and miss, because nothing is there, and land on your ass in the leaves. You stare, bug-eyed, at the forest’s bare trees, all their creeping, crawling branches bearing down on you. You heard it. You heard it. You don’t know what you heard, but...

Your stomach twists. Shit, you think. Shit. Shit. Shit. You hurry out of the leaves, and it’s only once you’re on the densely-packed dirt of the walking trail that you realize the sickle in your hand. You must have picked it up. Before the voice. You start to walk, quickly as you dare, heart pounding in your ears(eight).

When you stop, you’re not sure why. Numb with fear, it takes your brain a moment to fully register what you see. There, ahead on the path, is a figure. You can’t make out any features, you’re too far away. You’re dreaming. You’re fucking dreaming.

“Hello?” you call. Your voice comes out as a raspy whisper instead. You swallow, try again. “H…Hey! Hello?”

For a moment, no response. You’re warring with yourself, deciding if you should turn around or keep going, when the figure moves. At this distance, you can just barely make out its head turning your way, slowly. Then its shoulders follow, twitching, jerking along. Once it’s turned, though, it doesn’t stop. Its head, shoulders, keep jerking, spastically. Then the sound reaches you – it’s like an exhalation, like a sigh, but it keeps on going. Going. Going. Louder. Louder. Your skin prickles with goosebumps.

One spasming, twitching movement at a time, it begins to move towards you(seven).

And you turn and run. You don’t even think about it; the panic hits too hard. Heart hammering, you sprint as fast as your legs can carry you – and you would have kept going too, probably until your legs or heart gave out, but you see the bodies.

You slow to a stop, legs shaking with exertion, sweat beading in your hairline and in your palms. It’s like a Halloween haunted house. Hanging high from the branches over the trail are at least a dozen hanged bodies – that you can see. Illuminated in a nearby lamp’s glow, you can make out the bodies, heads drooping sharply to one side, nooses cinched right around their necks, arms and legs dangling limp.

You open your mouth, but no sound comes out. Your throat feels thick. Like something’s lodged in it(six).

God please let me wake up, I want to wake up.

You stand there, paralyzed. You can hear them. You can hear them. Like the figure behind you, the corpses in the trees make a sound like sighing, except there’s an ugly gurgle behind it, the sound of throats straining against rope.

You take a step back, and this time, it’s in your ear. “hhhh-”

You scream, and this time there’s a blade in your hand as you swing your arm around.

It buries itself in the chest of the figure standing behind you(the trees creak). Up close, you can see their features. They don’t have any. They’re shrouded in white cloth, darkened pockets where their eyes, mouths, nose should be. Their limbs look like they’ve been broken a dozen times, kinked five times too many, and in all the wrong directions.

The sickle is still in your hand, still in the figure’s chest. It leaks something like blood, but black. Brackish(you think of coffee grounds, tar in a smoker’s lungs). You pull the sickle free, trembling. It makes a nasty, sucking sound on the way out, and the figure – creature – collapses. It spasms on the ground, twitching. Still exhaling that long, breathless moan. You can see its mouth moving behind the cloth, opening, closing, like a fish. You stand over it until it stops(five).

“Warum bist du gesprungen?”

You turn. The hanged bodies shudder in their trees, setting the branches swaying. Their heads jitter and jerk, you can see their fingers clutching at the air. Some of the trees creak under the stress. Black drips from the sickle in thick, goopy strands. Their straining voices overlap, a hundred different languages, you don’t fucking understand-

“Pam wnaethoch chi neidio?”
“Dlaczego skoczyłeś?”
„Por que você pulou?”


“Stop,” you say. “Stop. Stop!”

The forest is silent, and the bodies watch you. Shaking all over, you start to walk again. You pass under the hanging bodies, hear the crunch of grinding bone as their heads roll to follow you(four).

This isn’t real, why are you so scared, it isn’t REAL. Wake up, wake up, please just…

There’s an ugly, slithering sound, and then there’s something around your neck. You scream, until it cinches tight and cuts the sound off. You claw at it with your free hand; your other goes up, slicing wildly with the sickle’s blade. There’s a body above you, the head rolled down, chin on its chest, like it’s watching you. Your sickle hacks into something, something that oozes black down your arm and drip on your upturned face, and you realize it’s part of the body – some shrouded appendage strangling you. It jerks, twitches, and hauls you off the ground. Your feet kick, and it’s sheer adrenaline that keeps you chopping at the appendage wrapped around your neck. You swing. Again, again, again. The grip on your neck goes slack, clutching weakly now. Again. Again(three).

It drops you. You hit the ground, suck in a gasping, wheezing breath, and the forest rumbles with the force of a distant roar. It’s loud enough that it constricts your chest, loud enough that it hurts, even when you press your palms to your ears. You curl there on the ground, shaking, until the sound stops. You stay there a bit longer, too. You don’t want to move. Aren’t sure you can.

“Why did you jump?”

You know the voice right away. You look up.

“K…Kris?” Your throat hurts. “Kristen?”

You haven’t seen Kristen Jordan since high school graduation. She lives in St. Louis now, happily-married with a kid and everything(you don’t talk, but you follow each other on Facebook). But here she is now, hanging from a tree in Ridgeland Park, head tilted sharply to one side(two). She’s wearing a dress over spandex black tights and a pair of brown ankle boots. Her eyes are milky, glazed, and aren’t looking at you.

“Why did you jump?” her voice asks. Her body jerks and shudders, legs kicking like the body’s touched a live wire.

“…W…what?”

“Why did you jump?”

“I didn’t,” you say, before you even remember what you’re talking about.

“Why did you jump?”

“I didn’t.” More insistently this time. “I fell.”

“Why did you jump?”

“Kris-”

“Why did you jump?”

“Stop. I-”

“Why did you jump?”

“I didn’t, I didn’t, I-”

“Why did you jump.”

A feeling of trepidation floods you. You’ve never had panic attacks in your life, but you have one now(one).

You have to leave. You have to leave, or you’re going to die. It’s all you can think. You don’t know why. The bodies overhead jerk and twitch and breathe their long, endless breaths, and you start to run again.

But.

You

Can’t.

Instead, you drop the sickle. It hits the ground with a dull sound. Then you start walking(you have to go). You walk for a while, passing beneath the hanging feet of a hundred bodies(you have to wake up). You stay on the path. You feel like you’re going to be sick, but the feeling stays in your stomach, churning(why can’t you stop).

You walk, and eventually there’s a long length of rope in a neat coil at the base of a tree. There’s no body hanging from this one’s branches yet.

So you throw the rope over one shoulder and start to climb. And that’s when you realize.

Stop, you think. Stop, please. Your palms scrape against the bark; you remember the sensation. I didn’t mean to see it! Your head pounds like it did back then. Your knee feels raw, like it might be bleeding. It was when you were thirteen. You climb higher and higher, until the boughs give under your weight, until you can feel the sway of the tree in the wind.

You sidle out on a branch, then shrug the rope from your shoulder. You loop it around the branch at one end, and tie a knot. It’s a sturdier knot then anything you could make. Please, I don’t want to – I didn’t mean, I didn’t mean to see you, I was just a kid! The wind up here is cold. It cuts through your hoodie, nearly blows the hood from your head. You begin working on the other end of the rope. You don’t know how to tie a noose, but you make one. You are shaking. You can’t hear, can’t hear the breathing anymore, if it’s still there, not over the sound of your heartbeat. Please, please – I don’t want to die, please,

You put the noose around your neck. Pull it tight.

Don’t make me, you beg. Tears prick at the corners of your eyes. Please don’t make me, please don’t-
 
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K3

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My Rating: 8.5 / 10
Quick Impressions: A gripping story of non-sequitur madness that's only really held back by a lack of clarity and an over-abundance of stylistic work.

The Good:
+ The dream-like state of things once the passage of time has been established adds wonderfully to the atmosphere of the story.
+ A great mix of personal attachment and outsider perspective brought on by 1st-person perspective contrasted against unknowable surroundings and events.
+ The persisting unknowing nature of the protagonist got me very interested. It feels like the setting itself is against them, fitting for your Silent Hill inspirations.
+ The conveyance of physical details throughout keeps the story strangely grounded through its bizarre and abstract developments, I appreciate the touch of realism you bring to your horror.
+ The slight amount of background on our protagonist gives enough of an impression on the life they've lived and the events that bring them to where the story picks up are just enough to satisfy without intruding into the necessary action of the plot.
+ Stream-of-consciousness can be difficult to balance in traditional prose, but you did a fantastic job of mixing the very stop-and-start nature of it with the developing plot.
+ After a few rereads, the overall Silent Hill tone of the piece really sets it apart from the others submitted. I can feel the PT and Silent Hill 1/2 vibes radiating off the way story elements are introduced and repeated at key moments.
+ It doesn't come through entirely, but there's a very clear implication of something deeply unsettled or troubled in the protagonist's mind, and I almost wish there'd been a little more time spent with them before things kick up, but you do well enough in pushing that sort of 'unreliable narrator' that's so classic in horror literature.

The Bad:
- A large amount of parenthetical prose, some abrupt page breaks, and repetitious dialogue all seriously damage the pacing the piece, making it feel rushed in places and disjointed in others. It adds to the non-sequitur feel of the story in some parts, but otherwise it jarred me from what I was reading.

Final Thoughts: For being relatively middling in length for the acceptable word count in this contest, Crawl really stays true to its tight scope of getting to the heart of what you wanted to write. It's a great piece that sadly doesn't quite measure up to a 10. It punches above its weight for sure, and you've navigated a few concepts in this contest that I don't think anyone else was brave or willing enough to explore at length. If I had any real lasting criticism to give on this, it would be to take your time a bit more next time. The lateness of this submission shines in its pacing and styling, and I can't help but feel I might've given this a 10 had there been a bit more time spent with it before submission.
 
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Mystydjinn

[Insert rimshot]
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Understanding of the Premise: A stupid child is excessively punished for trying to make 20 bucks.
Rating: 10/10 (Fuck, the skeleton's already inside me)

Good shit. I couldn't fall asleep.

Your and Will's pieces were rather close here and had somewhat similar problems with immersion.

Yours kept breaking immersion not with unnecessary info per say, but with your parentheses. The information that most of your parentheticals carried was relatively valuable to the story since they were mostly descriptions of the surroundings or characters, but the way they were presented broke immersion because they directly broke the stream of events in a non-conducive way.

I say non-conducive because I feel like the intentional breaks outside of your parentheticals worked well to make the narrator sound disjointed in conjunction with your solid display of emotion here. Using second person helped you out quite a bit in that respect as well. Because I was able to be directly connected to the story rather than it be told to me by a narrator, you got my mind to tie myself to everything concerning that happened here, and it felt like it was happening to me without a middle man.

This was exceptionally useful when the protagonist looses control of their body and is forced to hang themselves. I had to walk around for a bit after that.

The parentheticals functioned like gas bubbles when you drink a soda, so while I read this I was stuck "burping" out of your story for minimal information. Your themes were all focused though and everything written here flowed into one consistent plot, so I didn't get stuck coughing to figure out what was going on.

Breaking up the parentheticals and just injecting the information from them naturally into the story would have done more to keep breaks in immersion down, but you scared me regardless of them so bone me. Enjoy your numbers.
 

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