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  • I sat on the steps of my cousin’s front porch while she pulled two drinks out of her fridge, enjoying the light breeze and cool evening air. It was a welcome reprieve from the summer heat. The setting sun had turned the sky gold and dyed the clouds the color of raspberry sorbet. I could hear crickets chirping and a pack of coyotes howling in the distance. Fireflies had begun to emerge and I occasionally spotted one flashing as it flew among the tall grass surrounding the yard. The floorboards creaked as Victoria walked out and sat down next to me, handing me a glass. 

    “So, how’ve you been?” She asked as she took a sip of her drink. 

    “Pretty good, actually.”

    “Yeah? That’s great! You said over the phone that you got a new job. That’s been good?”

    “Very.”

    “You’ll have to help Uncle Max out with his computer at some point. He says it’s not working right, but I swear I saw him try to turn it on with the ‘enter’ key once,” Victoria said, shaking her head. 

    I laughed. Dad was one of the smartest guys I knew, but he couldn’t use a computer to save his life. In his defense, he rarely had to use one. 

    “Has anything been going on with you lately? You haven’t said much on the phone,” I said.

    “Well, to be perfectly honest, things aren’t going too great right now,” she sighed. “I’ve been getting a lot of those nightmares lately. I think it’s just stress. Between starting my new job and the basement flooding it’s been a bit of a mess,” she said.

    I frowned. “Have you talked to anyone about it?”

    “Nah, I don’t want to bug anyone. I’m not losing too much sleep over it.”

    “You have circles under your eyes.” She shrugged.

    “Alright, so I might be losing a little sleep. They’re just a bit more vivid than usual. Like I said, stress. There’s the normal stuff, just wandering around the old hospital or whatever it is, looking for Nathan and calling his name and all that. At first, the only real difference was that he started calling back.” 

    Something about that made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was how clearly I could picture it in my head, right down to the sound of his voice. An image of him trapped in the dilapidated building and screaming for help flashed behind my eyes before I violently shoved it to the back of my mind. 

    “It keeps going?” I asked.

    “Yeah. And it gets weirder, too. He starts taunting me, of all things. He keeps saying all these things he never would’ve dreamed of saying when we knew him. I guess I should say ‘when he was alive.’ Anyway, I just kind of ignore what he’s saying, and I follow the sound of his voice. And the closer I get, the more excited I get, and it makes me so mad that my flashlight keeps flickering because maybe if it wasn’t flickering so much I wouldn’t have to slow down and watch where I stepped, and I could find him sooner. And I get closer and closer, and I follow the sound down to the basement, and it sounds like he’s right around the corner! 

    “And then I wake up in a cold sweat, and I’m lying as stiff as a board. I can’t remember what it is that keeps scaring me so bad. Maybe I’m just so used to waking up scared that it’s an automatic response or something? I don’t know. Once I calm down, though, I’m just so mad that I can never actually get around the damn corner. I’m certain he’s right there, but I always wake up before I see him. It kind of makes me want to go back and look again. Just one more time, you know?”

    “To the hospital?” I said, alarmed. 

    She looked almost sheepish.

    “Well, yeah. Just to tell myself he’s really gone, I guess. Sometimes when I go over to Mom and Dad’s, I still half expect him to sit down at the table with us. You could say it’d be for closure.” 

    I was startled by the idea, but I tried to hide it. 

    “Have you talked to Tom about going?” 

    “No. I don’t want to go with Tom. I love him, but going with him just doesn’t feel right. Sure, he’s a part of the family now, Mom and Dad love him like a son, but he wasn’t there when it happened. His family hadn’t even moved to town yet, he didn’t experience it like we did. I need to go with someone who was there. 

    “I’ve been thinking about going down this week, actually. I’ll probably just go on my own, nobody else would want to go, and I can’t say I would blame them.” 

    I knew she was serious.

    “Victoria, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. You can’t just drive out in the middle of nowhere on your own, it’s too dangerous.” I said. “Besides, wasn’t that place boarded up? 

    “Well, you could come along if we went tomorrow.”

    “I don’t know…”

     “Look, it’s okay if you don’t want to go, I’ll be fine on my own, but you need to be sure about this. You can’t tell me it never gets to you. You’ve told me yourself that you still think about him too. Maybe going back won’t do you any good, but I need to look for him again. Then I can finally tell myself he ain’t coming back.” 

    I considered what she said. She was right. I still thought about him a lot, but the idea of going back filled me with dread. I had been with Nathan when he disappeared.

    We were really into urban exploration in high school, and there were multiple abandoned buildings within a few hour’s drive of our town. We had spent weeks planning our exploration of an abandoned hospital about four hours away. We were planning on going camping near the site and everything. We were so excited. 

    I didn’t have a complete memory of everything that happened that day, but I remembered all these random little details leading up to it that made me desperately want to go back to a time when Nathan wasn’t missing. I could remember buying candy bars at a gas station, I remembered singing along to Nirvana in the car, how muddy the trails were, and how quiet the forest was around the hospital. There was no real rhyme or reason to what I remembered. 

    Even his disappearance was a bit of a blur. I remembered him calling me over to a flight of stairs. You could go up to the second, third, and fourth floors, or down to the morgue. I remembered going up the stairs, thinking he was behind me, then realizing he wasn’t. I wandered through the building for hours calling his name. I went to check the morgue, it was dark and my flashlight went out. I remembered my heart racing faster than a jackrabbit and stumbling around with my arms held out in front of me, screaming Nathan’s name the whole time as I crawled up the stairs. When I got out, I just rushed out of the building and called the police in tears. 

    I remembered the hours and days spent talking to the police, and the weeks and months waiting late at night for my parents to come back from another search party. I had never really searched for him myself, I had dreaded the very idea. 

    I thought about what might have happened if I had gone. What if I would have been the one to find him?  Maybe I should go with Victoria. I owed it to Nathan to look for him one more time. Hesitantly, I nodded to Victoria. I didn’t need to say anything. She leaned over and hugged me tightly.

    “Thank you for doing this, Maisie."


    ...

    Getting into a boarded-up building was not as hard as I would have thought. Victoria just gave one of the boards a little tug, trying to decide whether or not we should try using her screwdriver, and it came off. It felt almost too easy. It was like the building wanted us to enter it the way a venus fly trap hopes a fly will land inside its jaws. The hallway we had entered was dimly lit despite the sunlight sneaking in through cracks between the boards on the windows lining the narrow hallway. I tried to relax by focusing on the sound of birds singing in the surrounding forest. 

    “Let’s go,” Victoria said and strode down the hall. She walked briskly. She was standing up straight with her shoulders back, but she had sounded uneasy. I quickly followed, not wanting to fall behind and lose track of her. 

    We wandered around with no particular destination in mind, and as we walked I began to feel more uncomfortable. You know that feeling when someone gets close to you, and you can’t see them, but you know they’re there? It was like that, but when I turned around I didn’t see anything. I tried to convince myself it was because of the various animals living in the building. I could hear them scurrying around inside the walls and gnawing on things.

    As we wandered further into the building, the sounds of surrounding wildlife became fainter, and the oppressive feeling grew. Soon our footsteps were the only sound. I wanted to strike up a conversation with Victoria, but I couldn’t bring myself to break the silence. 

    Victoria picked up a pebble and began fidgeting with it as we resumed walking. It reminded me of the time we had to hide in her bathroom during a tornado. She had pulled off a piece of toilet paper and ended up ripping it to shreds while we huddled together and listened to the roaring wind outside. 

    I saw something move out of the corner of my eye and turned sharply. Nothing was there. I was certain I had seen something. I searched for somewhere it could have gone. There was one room nearby that the thing could have ducked into, but its door was closed. It didn’t move an inch no matter how hard I tried to get it open. There was nowhere else the thing could have gone as far as I could tell. It should have still been in the hallway with us.

    “What’s wrong?” Victoria asked. Her body tensed and her eyes darted around. 

    I hesitated before saying, “I must have seen a rat or something. It startled me.” 

    My lie wasn’t very convincing, but we continued. I thought I saw the thing moving at the edge of my vision a few more times, but I couldn’t be sure. This did nothing to alleviate my growing paranoia. My palms began to sweat, and I turned to look over my shoulder every few minutes or so. I was mentally debating whether or not we should just throw in the towel when Victoria stopped suddenly. 

    We were standing in front of a flight of stairs that went both up and down. Victoria looked at me. I just pointed at the stairs and nodded. This was the last place I had seen him. I suddenly felt an ache in my chest and my heart sank. Maybe I shouldn’t have come back. Dwelling on what had happened wouldn't bring Nathan back. I half expected to see him waiting for me by the stairs, but of course, he was nowhere to be seen. I could still hear him in my head enthusiastically telling me about the hospital’s history as we explored.

    I vaguely noticed Victoria wandering over to the flight of stairs, but I didn’t pay much attention until she stumbled. The sound of her falling down the stairs was so much louder with the silence surrounding us. I heard the crunch when she landed at the bottom all too clearly and rushed down the stairs after her as quickly as I could without falling myself. It was pitch dark in the basement. I frantically dug in my backpack in search of my flashlight. I found it and turned it on but immediately wished I hadn’t. Victoria was lying motionless. Her right leg sat at an awkward angle, and so did her head.  

    I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that I needed to do something to help her, but I stayed where I was. I was waiting for her to sit up and laugh it off while she checked herself over for injuries, the way she always had when she got hurt playing football with the neighbor boys. Victoria did not get up. Instead, she stared blankly at the ceiling. 

    Maybe she was in shock? I slowly kneeled beside her and began checking for her pulse. I was not surprised when I didn’t find it, but the confirmation was what set me over the edge. The tears that had been welling up in my eyes overflowed and began dripping down my face like water from a leaky faucet. They started flowing faster. My throat felt like it was closing up, and my breaths came in shaky gasps. I sat in the dark helplessly as my emotions took over.

    I suddenly decided that I needed to call 911. I didn’t know what paramedics could do, but I was convinced they could help her. Maybe they can find her pulse. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that they couldn’t, but tried to ignore that thought. I pulled my phone out of my pocket. No service. 

    I wandered through the room with the vague goal of finding something to use as a splint for Victoria’s leg, just in case. My flashlight dimmed and I walked without looking where I was going. I screamed as I fell through a hole in the floor I had failed to notice. My flashlight landed nearby, and I scrambled to pick it up. My hands were shaking, but I still held it like it was the only thing keeping me from falling further.

    I tried to take a few deep breaths and figure out where I was. I peered up through the hole I had fallen into. It looked like part of the floor might have collapsed in, but I wasn’t entirely sure. The area around me was covered in debris. It looked like I was in a hallway. Parts of the walls had sagged under piles of rubble, and the floor was more dirt and clay than tile. A strong rotting smell filled the space. I held part of my shirt over my nose, but the stench still made me nauseous. 

    Something moved out of the corner of my eye again. I waved my flashlight around wildly. I still didn’t see anything, but this time I heard something. A strange rasping sound echoed through the halls. I decided that if a corpse could laugh, that was what it would sound like. I wanted to call for help or try to climb out, but I was paralyzed by fear. The sound still echoed around me. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. 

    I unfroze when I heard a yell from somewhere nearby. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, or even their gender, but they were scared. I couldn’t stand there and not do anything. I sprinted down the hall in the direction I heard the voice. The laughter continued and I looked over my shoulder frantically, but nothing was there. I could go left or right. I heard another yell, it sounded like it was coming from the left hall.

    I ran in that direction, nearly getting to the end of the hall, but then a scream pierced the air and I stopped dead. It had come from the opposite direction. I felt sick. I must have gone the wrong way. What if they need help and I don’t get there in time? I bolted back the way I came, occasionally stumbling over the uneven ground. I reached the end of the right hallway. I could go straight or turn right again.

    “Where are you?” I yelled.

    “Here!” The person said. At least, I thought that was what they said. It was coming from the right hall. I wasted no time following the sound.

    As I was running I felt a weird sense of hope. Maybe it was Nathan. Getting to the person was a matter of life or death. 

    I was reaching the end of the hall. There was only one way to turn. I heard a scream from around the corner. I turned sharply, and I was nearly knocked off balance by my own momentum. Nothing was there. I looked around in confusion and panic. I didn’t see anything but a dead end. A yell came from the opposite direction. My flashlight began to flicker and I prayed it wouldn’t go out, as I tried to follow the sound.

    I heard more yelling from the direction I was going, but then I heard another shriek from behind me. Something moved at the edge of my vision and I ran forwards. Now I was screaming too. My flashlight stopped flickering and I could see where I was going. 

    I turned right. That hall went on for a while. Then I turned left, I went down a flight of stairs and the smell was even worse. Left, right, right, left, right again. I had to get away. My own saliva threatened to choke me. Pain in my side restricted my breathing, and my blood pounded in my ears. My light started flickering again and I fell. My left ankle was twisted badly, but I got back up and staggered forwards anyway.

    My breathing was labored. I was going to be sick. I wasn’t following the shouts and screams anymore. They echoed off the walls, all coming from different directions. Some of the noises sounded more animalistic than human. I needed to keep going. There was no sign of that thing near me, but I knew better. It was everywhere. I heard Victoria calling for help. I ignored her cries. They weren't really hers. I couldn’t keep going. I fell, and this time I was too exhausted to get up. I got to my knees and tried to crawl forwards. I felt its breath on the back of my neck. Its cold claws dug into my shoulders. My entire body was tense, I didn’t make a sound as tears streamed down my face.

    “Why didn’t you come here sooner?” Nathan’s voice said.

      Loading editor
    • This is off to a really, really good start.

      I see two main things that need to be addressed.  First, some moments are quite unclear.  For instance, it's not clear to me exactly what the characters noticed about the sound prior to Victoria picking up a pebble.  Similarly, I don't understand what you meant when the character fell and saw a door on the ground or something like that.  In fact, the end could really use more clarity in general.  I get the punch, but the events leading up to it are a bit hazy. 

      Compared to the rest of the story, these parts feel rushed.  Going back and treating them with more care will make things much clearer.

      The second most important thing is to break up your paragraphs even more than you already have.  Everytime the focus shifts to a new topic, a new paragraph should start.  Here's an example:

      "There’s the normal stuff, just the wandering around the old hospital or whatever it is, looking for Nathan and calling his name and all that. At first the only real difference was that he’s started calling back.” Something about that made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was how clearly I could picture it in my head, right down to the sound of his voice. An image of him trapped in the dilapidated building and screaming for help flashed behind my eyes before I violently shoved it to the back of my mind. “It keeps going?” I asked.

      This could easily be broken up like so:

      "There’s the normal stuff, just the wandering around the old hospital or whatever it is, looking for Nathan and calling his name and all that. At first the only real difference was that he’s started calling back.”

      Something about that made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was how clearly I could picture it in my head, right down to the sound of his voice. An image of him trapped in the dilapidated building and screaming for help flashed behind my eyes before I violently shoved it to the back of my mind.

      “It keeps going?” I asked."

      These paragraphs mark where the topic changes: (1) Victoria's description of the dream, (2), Maisie's reaction, and (3) Maisie's verbal response.  I encourage you to look for more places where you can do this.

      Apart from that, it needs a proofreading.  There are some small typos here and there that could be caught and fixed.

      Honestly, though, once these things are addressed, this will be an amazing addition to the wiki.  I predict the narrators will be all over this one.  Nice job!

        Loading editor
    • Hi, thanks for the feedback! I'll be sure to make the events at the end clearer and fix the technical errors. Once I revise the story, is editing this post and changing it to the revised version an option?

        Loading editor
    • CrazySharkLady wrote:
      Hi, thanks for the feedback! I'll be sure to make the events at the end clearer and fix the technical errors. Once I revise the story, is editing this post and changing it to the revised version an option?

      Yes.  Posting a new thread is, in fact, against the rules.

        Loading editor
    • Reviewing this again after the updates.  It's getting better and better.  :-)

      There are three areas I can still see for improvement:

      • The beginning: there are a lot of details at the very beginning of your story that go nowhere.  I'm a firm believer that every word of every sentence has to earn its place in a short story.  Things that don't advance the plot or the reader's understanding of what's happening need to be cut.  I'll leave it to you to make these choices, but I really hope you'll condense your story's first scene.
      • Where is Maisie when she falls through the hole?  This is a thing that can easily be fixed.  Once Maisie falls through the hole, just take a few sentences to establish the environment she finds herself in.
      • The ending: it happens way too abruptly.  She's running from voices and sees things out of the corner of her eye, and all of a sudden we hear Nathan.  It feels like there's a step missing.  I suggest transitioning more smoothly into your final sentence.  Like maybe Maisie ends up at a dead end, or a strange room, thinks she's alone, and then hears Nathan.  Or something like that.  You don't have to give us any more information than you already do.  This just needs a smoother transition.

      Overall, this is shaping up to be a great story, so I hope you'll address these things.  I look forward to reading your next draft.  :-)

        Loading editor
    • Thanks again for the feedback! I will definitely edit and/or rewrite the areas you mentioned.

        Loading editor
    • A FANDOM user
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