This is a story I wrote more than five years ago. It’s bad. Probably one of the worst I’ve ever written. It was to be the first in a collection under the title A Certain Paranormal Bouquet, which I still have full intentions of putting together, so don’t steal that title. It’s a good title. 50 points if you can tell me where it’s taken from.
I’ll tell you five (I’m sure there are plenty more) of the reasons why this story is no good down at the bottom.
Here’s one of the worst stories I’ve ever written, because bad writing is important.
Through the Floorboards
The door to the basement was never locked, see?
And I’m almost certain that’s how they got in. It’s a separate entrance, twenty or so feet from the patio. Twelve solid concrete steps down into an abyss that hides a sturdy oak door. We used to keep the empty wine bottles down there, but that came to a pretty sudden halt when my wife got pregnant. I would sneak a bottle every once in a while, when she fell asleep early and I needed to unwind, but my tolerance for alcohol had grown so low that one bottle would have me pretty well-done. There could have been a swarm of bees battling a crew of coked out construction workers down there and I’d be likely to shrug my shoulders and forget about it by morning.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that they were living down there for weeks, or hell, even months before they decided to surface. If it wasn’t such a crazy cluster fuck of a day, the cracks forming in the floor boards would have caught my eye. But of course, as these things happen, my wife’s water broke at precisely 6:18AM. As luck would have it, the night prior was one of the evenings I decided to take down a bottle of Cabernet Sauv-whatever all on my own. So, not only was I running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I was also throbbing gently all over with a minor hangover.
Several hours later, when I finally took a seat to collect myself after being removed from the hospital room by one of the nurses for “causing a scene”, I noticed something that brought back a dreamlike memory. Blood was staining the tip of my left foots white canvas sneaker. When I slipped it off the pain began to pulse up my leg and I noticed my sock was quite drenched in blood. The cause of the injury came back to mind immediately. As I was rushing back and forth through the kitchen looking for my car keys, I stubbed my toe hard on what should have been a smooth piece of hardwood flooring. A crack had formed, and a rough edge had lifted up. That had been the root of this bleeding toe problem.
But what had been the root of the cracked floorboard problem?
We spent a few days in the hospital after our little Justin was born. Complications with the pregnancy; he came out completely silent, which is never a good thing when it comes to babies. So, I completely forgot about everything else. All I could really do was sit in a chair beside Sarah’s hospital bed and hold her hand and try to be hopeful. Our lives had gone to both of the absolute ends of the happiness scale. The child we’d been hoping for for years came in to our lives, and we were at that moment the two happiest people in the world. Then the threat of him being taken immediately away from us brought us to the other side of the spectrum. When he was rushed away by the nurses in silence, I think I can speak for both of us in saying we wanted to die.
Death is a funny thing to feel desire for. Even if it was offered, most who think they want it wouldn’t accept. But I sincerely think that if the black cloak walked in at that moment I would have taken his hand without a second thought. I’d never felt that way before and I haven’t felt that way since. I thank god for that. I’ve never been so scared.
Not even when they came through the floor.
The way I see it, we had two choices: get out of our house at any cost, or fight and die for our home. The cost of escape turned out to be much greater than I ever could have hoped.
Bringing home our sweet little boy was the most joyous experience I can recollect. Better than Christmas as a child or New Years as a teen. He brought so much light in to our lives; even more than I assume most parents feel, when we learned that he would survive.
Several hours after Justin’s birth, we were finally given the news that in my wife’s womb he had managed to swallow an impressive amount of amniotic fluid. He came in to this world already choking to death. They had managed to clear out the fluid from his lungs, however, and he was screaming his cute little butt off at that moment.
“if you listen closely, you can probably hear him all the way from peeds at this very second,” I remember the nurse saying.
And we could. His little battle cries echoed through the halls, letting everyone know that he made it and he wasn’t going down without a fight.
They would be monitoring him very closely for the night, but we could see our son in the morning. Who ever graced us with this incredible luck, I swore I’d kiss their face one day.
After sharing the wonderful news, the nurse pointed out my long-forgotten toe injury and asked if she could take a look at it. I allowed it, figuring we were already in the hospital and wouldn’t be checking out any time soon. As soon as the sock came off and I saw the extent of the damage my stomach turned, and pain flooded through my nervous system.
“We’ll need to do something about this,” she told me, with only a hint of concern on her face.
I just nodded. Not a care in the world, other than for the fact that my son was alive and well.
She returned with another nurse, and together she and he stitched me up quickly and applied an antibiotic ointment which they informed me would have to be reapplied twice a day.
“I know it will be hard to remember, what with a newborn baby in the house,” he started, “but it’s very important to avoid infections!” she finished. They looked at one another and smiled before walking out the door together. It was like something out of a corny 90s Sitcom. Eerily pleasant.
* * *
We got Justin home at 9:15PM on a Thursday and immediately took him to bed. Perhaps the only thing I’ve ever gotten done on time was setting up his crib in our bedroom. It would seem he’d gotten all of his crying done at the hospital, because when we lay him down he was quiet as a church mouse. He just looked up and out at the world that is our bedroom in absolute fascination. Everything was beautiful and new in his eyes, and it was already clear he would have an appreciation for life that neither me nor my wife had ever really managed to find. In his first day of living he’d already been through more than some people will until they meet their demise. If that’s not a character builder, then I don’t know what is.
We didn’t leave that room for nearly eighteen hours, outside of me stumbling to the front door to accept a great big brown paper bag filled with lo mein and dry garlic ribs. I don’t think I even said a word to the delivery man, just handed over a fistful of cash and grunted a few times. My eyes were closed the majority of the time. He either got an absurdly large tip or I short-changed him, I’m sure.
We slept and ate and slept again until our bodies were stiff from immobility. Intermittently my wife would get up and walk around the room with the baby bouncing gleefully at her chest, or I would change his diaper when his quiet cries woke me up, but mostly we all just slept. I think we needed it.
By the weekend we had recuperated the energy to show Justin around the house. It was at this time that we realized the extent of the damage to our floor, and I remembered to put ointment on my toe. A massive crack ran across our kitchen floor. It spanned over the width of six hardwood panels. We could see clearly in to the basement, and, as a matter of fact, if my wife would have taken one more step, her and the baby would have fallen right through.
We could only stop and look at each other.
“Wuh… where did this come from?” She asked me.
I just lifted my hands in the air.
“Earth…quake…?” I said tentatively.
But there hadn’t been an earthquake. We both knew that. I was the only one that knew that crack had grown from a small split in the floor to this gigantic crevasse over only a few days. But how?
“I think you should go stay at your mom’s. This isn’t safe for Justin. This isn’t safe for anybody,” I said.
“You’re not coming?” She asked, frightened.
“I have to look in to getting this fixed. The sooner it’s fixed the sooner we can come home,” I said.
I don’t know a thing about handy work. I’m more of a ‘pay somebody else ridiculous sums of money to do it for you’ kind of guy.
I smiled at my wife.
“Come on, let’s get you two packed and ready to go,” I rubbed her shoulder, trying to sooth her. Together we turned back towards our bedroom, looking in each other’s eyes in a way only new parents know.
But something was wrong. Something in her eyes, it wasn’t that fresh revitalized love that was there only a second ago. No, it was the blight of fear, spreading over her like napalm. Her entire body dropped before I could open my mouth to ask what was wrong.
Something had wrapped its twisted fingers around her ankle and was pulling her through the crack in our kitchen floor.
When she dropped, baby Justin flew out of her arms like a superhero. That innocent smile still glowing on his face, it was nearly enough to make me burst out in laughter. I caught our child and for the briefest of moments forgot that something had my wife by the ankle, dragging her through the floor.
She had already been swallowed to the waist by the deep dark of our basement. Dozens of disturbingly long grey fingers wrapped around any inch of her body they could reach. I screamed out for help, at the very least for somebody else to witness what I was seeing so I could know I’m not insane. Hundreds of cuts spread over her body from dirty, jagged fingernails, her clothes were torn to shreds and falling from her body.
Her screams are the part I’ll never forgot. She screamed my name. She screamed Justin’s name. She screamed for help.
But I didn’t give it to her. I’m so torn between never forgiving myself and being overjoyed with how I decided to react. I had to protect baby Justin. He had become priority number one.
I looked once more in to the love of my life’s eyes, trying to tell her how much I loved her while knowing that if I said it out loud it would only hurt everybody more. Those horrible grey hands made their final wrap around her face, pulling her finally and completely down through the floorboards.
A second is all I took to say goodbye before running full tilt to the front door and out in to the streets. I wanted to drop to my knees and scream at the sky and hope somebody would hear what happened. But I knew I couldn’t.
Even then, the instant I got out the door, I began to question what I saw. If anybody heard my story, Justin would be immediately taken from me and I would be placed under psychiatric evaluation. What I saw was unbelievable, but I had to believe it. She had disappeared right in front of me, taken by some unimaginable grey figure. Or maybe figures. I don’t know.
The only option I had was to run, and I’ve been running ever since. Little Justin and I, on the road. Whether the running helps me to escape my guilt, I couldn’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t dare to stop.
Going home is so far out of the question that I don’t give it a thought any more. They could still be there. Or even worse, she could still be there barely clinging to life but not permitted to die.
Watch for cracks in the floor. Keep your doors locked. Your basement could be their next home.
Yikes. This is a bit painful to post.
So, just why is this story so bad? Well:
1) There’s no character development. As a reader, I don’t give half a damn about the narrator, or his wife, or their stupid baby. I don’t care what happens to them, so when bad things happen it doesn’t seem so bad.
2) It does not benefit from a first-person perspective. The setting and the characters would have been better off and developed far more easily with a third person narrative.
3) The setting is virtually non-existant. Do you know where we are? No! Do you like it? Not one bit! The concrete steps leading down to the sturdy oak door is the most fleshed out part of the world, and it’s ultimately unimportant.
4) Dialogue is weak and awkward. People don’t talk like that. Seriously, read some of that dialogue out loud. It’s bad.
5). The Ending. It’s abrupt, and while that can be good, it simply doesn’t work here. There isn’t time given to immerse yourself in the story, so when it’s over there’s no reason to care. An ending should matter. This one does not. Also, it addresses the reader. More than that, it gives the reader a warning. 95% of the time, that is not a good thing to do. Don’t do that.
I’m not saying I’m a great writer now, but I take comfort in knowing I've gotten a little better.
I’ve come to accept the middle portion of books as my greatest writing nemesis. Skylight spent a long time sitting with a strong beginning and a workable ending, but lots missing in between. The words were coming slowly, and the story’s connective tissue was taking much longer than I would have liked to piece itself together, but I think I’ve finally gotten past the hump. The beginning is done, the middle is done, and I know how it ends. I have hopes to finish the writing by October 31st and pass it off to my forever #1 beta reader before edits and looking for other people to beta read (if you’d like to be one of them, please let me know!).
In November I have plans to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and write a very silly and hopefully very fun Fantasy novel about a Canadian farmer who is tasked by some otherworldly being with saving the world (or the universe, or a shelter housing less fortunate dogs, I haven’t quite decided yet). This is an idea I’ve had sitting in the back of my mind for over a year now, slowly gathering other bits and pieces to grow in to a real story, and I’m excited to get it out.
With Yuna getting her TPLO surgery on Tuesday (a million thanks to all of you who helped us with donations to pay for that, she’s doing well and we’re looking forward to her being fully recovered, but that’s going to take some time) we’ll be spending a lot of time at home and I’ll have lots of opportunity to get this work done, so hopefully I can stay on schedule and have some fun stuff to share with you all soon. For now, here’s a brief and poorly-worded synopsis of Skylight, although some of this is likely to change:
#1059214, formerly Emmy Hendridge, lives in a tower high among the clouds. The Sky Complexes house the remainder of human kind. Below, the earth is covered in hyper-evolved plant life which has made it a highly adverse environment to human survival.
Emmy, along with every citizen of The Complex, lives the same day, every day, over and over and over again. The majority of her memories are wiped at the end of the day; everything outside basic motor function and speech along with whatever skills she needs to do her assigned job. Complex rules dictate that all its surviving citizens must live this way, so as to remain complacent and not question what lies outside the tower. But on the forest floor, there are survivors, and they need her.
Who am I?
I'm Mark Karsten. I'm from a city called Lethbridge in Southern Alberta, Canada. I read, I write, and I snuggle puppies at every given opportunity. It's lovely to meet you.