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  • Author's note: The premise for this story was taken from another pasta, of which the author has permitted me to use.

    Linda stared at the alarm clock in her hands through blurred eyes, her fingers smudging its glossy surface. 23:59, it blared in red, blocky numbers. 30 seconds left. Trembling, she clutched it to her stomach, ticking down in her head: 29, 28, 27. They seemed to pass by like years as she shut her eyes, knowing that annoying, monotonous beep was mere moments away. Nothing to do now but simply wait. 15, 14, 13, 12…

    In what felt like a lifetime later, it finally sounded, and the floodgates came crashing open. It fell to the floor with a dull clatter as Linda clutched her head in her hands and wept, tears pouring down her face like raindrops. Memories rushed back to her in a tidal wave of sorrow and regret: the laughs, the smiles, the first steps, all of it. No small detail was spared.

    Today marked the fifth year that Michael had been gone.

    She reached for a nearby tissue and dabbed her face, sniffing and making the occasional whimper. Pushing the warm blanket off her shaking body, she swivelled her legs to the edge of the bed. Her head hung low as she rose to a standing position, throwing on the tattered nightgown from so many years ago, taking a moment to notice all its extra holes and newly loosened stitching. She didn’t care. She only wore it once a year, anyway.

    She carried herself across the upstairs landing with an almost shameful movement, her eyes already well-adjusted to the crushing darkness before her. The floor was ragged and splintery as she lay her bare feet upon it, the ceiling cobwebs reflecting the glow of the moon through the bedroom window behind her. She lifted her hand and scraped her ring across the wall as she walked, marking the fifth indentation directly below the last four. Dusty pieces of drywall flaked onto the floor as it dug into the paint. They reminded her of fingernails along a chalkboard, or the claw marks of some vicious beast along the skin of its prey.

    At last, she reached the door. Still shaking somewhat, she pulled out the key from her front pocket. Like the rest of the house, it was somewhat falling into disrepair: a little rusty, a little chipped and cracked in some places. A moment of worry came upon her as she questioned whether it would still work in the lock. Gingerly, she placed it into the keyhole and turned. Her worries were set at ease as she heard that familiar click, and felt the latch turning. With a gentle creak, she slowly slid the door open, taking care not to bump it into the wall and leave a dent.

    Compared to the rest of the house, Michael’s room was a palace. It held a muted quietness that nowhere else in the house could quite sustain, as if it had been caught in time, just the same as the day that Michael had gone. Linda heard her ears ringing in the solemn silence, and her slowed heartbeat thumping in her ears. She took a long inhalation. Dust hung steadily in the air, making her nose itch and the back of her throat feel itchy. Carefully, she closed the door behind her, like the closing of a portal between two different dimensions. Despite the thick blackness, she could still make out that pleasant shade of blue painted across the walls. Michael’s favourite colour.

    She found herself slipping into a trance, as she did every year, no matter how hard she tried to fight it. Her vision warped and clouded, and suddenly, Michael was there on the bed.

    “But mummy, I don’t want to sleep without the night light on!”

    He sat on the sheets with his legs crossed, wearing his polka-dot PJs. The night light sat in the plug socket next to the door, casting a starry pattern on the walls that struck out against the darkness.

    “You’re a big boy now, Michael,” Linda heard herself speaking. “Big boys don’t need night lights. There’s nothing out there in the dark that can hurt you.”

    “Promise?” Michael replied, holding his favourite stuffed animal to his chest.

    “Promise.” Linda spoke once more. “Night-night, now.”

    She reached down and pulled it out of the socket with a single yank. The sleeve of her night gown brushed against the floor, no longer old and falling apart, but new and as comfortable as it would ever be. The door closed behind her with a quiet click as she exited the room.

    And then she felt it, that subtle feeling deep down inside that something was wrong, that motherly instinct she couldn’t deny no matter how hard she tried. She felt her heartbeat quicken, the hair on the back of her neck standing up. Had she forgotten something? Glass of milk, bedtime story, night light, what else? Everything should have been fine, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. She frowned and turned back towards the bedroom door, hurriedly pushing it open.

    “Sweetie, are you alri-

    Michael was gone. For a moment, she swore she saw him, just sitting there as he was before she had left the room, but in the blink of an eye, he was gone. As if he had never been there in the first place. Her eyes scanned across the room, assuming he was simply blending in with the surroundings, but to no avail.

    She opened her mouth to shout but the air was sucked right out of her throat. The room blended back into the present, her gown shrinking and withering to its current state, her hair greying and drooping to the tangled mess it was now, in the present. She gasped, able to breathe again. Fresh tears were forming in her eyes, the surge of emotions was building up again, but she wouldn’t let herself cry. Not again.

    Linda reached down to the plug socket. Her palm felt numb as she scooped the patterned night light into her hand.

    “I’m sorry, Michael…” She whispered as she inserted it into the socket.

    Immediately, the starry pattern cast itself across the room. Linda closed her eyes and took a deep breath, watching the light flicker across her closed eyelids.

    “Mummy?”

    Linda shot her eyes open. Michael was sat at the end of the bed, legs crossed, in polka-dot PJs, holding his favourite stuffed animal to his chest.

    “Mummy, what happened? Why do you look so much older?”

    “No…no…I’m at peace…you’re…you’re not real, you’re just-just another hallucination.” She panted, gradually moving closer.

    “Mummy, I’m scared. Please leave the night light on. Just for tonight.”

    Linda stepped closer and caressed the back of her hand against the boy’s cheek. She looked deep into his eyes and saw that same starry look from so many years ago, caught in a deep blue iris. Without a doubt, it was Michael. In the flesh.

    There was a second or two of silence before she scooped him up into her arms and began whooping and cheering. Tears of happiness rolled down her face. Michael smiled and giggled, holding onto his mother’s shoulders.

    “Never leave me again! Promise me, promise me you’ll never leave me again!” She spoke hysterically, jumping and dancing around the room.

    “I’ll never leave you, mu-

    The pair went tumbling to the ground as Linda’s foot caught on something. A loud thud echoed through the house as she hit the floorboards, scrambling to make sure Michael was okay.

    But Michael was nowhere to be seen.

    “Michael?” She began, pawing and crawling around the room. “Michael?! MICHAEL! MICHAEL! MICHAEL!”

    Linda froze in horror as she turned back towards the plug socket.

    Lying on the floor next to it on the ground was a broken, patterned night light.

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    • Thank You! i think you should absolutely post it. Good job! 

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    • Please excuse the late response, I can review your story later tonight, I'm just a little busy at the moment. 

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    • I liked the story, the pacing feels alright and the emotional build up was well-thought out. Don't really have much issue with it except it feels a little dry, but that one is a stylistic gripe overall.

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    • William See wrote: I liked the story, the pacing feels alright and the emotional build up was well-thought out. Don't really have much issue with it except it feels a little dry, but that one is a stylistic gripe overall.

      Do you have any specific suggestions to aid the 'dryness'? I myself thought it was lacking something in particular, but I couldn't put my finger on what.

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    • Cornconic wrote:

      William See wrote: I liked the story, the pacing feels alright and the emotional build up was well-thought out. Don't really have much issue with it except it feels a little dry, but that one is a stylistic gripe overall.

      Do you have any specific suggestions to aid the 'dryness'? I myself thought it was lacking something in particular, but I couldn't put my finger on what.

      If I had to make an example:

      >>>Inside, the room was spotless. Compared to the rest of the house, it was a palace. Michael’s favourite books were neatly organised on his nightstand, his teddies carefully placed along his bedside, his toys ordered nice and evenly along his shelves, everything had been well taken care of. Despite the thick blackness, Linda could still make out that pleasant shade of blue painted across the walls. Michael’s favourite colour…<<<

      When you describe the room, the reader is readily aware that everything is going to be neatly ordered (as are the rooms of everyone who's gone missing or died). So having 3 sentences describing the neatness of it feels more like a laundry list of descriptions rather than an evocation of certain, subtler feelings. The palace description is fine though, IMO, since it is almost subconsciously being compared to a burial tomb or chapel.

      Like, if I were to think of a family member's empty room, I'd consider the finer things that make you dissociate. The small film of dust collecting on shelves. The snapshot-stillness of the toys. The muted tone the room suddenly takes. The silence that accompanies it. That sort of thing. Memories bring back certain 'in the now' sensations that don't necessarily have to do with the setting too; for example, my first breakup resulted in a sour taste popping up in my mouth whenever a similar situation presented itself, because I was eating pretzels that day.

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    • I'm not sure how I feel about this one. It seems like a missed oppurtunity. Could've gone so many ways with the disappearance and the dynamic between the mother and the child. I guess it's a matter of tastes. 

      Tying to child's existence to the night light seems kind of... I don't know... hollow? I mean it's okay, but it doesn't do much for me and kind of feels almost sort of random. Maybe it's the length or the story or the lack of perhaps misleading cues about it. In a way if you make the mother seem a little off, you could say that she's been imagining the child all along, or couldn't let go of a deceased kid due to the night light. 

      Actually, going back to that second one, that's a pretty dope idea, to drop around clues that the kid somehow died in the past and the mother couldn't let go, coming to an emotional climax for her with the night light. You don't have to adapt it, I just think it's a cool idea. 

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    • Okay, so I got a bit nit-picky. Don't shoot the messenger. :) I hope there's something here that might help you see the story a bit clearer.

      Before she even knew it, the alarm sounded, and the floodgates came crashing open. It fell to the floor with a dull clatter as Linda clutched her head in her hands and wept, letting all the memories rush back to her in a tidal wave of sorrow and regret. The laughs, the smiles, the first steps. All of it.

      Today was the fifth year that Michael had been gone.

      Slowly, she reached for a tissue and dabbed her face, sniffing and making the occasional whimper. She pushed the warm blanket off her shaking body and swerved her legs to the edge of the bed. Her head hung low as she rose to a standing position, throwing on the tattered nightgown from so many years ago, taking a moment to notice all its extra holes and newly loosened stitching. She didn’t care. She only wore it once a year, anyway.

      ('Swerved' seems a bit off to me. Perhaps 'swung,' 'swiveled,' or something else. 'From so many years ago' seems a bit tacked on, if ya know what I mean. Also, I'd consider splitting this sentence into at least two sentences. Is it possible you're putting a bit too much effort into describing something as mundane as an old night gown?)

      Linda carried herself down the upstairs landing step-by-step, her eyes already well-adjusted to the crushing darkness. The floor was ragged and splintery as she lay her bare feet upon it, the ceiling cobwebs reflecting the glow of the moon through the bedroom window behind her. She lifted her hand and scraped her ring across the wall as she walked, marking the fifth indentation directly below the last four. Hopefully the last one, she thought.

      ('Step-by-step' is how most people traverse stairs. It might be worth describing if she took them two at a time, but one at a time seems tacked on. Maybe describe her mood through her posture as she descends the stairs.)

      At last, she reached the door. Still shaking somewhat, she pulled out the key from her front pocket. Like the rest of the house, it was somewhat falling into disrepair, and she worried whether it would even still work or not. Gingerly, she placed it into the keyhole and turned. Her worries were set at ease as she heard that familiar click, and felt the latch turning. With a gentle creak, the door slid fully open until it came to a stop against the wall.

      (How does a key fall into disrepair? I'd consider restructuring this paragraph a bit.)

      Inside, the room was spotless. Compared to the rest of the house, it was a palace. Michael’s favourite books were neatly organised on his nightstand, his teddies carefully placed along his bedside, his toys ordered nice and evenly along his shelves, everything had been well taken care of. Despite the thick blackness, Linda could still make out that pleasant shade of blue painted across the walls. Michael’s favourite colour…

      (I've never been one for third person past tense narrators using ellipses, but that might just be me. That third sentence might work better if you break it up into multiple sentences.)

      She quickly found herself slipping into a trance, as she did every year, no matter how hard she tried to fight it. Her vision warped and clouded, and suddenly, Michael was there on the bed.

      ('No matter how hard she tried to fight it.' might work better if moved to the front of the sentence.)

      “But mummy, I don’t want to sleep without the night light on!”

      Michael sat at the end of the bed with his legs crossed, wearing his polka-dot PJs. The night light sat in the plug socket next to the door, casting a starry pattern on the walls that struck out against the darkness.

      “You’re a big boy now, Michael.” Linda heard herself speaking. “Big boys don’t need night lights. There’s nothing out there in the dark that can hurt you.”

      (I think that period after Michael should be a comma, but I can't for the life of me remember right now how quotes work. Brainus fartus muchus. d: )

      “Promise?” Michael replied, holding his favourite stuffed animal to his chest.

      “Promise.” Linda spoke once more. “Night-night, now.”

      She reached down and pulled it out of the socket with a single yank, and the door closed quietly behind her.

      And then she felt it, that subtle feeling deep down inside that something was wrong, that motherly instinct she couldn’t deny no matter how hard she tried. She felt her heartbeat quicken as the hair on the back of her neck stood up. Had she forgotten something? Glass of milk, bedtime story, night light…everything should have been fine, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. She frowned and turned back towards the bedroom door, hurriedly pushing it open.

      (That first sentence might be better if restructured. Perhaps find a way to make it into two sentences. That ellipses allows you to stretch the sentence, but it feels off to me. Now I'm really getting nit-picky.)

      “Sweetie, are you alri-

      Michael was gone.

      (I feel like you miss an opportunity to describe her reaction to Michael vanishing. Did she blink, turn away for a split second, or get distracted in some way?)

      Linda snapped back to the present with a jolt. She was curled in a ball against the doorway, hands wrapped around her shins. With fresh tears in her eyes, she rose to her feet.

      Feeling the surge of emotions building up once more, she reached around her back pocket. Her palm felt numb as she held the patterned night light. Ever since that day she had stashed it away in some old drawer on the other side of the house, deemed it too painful a memory to keep with her. It was the vessel through which her negligence had flowed, the way in which she had allowed her son to be taken by whatever foul being had laid its claim on him. Keeping the room clean was a way of remembering Michael, but something had always been missing. Putting this piece back in the puzzle…Linda knew it was a way she could finally forgive herself. She could finally be free.

      (Is that first sentence missing a word or two? Perhaps it isn't necessary to go on so much about why/how she has the night light. A little mystery as to why/how she has it might work better, but it might just get missed by the reader altogether. Maybe take another stab at writing this paragraph and compare the two versions. Options are good.)

      “I’m sorry, Michael…” She whispered as she inserted the light into the socket.

      Immediately, the starry pattern cast itself across the room. Linda closed her eyes and took a deep breath, watching the light flicker across her closed eyelids. She was calm. She was at peace. She was-

      “Mummy?”

      Linda shot her eyes open. Michael was sat at the end of the bed, legs crossed, in polka-dot PJs, holding his favourite stuffed animal to his chest.

      “Mummy, what happened? Why do you look so much older?”

      “No…no…I’m at peace…you’re…you’re not real, you’re just-just another hallucination.” She panted, gradually moving closer.

      “Mummy, I’m scared. Please leave the night light on. Just for tonight.”

      Linda stepped closer and caressed the back of her hand against the boy’s cheek. She looked deep into his eyes and saw that same starry look she had appreciated so many times before, caught in a deep blue iris. Without a doubt, it was Michael, in the flesh.

      (Appreciated... hmmm... I don't know. Take another stab at this short paragraph and give yourself another version or two to compare it with?)

      There was a second or two of dead silence before she scooped him up into her arms and began whooping and cheering. Tears of happiness rolled down her face. Michael smiled and giggled, holding onto his mother’s shoulders.

      “Never leave me again! Promise me, promise me you’ll never leave me again!” She spoke hysterically, jumping and dancing around the room.

      “I’ll never leave you, mu-

      The pair went tumbling to the ground as Linda’s foot caught on something. A loud thud echoed through the house as she hit the floorboards, scrambling to make sure Michael was okay.

      But Michael was nowhere to be seen.

      “Michael?” She began, pawing and crawling around the room. “Michael?! MICHAEL! MICHAEL! MICHAEL!”

      She screamed for hours, turning the entire room upside down in search of her son. Undoing years of effort put in to keep it as clean as possible. Throwing around the books and pushing over the bed and tearing up the carpet. She scoured almost every inch. Soon, she ran out of energy, simply collapsing on the floor and crying.

      Lying on the floor next to the socket was a broken, patterned night light.

      (I like the idea of the night light being connected to her child's disappearance, but I'm not too fond of her breaking it and thus dispelling his reappearance. "-she had allowed her son to be taken by whatever foul being had laid its claim on him." What if the bulb dies and she rushes through the house, trying to find another bulb only to discover the nightlight gone when she returns? Hey, it's your story. Just thought I'd toss another idea at ya.)

      Let me know if you'd like a clarification of any of this or if you'd just like to do a bit of brain picking. I do recommend you spend a little more time with this one. While I do feel you've got something here, I don't think it's quite there yet. Hope this helps.

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    • Thank you all for your advice/suggestions. Just a few things I'd like to touch upon:

      1.) William, I agree with you in regards to that paragraph you mentioned, I always thought it was lacking something, and I'm a lot more satisfied with it now then I was before. It'd be great if you could tell me whether you think it's better or not in your eyes.

      2.) Kol, I'm not sure of you pick up on this or not, but the night gown Linda puts on at the beginning of the story is relevant because it's the same one she was wearing when Michael disappeared. I've added a sentence or two in the flashback scene to make this more apparent.

      3.) I'd also like to point out that Linda isn't going down the stairs when she's walking to Michael's room, she's going across the landing, aka the hallway-like area along the top of the stairs that separates the different bedrooms (I come from the UK, so I think this is just a regional slang/house arrangement confusion, either that or I didn't make it clear enough in the story).

      4.) Why can't a key fall into disrepair? Keys can break and lose their shape over long periods of time, in this case, years. It's not like the key is five years old, it's probably a lot older than that, so I don't see why it can't begin to wear down at some point.

      Everything else you've mentioned has been completely valid and I've edited the pasta accordingly. I'm a lot happier with this version compared to the previous one. Likewise, it'd be super if you could tell me any further gripes, and how much you think it's improved.

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