One thing I’ve always had a knack for in life, is coming up with stories. You might think that would make me a good liar, but (un)fortunately keeping a straight face isn’t in my bag of tricks. Recently I found a master list of story prompts by Eric J Krause. It was dangerous for me to peruse that list. I couldn’t stop the flow of ideas.
Sometimes, though, I have an idea but end up staring the dreaded blinking cursor.
This is how I started my latest submission to the Splickety publishing group. The theme for their October issue is Shivers and Screams, a genre that I’m not too familiar with. I’ve never enjoyed scary movies, they tend to be gore fests and lack in the story department. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any good ones in the genre. It’s just not my cup of tea.
Unfortunately, my story didn’t make it this month. I was told that they had a record number of submissions but mine just didn’t make the cut. I’ll take that challenge! Splickety has new submissions every month! Time to start on the next one.
If you have a few minutes, I’d like to take you through my thought process for this story, and then give you a chance to read The Gnarled Oak.
The thing that struck me about this month’s theme were the words “classic monsters”. Everyone knows werewolves, vampires and zombies. I wanted to do something unique so I decided on a swamp monster. A putrid smelling abomination that peers into your window while you eat dinner and roams the forest protecting its domain.
That idea didn’t last, unfortunately. I still like the concept, but I went through three write-ups that I just didn’t like the feel of it and was bit by the blinking cursor bug.
One write-up started with a family driving down the road to meet the movers at their new house. The dad slams on the breaks because something ducked into the woods. The smell of stagnant water was in the air. The son was going to explore the woods and have a run in with the king of stinky.
Another version had the family around the Thanksgiving table, when the son spots something looking in the window. The family dog was going to end up his victim.
All in all, the concepts were similar. Boy goes off alone, something bad happens, the dog dies every time. I found I didn’t like writing horror, I’m not really into scary. I have no problem killing off characters, I’m just not a fan of gore or senseless killing. Unless it fits in the story. I really like where my story ended up. I received some excellent feedback from Avily and Ben from Splickety. A writer could get used to having an editor around.
Here’s my story, The Gnarled Oak. Comments and likes are appreciated.
“Dad, I’m telling you. I really saw a badger! It had stripes on its tail and huge fangs!” Samuel Evans held his hands near his mouth, imitating the fangs of the monstrous creature he had seen. His dad laughed, and assured his son that badgers didn’t live in north east Missouri.
“I’ll give the conservationist a call in the morning, bud. We shouldn’t go out in the dark to look for it.” Walter Evans scratched at his arm. “It was probably just a raccoon. Mr Jones down the road told me they can get pretty big out here.” Walter kissed his son’s head and gave him one last “good night, son” as he turned off the light and closed the door. Bebop, the family pug, was snoring at the edge of the bed.
“What do you say, Bebop? Should we see if we can catch that badger?” Samuel pulled back the covers, still dressed in his worn jeans and unlaced boots. Creeping to his closet, he grabbed his good flashlight. Bebop gave a loud snort at the noise. Samuel glanced out his window into the moonlight night. “It’s a full moon tonight! It’s now or never.”
Samuel turned to find his companion still snoring. “Get up, mutt!” He prodded the pudgy dog with the flashlight. “You’re my hunting dog tonight. You gotta be quiet though. None of that snorting and sniffing. We’re gonna hafta be quiet if we’re gonna catch that badger.” Bebop protested again with another snort, and leapt onto the floor with a thump.
Samuel crept silently past his parents’ door while his faithful beast romped beside him. The duo reached the kitchen without incident and Samuel set to gathering the dinner he hid under the table. “Here we go, Bebop. Bait!” The pug sniffed hungrily at the plate of ham and green beans. Leftovers in tow, the pair snuck out the back door.
Samuel grabbed the length of rope he’d stashed that afternoon, and bolted for the trees. The grass squished under his boots as he crossed the yard. The moonlight faded as they trekked further into the woods. Samuel held his flashlight out, searching for the gnarled oak where he’d seen the badger. An hour went by, but Samuel was too excited to stop. His friends would freak out when they’d seen what he’d caught. Bebop frolicked along beside his master, his pink tongue flopping out the side of his mouth.
Forcing his way through a bush filled with briars, Samuel burst into a clearing. The old tree stood tall in the center of the glade. “We made it, Bebop. Now be quiet and we’ll catch that badger.” Samuel crept closer to the tree, its branches twisting out in all directions. The bark was rotted in several places and at its base was a large dark hole.
Samuel edged closer and peered into the hole. Bebop found a clump grass to eat. Samuel emptied the contents of his uneaten dinner near the edge of the hole and tied a slipknot from the measure of rope. He placed the noose around the hole, careful not to fall in, and crept around the tree where he and Bebop could watch what came in and out of the hollow.
Time passed as the duo watched for their prey. The moon shone bright over the clearing, though an occasional stretch of fog marred the starlit sky. Samuel began to picture the looks on his friends’ faces the next day. He’d be the coolest kid in the fifth grade. “What do you think, Bebop. Does the president give medals for catching wild animals? Bebop?” Samuel turned his attention from the hollow in the tree, and realized his pug was no longer next to him.
Samuel stood and gazed around the clearing. He called out softly for Bebop, but was only rewarded with a gentle breeze and the thrum of his heartbeat in his ears. Samuel took a few steps, and listened for any sound of his pug. The leaves rustled on the nearby trees, and a patch of fog blacked out the moon.
“Bebop! Come on, buddy. I’ll give you some of the ham! Where are you?” His attempt at whispering had mostly failed. Realization settled in that he was far from home, and his parents had no idea he’d left. A gentle snort sounded on the other side of the gnarled oak, and Samuel almost clapped his hands with excitement as he rushed to collect his pug.
As Samuel rounded the tree, his feet stop moving of their own accord. The grass shone with a hint of red in the moonlight. A black paw lay on the ground, ending abruptly in a bleeding stump. Black and white fur was strewn around the tree. Among the carnage was Bebop’s blue collar. Samuel turned from the gruesome sight and threw up what dinner he had eaten.
Done with his retching, Samuel drew in deep breaths. His heart pounded and his mind raced. His knees felt weak and he began to tremble. He put his hand to the tree and braced himself against it. A twig snapped behind him, and Samuel froze. He felt for his pocket knife and turned to look at the sound.
As his eyes locked with the beast, his mind tried to process what he was looking at. Towering high, it was like a large man with a wolf’s head. The beast was covered from head to toe in grey fur. Its eyes were deep black and it held in its arms an alive and unharmed Bebop.
Samuel was petrified as the creature bent low and sniffed him. Samuel feared for what would come next. Surely that badger had only been an appetizer. “Go home, Samuel” the beast snarled. “If your mother hears you snuck out, you’ll be grounded for a month.”
Samuel’s fear turned to confusion. There was something familiar about this beast. He looked at the grey man-wolf’s eyes and a moment of clarification struck. “Dad?”