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  • St Anthony was a nice town. Lively, but not overcrowded, rural, but not backwoods. It had most, if not all the pleasant little quirks a town could have: good weather, fresh air, scenic location, that kind of thing. And with such a small population, it was definitely the type of place where everyone knew everyone, and no-one ever forgot anything.

    I came to St Anthony for two reasons. The first was the one that anyone could relate to: I needed a break. I was getting bored of walking up and down the same old streets, sick of staring at that empty, black void in the sky every night, clouded by pollution. Really, it was no big deal. That craving to get away from it all would strike me every couple of years or so, and I’d go to a different place each time, never too far, but far enough away to make me feel rejuvenated. Hell, I’d been to just about a dozen little towns before I crossed paths with St Anthony, each somewhat memorable in their own little way, but all populated with those same types of people.

    The second reason was a little more personal, though I won’t bore you with the exact details. I’d received a phone call from a certain company saying they were interested in an application I had submitted, and that they would get back to me as soon as possible. This wasn’t just any old application, mind you, it was for my dream job, what I’d been aspiring to all my life. Every good grade, every school note, every minute spent studying and slaving over dusty textbooks, this is what it all led up to. It was the very last step on my own stairway to success, and I was about to slam my foot down.

    The location of said job was in another city a little while away (far enough for me to have to move there), and St Anthony was a town right slap-bang in the middle between where I was living and there. Pretty convenient, right? I figured even if I didn’t get the job, I’d still have a nice place to kick back in before dragging myself back to that boring slab of concrete I had been calling my home.

    I only planned on staying a few weeks at most. St Anthony was pleasant, yes, but I still only recognised it as just another one of those quirky little towns with those same, forgettable people.

    And the day I first heard about him, I assumed Fred was one of those people, too.

    Specifically, the town weirdo. I’d encountered quite a few of them on my travels. The outcasts, the nutjobs, the ones considered generally unsuitable to mingle with any of the ‘normal’ residents. Some were true mental cases, homeless psychos who ate rats and lived in the sewers, while most simply possessed a few uncommon eccentricities. It was unclear to me at first which of these categories Fred fell into, and that was what made him stand out so much.

    ‘Don’t go talking to Creepy Fred’ seemed to be a well-known saying amongst the locals. His presence was perceivable from a mile away: he was the man with long, skinny arms and a pale, gaunt complexion, who walked like some shambling spirit yet to be properly laid to rest. His sheer existence seemed to be reminiscent of a Scooby-Doo villain; if his strange appearance or unsettling mannerisms weren’t enough to convince people to keep away at all costs, the fact that he lived in a dilapidated mansion right next to the local cemetery on the edge of town certainly didn’t help, either.

    He was the kind of guy that the schoolchildren would sing songs about while skipping rope, or the subject of many a pre-teen campfire story to frighten all the younger kids into tears. Even the adults couldn’t seem to help themselves from stirring up rumours about Fred. ‘Don’t stay up past 12, or Creepy Fred will scoop you up into his basement!’ I occasionally heard a mother snap to her misbehaving children.

    When I started to pick up on these things, I decided to pry a little further. The attitudes of the locals didn’t seem to be entirely unjustified: Fred could easily just have been some eerie little weirdo as I had first suspected, but then again, it wasn’t like he had committed any sort of crime or even been explicitly rude or indecent. It seemed improper that no-one was even attempting to reach out to him or offer any sort of communication whatsoever.

    I remember having evening dinner with one of the locals and her family at the end of my first week in St Anthony, as a sort of welcoming event. Sometime during the night, our topic of conversation slipped from the general norm, and I saw a collective uneasiness spark in the family’s eyes as I asked about Fred, and if he had done anything in particular to earn him his spooky reputation.

    “There’s reports…” I recall the husband saying, as he swallowed a mouthful of chicken. “There’s reports of him in the cemetery almost every night. Out he shambles, at some ungodly hour, creeping through the tall grass and the leafless trees.”

    “Reports?” I mentioned, intrigued. “Why, what’s he doing out so late at night?”

    “His mama’s buried there,” the wife spoke. “In the cemetery. She lived in the mansion right up until she passed away last year. Nice woman. Only slightly less of a shut-in then Fred, but still, she used to bake little snowy cupcakes for us all at Christmas. Fred moved in a couple days after her funeral. Apparently, she left him everything in the will: the house, all her money, all her possessions, you name it. She came from a very wealthy family.”

    She let out a slight sigh, allowing herself to drift away for a moment. “It’s a shame Fred never put any of that money into the mansion’s upkeep. It used to be a very pretty building.”

    I remember the echo of a piece of rotting wood shrapnel peeling off of Fred’s house and landing on the gravel driveway below, as if on cue.

    “He’s a fucking weirdo. Stays in that dusty old hole all day and only comes out in the dead of night, like a vampire. Looks like a vampire too. He’s probably still living off whatever food and water supplies that old hag had stashed underground before she wasted away.”

    “Honey!”

    “Well, it’s true!” the husband responded, his knife scraping against the plate as he tore off another piece of meat from the bone.

    “Do you think he cares about what everyone says about him? About his reputation, I mean.” I spoke.

    “Hah!” he replied, smirking slightly. “Of course not. He probably just pretends he’s the only one who lives here anymore. I can’t remember the last time he spoke to any one of us.”

    “Mikey at school says he spoke to Mr Hazelton once.” the couple’s kid piped up, playing with the greens on his plate. He cleared his throat and took a sip of water, setting the glass down dangerously close to the edge of the table. “When he saw him sitting by the upstairs window. Mikey says he asked Mr Hazelton if he was a ghost.”

    “Did he say anything back?” the mother inquired.

    “Nah. He just looked at him all funny and went further inside the house.”

    “Creep.” the husband muttered under his breath.

    Further conversations with the residents involved similar exchanges. I visited the cemetery the morning after the dinner. It seemed almost abandoned, Fred’s antics meaning it was seldom used by the locals. My only real discovery there was the existence of a fresh pile of poppies and daffodils sitting on Mrs Hazelton’s grave, not in a bouquet, or vase, or any sort of container, just scattered lightly across the soil around the headstone. My guess was that Fred had spent the night, just like every other night, meticulously combing the ground for the little flowers, heading back inside come morning, when he deemed the pile to be of a suitable size.

    I was never exactly certain whether the residents knew of this or not; either they didn’t know, or they just didn’t care. The fact that Fred’s behaviour could very well have been of a grieving man mourning the death of his much-loved mother and nothing more never seemed to occur to anybody. It perturbed me somewhat. I mean, it wasn’t as if Fred was being actively persecuted, but he was hardly being shown the basic social decency of being a human being, either.

    A little bit of time went by regarding my stay. I remained perplexed by Fred’s presence in the town, but it wasn’t an obsession by any means. Shortly after my first few weeks in St Anthony, I found my initial curiosity regarding the man die down somewhat, and the constant knowledge of his existence in the town in the back of my head beginning to fade. I started enjoying myself more, soaking up the radiance of the local landscape, and since I had still not heard back from the job company, I prolonged my stay.

    With that being said, it came as a huge shock, as you can imagine, when I received a dinner invitation from Fred early one morning, written in his very own handwriting.

    ‘Dear newcomer,’ it read, in a tall, slanted font, with exaggerated curves like from that of a person attempting to write formally but not used to such a way of shaping their letters.

    ‘I have noted your arrival in the town and would like to give you a proper introduction to myself. I understand you may have heard certain things about me from the other residents here, and as slanderous as they may be, I can assure you that most of these claims are entirely untrue. I would deem it most satisfactory if you were to come to dinner tonight at my establishment at 6:00pm, where I am sure we can have a polite chat about said rumours in a sensible way.

    Yours truly endearingly,

    Frederick J Hazelton

    I was flabbergasted, to say the least. I had never received any sort of message from any of the ‘town weirdos’ I could remember from my travels. A few horrible thoughts came upon me, that of being stalked and spied upon and watched in my sleep but I soon reminded myself not to jump to conclusions. I was living relatively close to Fred; it was perfectly reasonable for him to have simply observed my visitation of the town just like anyone else. I couldn’t form a definitive judgment of the man until I met him in person, and this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

    It seemed likely the locals would do nothing but discourage me if I dared tell them about the invitation, so I kept the information to myself. I spent the rest of the day I had received the letter in quiet contemplation, wondering how the night would unfold. Dozens of questions swirled around my head as I lay splayed out on the living room sofa, staring at the ceiling. What would the conversation be like? Would the food be nice, or even stomachable? What would the food even be? Something posh and sophisticated, or basic and recognisable? I pondered how Fred was feeling, about to have the first guest in what I assumed must’ve been years. Was he making preparations, or just winging it?

    The hours passed by in no time at all, and quickly, I found the sun dipping below the edge of the horizon. Slipping into some formal attire, I readied myself for the occasion, brushing my teeth and taking one last good look into the mirror before I ventured outside.

    I had never been up close to the house before, it now revealing itself to be in an even greater state of disrepair then I had initially observed. It was relatively isolated from the rest of the town, obscured on all sides but its front by a cluster of thick willow trees. I felt that inherent survival instinct start to kick in as I took a few seconds to examine the building, telling me to run, bail, sprint home and never look back. I think a part of me might have even believed this was the house I would die in, my body stashed away under the floorboards in pieces, never to be found.

    The remnants of what once had been a well-kept building had all but faded away. The windows were cracked and foggy, a film of dirt and grime lying on the outer layer of glass, and a thick coating of ivy creeping its way up the brickwork. A light scattering of collapsed roof tiles were displayed across the top of the building, like little specks of darkness sucking up the moonlight. The inside lights were on, and the great, rusted knocker on the front door felt cold and rough in my hand as I dropped it against the wood.

    Slow, irregular footsteps came down the hallway. I swallowed and put on a warm smile, forcing my hands away from retreating inside my trouser pockets. The door caught on the chain lock as it opened, and I heard soft breathing coming from inside as the footsteps came to an end.

    “This is the oldest building in St Anthony, you know.”

    Fred’s head had slipped into the gap so unnoticeably, I hadn’t seen him for a good few seconds. His face was shrouded by the night; eyes wide like a cat’s as he stared at me from the crevice. His voice was delicate and precise as he spoke, with the tinge of an English accent. It cut through the cricket’s chirps like a knife as I stood there nervously, unsure of how to respond.

    “It predates the town itself. It was built by my great-great grandfather and the rest of St Anthony was formed outward from it.”

    The wind whistled along the street as a few more awkward seconds passed by. I took a step forward, ready to say something but finding the words caught on my tongue.

    “So, I do hope you will excuse its current condition. It is not that I do not care about the wellbeing of this house, or its history… I am not a very handy man myself, and I would have hired someone to come work on it for me, but I have been busy as of late and I am not exactly a very social person, either…if you could not tell already.”

    “May I come in?” I finally forced out.

    “…Yes. Please, make yourself at home.”

    The chain came off the latch with a metallic click. I waited for Fred to pull the door open the rest of the way, but instead heard his footsteps leading back into the house. Grasping the knob, I pushed it fully open and was mildly startled by its sudden slamming behind my back as I entered the mansion.

    The first thing I noticed was the air. It held the instantly recognisable qualities of a fresh mist of Febreze, almost overpoweringly so. I swallowed and wrinkled my nose, hoping that wherever Fred has disappeared to, he hadn’t noticed my recoiling.

    “I am afraid you must forgive me for the… aroma.” I heard his voice echo from one of the next rooms over. “A nasty settlement of rats have recently invaded the mansion and although I was capable of driving them off, their pungent odour remained. Better a breath of mild chemicals then a breath of rat droppings, mm?”

    Fred’s voice had an edge of humour, even as I cringed at the thought. I sniffed a little harder, and indeed, could detect some other scent overshadowed by the smell of what I presumed was some sort of exotic flower.

    “The food is all set out and ready to eat. Please, come and join me in the dining room.”

    The image of Fred hiding around the corner brandishing a meat cleaver popped into my head, as well as one of him leaning over my plate with a devilish grin, sprinkling cyanide on my food. Again, I was forced to reassure myself: it was going to be a perfectly normal night. We would eat, share a conversation, and I would leave. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Gingerly, I started walking down the hallway.

    The rug puffed dust around my ankles with every step. Despite its extravagant, if significantly faded exterior, the internal structure of the house seemed quite simple. There was the central hallway, which lead from the front door to the base of the stairs, and four doors along the way, two on each side. Three were shut, and (presumably) locked, and the one on the further, right-hand side was slightly ajar, casting a crack of light against the opposite wall. I let my eyes wander from corner to corner of the hallway, observing the chipped, yellowed surfaces of the walls and ceiling. It reminded me faintly of what a hoarder’s house looks like when they remove all the clutter.

    With an outstretched palm, I pushed open the far-right door.

    Fred stood upright at the side of a polished wooden table, hands behind his back and a sort-of half smile spread across his face. A singular lightbulb hung from the ceiling, illuminating the room and giving me my first proper look at the man I had heard so much about.

    He looked around somewhere in his mid-30s, a slither of blonde hair sitting atop his head, neatly combed just above his ears. His face was narrow and elongated, and his eyes were full of caffeine, the dark bags beneath them being the most noticeable symptom of his nocturnal habits. A black bowtie was wrapped somewhat shoddily around his collar, and the rest of his outfit gave off the impression of an early-1900s gentleman, with a pinstripe jacket and a white dress shirt, along with jet-black suit pants.

    The rest of the room seemed to reflect this formal, old-fashioned sense of style. A tall, looming grandfather clock stood just beside the head of the table, and a blackened fireplace was located beside that. A cupboard of antique dining-ware was also present, displaying ornate plates and gleaming cutlery. I took another deep breath. Still, the smell of Febreze lingered.

    “Please, take a seat.”

    I stepped to the table and dragged a cushioned chair from out underneath it, making myself comfortable. The floorboards were ragged and ever-so-slightly uneven, creaking as I shifted and leaned in towards my plate.

    “The dish tonight comes from Mother’s old rationing supplies. They are much more flavourful than the processed slop they sell at the local market, I assure you. I trust you will find them quite enjoyable. I certainly do.”

    Again, that tiny hint of a smile pierced through Fred’s expression. He sat and cleared his throat, scratching the bridge of his nose before taking a napkin from his pocket and laying it on his lap.

    I looked down at my food. Two veiny sausages nestled themselves beside a heap of mashed potatoes, drizzled with a brown, gravy-like substance. A small pile of various vegetables was scattered off to the side, soft and wet, dispersing at the touch of my fork.

    “Have you been enjoying the town?”

    Fred was already tucking in, slicing open the sausage meat and dragging it through a thin river of gravy before putting it to his lips. It suddenly occurred to me I had barely said anything to the man, and I fumbled internally, trying to pluck a sentence out of the whirlwind of thoughts blowing through my brain.

    “Yeah, it’s…very quaint. I could see myself coming back here one day, when I’m old and retired.”

    It was the same thing I said every time someone asked me about my stay in a rural little town like St Anthony. Fred stopped eating for just a moment and looked at me with a kind of knowing air.

    “You like traveling, yes?”

    I raised an eyebrow, just now beginning my meal, twirling a loose sausage strand around my fork.

    “How’d you know?” I challenged, popping the strand into my mouth. I jostled it around my mouth with my tongue, trying to detect any unusual flavours, even as I kicked myself for being so presumptuous.

    “People like you come and go occasionally. By now, I am used to seeing them.”

    “I see,” I replied, swallowing my mouthful. It was spit-suckingly dry, but I pretended otherwise. “Do you always invite them over for dinner?”

    “You’re the first person to respond to my letters.” he said, almost sadly.

    “Oh. Well…I…um…” I trailed off, mumbling something about how sorry I was to hear about that.

    There was silence for a little while. I tried my fill at the mashed potatoes, unable to keep myself from stabbing at them until they were distributed across my plate like a damp layer of toilet paper.

    “Allow me to cut to the chase, if you please.” Fred suddenly interjected, setting down his knife and fork and bridging his hands together. I straightened up, finishing a particularly chewy string bean.

    “I understand the other residents of this town may have been propagating some…harmful information about me. Please, if you will, disclose some of the things they may have said. Do not hold back, be as honest as possible.”

    Fred stared at me, hands clasped together, body stiff and expectant, waiting for an answer. I rubbed my temple as I wondered how best to tell him that basically the entire town wanted him gone. I remember thinking it was strange he was even asking me such a question; surely he would have picked up on the locals’ attitudes by now?

    “Uh…a lot of people seem kinda disturbed about your nightly walks through the cemetery.”

    “Yes, I have…gotten that impression. Anything else? Anything a little more specific?” Fred spoke, immediately after I had finished talking. “Anything…I hate to use the word, but…incriminating?”

    “No, no, nothing like that.” I continued, waving my hand as if to dispel the notion. “A couple of people said you were like a vampire, what with the lack of…appearance…during the day.”

    “Good, good.” Fred nodded, taking a sip of water from his glass. His shoulders relaxed, and I could see a weight had lifted from them. “Nothing out of the ordinary, then…”

    He picked up his knife and fork and resumed eating, as did I. Once again, I felt the unnatural silence creep in.

    “I heard this used to be your mother’s place, a-at some point.” I said, feeling I should at least attempt to keep the conversation going.

    “She always said she wanted a plot of land for herself.” Fred spoke, in a jarringly monotone voice. “Somewhere private and empty.”

    “I’m…sorry?”

    Fred stared at his plate. I froze up, overcome by the terrifying feeling I had said something very wrong.

    “Where she wanted to be buried. She kept telling me when she was sick. A nice little open field, just for her, where she could watch the bees dance across the flowers in peace. Across the poppies and the daffodils. Those were her favourites. She told me they reminded her of her childhood.”

    He was deathly still. I chewed on my bottom lip, wringing my hands against each other.

    “I never made the arrangements. She did not tell anyone other than me. Did not put it in her will. But it meant a lot to her. It really did.”

    With a sniff, he flicked his eyes up to mine and said:

    “Where are you going to be buried?”

    “Uh…I’ve never really thought about it too much.” I replied. “I think I might be cremated… maybe. I couldn’t really say.”

    Fred shrugged.

    “To each their own, I suppose. Mother did not want to be cremated. She always hated fire. Fire is what took Father away.”

    He said it with a such a nonchalance it took me a moment to process what he truly meant.

    “Oh, that’s…I’m so-

    “Mother used to say that was where Father was now. Where the fire is. I was never too sure myself. Father was a mean man, but he didn’t like the fire either.”

    My heart sunk as I noticed the family picture on the wall to my left. It hung crookedly, the glass layered with dust and the frame chipped and stained. From the dim lighting of the room, I could make out two smiling faces and one far less cheerful-looking man, arms crossed firmly at his chest as he glared into the camera.

    “Well, what a lovely evening this has been.”

    I jerked my head back to the table. Fred scooped up his last forkful of mashed potatoes and swallowed it, his plate now empty. I reached for my knife and fork, realising I still had a good few bites to go before I was finished.

    “No, no, please.” Fred spoke, standing up and sweeping my plate into his hands. “If you are full, you are full. I will not force you to eat more than you wish.”

    He turned on his heel and walked through the kitchen door before I could say a word. I brushed a couple of gravy droplets off my trousers and stood up, pushing the chair back under the table.

    “I don’t think I ever caught your name.” Fred said as he entered the room again, wiping his hands with a cloth.

    “It’s, uh, Howard.”

    “It was nice meeting you, Howard.”

    I started for the door, expecting Fred to follow behind. He vanished back into the kitchen from the corner of my eye, and I halted, taking one last moment to fully absorb the essence of the room, knowing it would most likely be the last time I would ever see it.

    I opened the door back into the hallway and made my way back to the front door. As I reached for the knob, I heard the pitter-patter of fast footsteps creaking through the dining room.

    I turned. Fred came around the corner, red-faced and panicked. He kept walking until he was uncomfortably close, fidgeting and even shaking slightly as he stared right at me with bulging white eyes. I retracted as far back as I could, my head tilted upward as it lay against the scratchy, wooden surface of the front door.

    “I…I want to ask you something.” his voice left no imprint of the cool, calm, collected man I had conversed with moments ago. “You said you might come back here one day, did you not? When you are old and retired?”

    “Y-yes. Yes, I did.”

    “If someone you loved wanted something,” Fred continued, not missing a beat, “Something more than anything else in the entire world, and you had the opportunity to give it to them, you would do it, would you not? You would take that opportunity?”

    Panic forced me to blurt out the first thing I could think of.

    “I would. I would, I would, I would. I would.”

    I kept repeating it over and over, quieter each time, until it didn’t even sound like a sentence anymore. Fred calmed down and backed away, running his hand across his scalp.

    “Then you would understand. All would be well. You would understand.” he whispered, grinning. He chuckled a squeaky, unnatural chuckle, sitting down as he reached the base of the stairs.

    “Goodbye, Howard. I wish you well. Good things are coming your way.”

    I peeled open the front door. Fred waved as I closed it behind me, still grinning.

    My heart was pounding. I stood there, just outside the door, for what felt like hours. That image of Fred sitting at the base of the stairs smiling at me was all that I could think of throughout the walk home. I was lost in my own head.

    The next thing I remember is opening my front door and almost jumping out of my skin as the phone rang.

    It was the company I had applied to. I had gotten the job.

    They apologised for calling so late, but I didn’t care. I thanked the woman on the other end and hung up, promptly falling asleep on the sofa. When I woke up, I started packing my things, barely even bothering to reflect on the previous night’s dinner. I was just too excited. The locals were somewhat worried that Fred’s antics were a vaguely significant factor in my departure, but I quelled those rumours before they got a chance to spread. They didn’t know about my visitation to the mansion and I was intent on keeping it that way.

    I made my goodbyes, thanked the townsfolk for my stay and left. The last I saw of the town was Fred’s house in my rear-view mirror as I pulled into the country roads. I almost expected him to be in the window, watching and waving me goodbye with that maddening grin, but he wasn’t there.


    40 years later, here I am.

    Back in January, a breaking news story shot across billions of screens throughout the world. A graveyard in Italy had suddenly and unexpectedly sprouted up with millions upon millions of flowers, four stories tall and 50 meters wide. It happened practically overnight, and the locals were stunned. Already, people were calling it a gift from God, even before the scientists dug up the soil and found something even stranger.

    The flowers weren’t growing from the soil. They were growing from the coffins. And they weren’t just growing from the coffins, they were growing from the actual skeletons themselves.

    Thick, healthy roots had sprouted from the bones, converging and meshing together to form one huge collective mass of plant-life. And not just any old plant-life. It was virtually indestructible. Fire, acid, machinery, radiation, nothing had any effect on it. They couldn’t even collect samples at first; they had no knives sharp enough to pierce the skin. No-one had any idea why. Based on the current understanding of botany and biology, it made no sense whatsoever. And it was only the start.

    Within days, identical phenomena started popping up all over the world. At first, it was only the graveyards and cemeteries, but in almost no time at all, it was anywhere. It didn’t matter how old they were, as long as they were bones and they were real, they were sprouting fauna. Mass graves from centuries ago were revealed, dark pasts of all kinds unearthed and displayed for all the world to see. It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t quite feel real.

    It’s been half a year since that first incident in Italy, and no-one is any the wiser. If they are, if some team government eggheads have uncovered the secret, they certainly haven’t told us yet. Maybe they never will. Maybe we aren’t ready to hear why all this has happened. But to be honest, I don’t really care.

    I clutch the walking stick in my hand tightly as I stand at the entrance to St Anthony. Just from looking down the main road, I can tell that any remainder of human life had vanished years ago. The houses are faded and empty, some half-collapsed, others with caved-in rooves and missing walls. The grass and the trees are sullen and grey, wilted and dying. The house I had rented for my stay has brittle plywood nailed into the window frames, the front door sealed off.

    I read online what happened to this place. There was an accident at a nearby radon mine. Everyone had to be permanently evacuated; the long-term exposure would’ve proved lethal and no-one would survive another 10-20 years or so. Everyone was given two days to pack up their stuff and leave, and everyone did.

    Except Fred.

    Fred barricaded his mansion overnight from the inside. No-one ever saw him leave.

    And now, as I turn the corner past the rotten willow trees to face the front of the mansion, I see why.

    The building itself has crumbled inward and sunk into the ground. A few more years, and it doesn’t seem like much of stretch that it’ll be swallowed completely, nothing remaining except maybe the brick chimney jutting upward above the soil.

    Far more noticeable than that is the enormous mass of fauna engulfing the house, intertwined with the brickwork, erupting from the floors and the walls. It looks almost alive as it sways with the wind, like the chest of an animal rising and falling with each breath. To my elderly eyes, the rainbow of flowers cast across the heap of green looks like a kaleidoscope, shimmering as I blink, visible even through my eyelids.

    I make my way over to the cemetery.

    Each and every headstone has been ripped from its place and cast aside into the street. The places where they previously lay have been smoothed over with grass, as if they never existed in the first place. The field is empty, save for the existence of a single, isolated grave right in its centre.

    I approach the grave.

    It’s ancient, perhaps one of the oldest graves here, its original shape having diminished significantly. I kneel by its inscription and carefully wipe the dirt away from the lettering.

    HERE LIES JESSICA HAZELTON

    LOVING WIFE

    MOTHER OF ONE

    AND DEARLY MISSED BY ALL WHO KNEW HER

    “I once was lost,

    But now, am found.

    Was blind, but now,

    I see.”

    A healthy covering of poppies and daffodils have emerged around the headstone, and a piece of paper is tucked into the soil beside them.

    I pick up the paper and unfold it, slipping on my reading glasses.

    “I knew you’d understand.” It reads, written in Fred’s handwriting.

      Loading editor
    • Okay Cornconic, because you’re writing style is better than a lot things that end up on the WW, I’m going to go a little harder on you. It’s not an attack, more things that don’t matter for this site but are better to get you’re stories to a better place.

      “St Anthony was a nice town. Lively, but not overcrowded, rural, but not backwoods. It had most, if not all the pleasant little quirks a town could have: good weather, fresh air, scenic location, that kind of thing. And with such a small population, it was definitely the type of place where everyone knew everyone, and no-one ever forgot anything.”

      “St” needs a period after it. While I’m not a fan of using semicolons, I think you can replace the comma between overcrowded and rural with one. Cut little between pleasant and quirks. Cut that kind of thing, and put “and” before scenic location. Saying “that kind of thing” looks and feels lazy.

      “I came to St Anthony for two reasons. The first was the one that anyone could relate to: I needed a break. I was getting bored of walking up and down the same old streets, sick of staring at that empty, black void in the sky every night, clouded by pollution. Really, it was no big deal. That craving to get away from it all would strike me every couple of years or so, and I’d go to a different place each time, never too far, but far enough away to make me feel rejuvenated. Hell, I’d been to just about a dozen little towns before I crossed paths with St Anthony, each somewhat memorable in their own little way, but all populated with those same types of people.”

      Try: “The first, anyone could relate to, I needed a break.” flows a little better. “sick of staring at that empty, black void in the sky every night, clouded by pollution.” have this be it’s own sentence, don’t make it a continuation, it becomes a run-on sentence. Also get rid of “getting” just say I was board. “That craving to get away from it all would strike me every couple of years or so, and I’d go to a different place each time, never too far, but far enough away to make me feel rejuvenated.” another run-on sentence, but it’s also a little clunky, can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something off with it. “Hell, I’d been to just about a dozen little towns before I crossed paths with St Anthony,” end the sentence there, and start a new one. I think that’s going to be the biggest hurdle for you right now, and I may point out a few more. But think those should be a good example of run-ons.

      “’d received a phone call from a certain company saying they were interested in an application I had submitted, and that they would get back to me as soon as possible.” Get rid of “had” before submitted and end the sentence there, cut the last part of it.

      “This wasn’t just any old application, mind you, it was for my dream job, what I’d been aspiring to all my life.” Cut “it was my dream job” the point get across stronger with the second part.

      “Every good grade, every school note, every minute spent studying and slaving over dusty textbooks, this is what it all led up to. It was the very last step on my own stairway to success, and I was about to slam my foot down.” All of this is reiterating what you already said. I’d do away with the last sentence, because that is just a little too much. Talking about what you did to show you were aspiring to get to this point, is fine. Slamming your foot down isn’t needed.

      “St Anthony was a town right slap-bang in the middle between where I was living and there.” Cut was and change it to I lived.

      “I’d still have a nice place to kick back in before dragging myself back to that boring slab of concrete I had been calling my home.” Cut “in”. Also Try this: “that boring slab of concrete I called home.”

      “I only planned on staying a few weeks at most. St Anthony was pleasant, yes, but I still only recognised it as just another one of those quirky little towns with those same, forgettable people.

      And the day I first heard about him, I assumed Fred was one of those people, too.”

      Try this instead: “I planned on staying a few weeks at most. St. Anthony was pleasant, but it was just another of those quirky little towns with the same forgettable people. I assumed Fred was one of those people, but I was wrong.” It gets rid of useless words, condenses the sentences and makes it flow smoother. “Fred fell into, and that was what made him stand out so much.” Cut “was what.”

      “‘Don’t go talking to Creepy Fred’ seemed to be a well-known saying amongst the locals.” Replace “seemed to be” with “was” and “amongst” with “among.”

      “His presence was perceivable from a mile away: he was the man with long, skinny arms and a pale, gaunt complexion, who walked like some shambling spirit yet to be properly laid to rest.” Why could that be know a mile away? Did he stink? Also, move the description to when you first meet the guy, and sprinkle it in through the dialogue, it would make it better. For example: “he said. His spindly arms flew into the air to emphasize the point.” I haven’t going to any dialogue yet, but that’s just an example.

      “His sheer existence seemed to be reminiscent of a Scooby-Doo villain; if his strange appearance or unsettling mannerisms weren’t enough to convince people to keep away at all costs, the fact that he lived in a dilapidated mansion right next to the local cemetery on the edge of town certainly didn’t help, either.” Period after “villain.” Replace “or” with “and”. Cut “the fact that he” replace “lived” with “living”. Cut “right.” Replace “edge” with “outskirts” and cut “either.”

      Okay, I’m going to go back on what I was saying about going into a very deep dissection. It will take too long, but I think what was mentioned above will be enough to get an idea of how to cut unneeded words and getting the flow to move a little smoother. But just for a little clarification, I’m going to give you a list of words that you can control F for and see if they could be cut and the sentence still makes sense. That, seem, saw, the, they, thought, remember, know, feel, just, and had. There may be more, but those seem to be the biggest culprits. Another thing that you can cut from most parts are “as he/she/it” and change the verb to ending in “ing” instead of “ed.”

      Another thing, use the dialogue tag of said. None of the speech I’ve come to so far ends with said. Using said is easier, the eye just scans over it. It makes the story move along and not bog down, on occasion, you can use a different tag, but you should use said more often than not. You can also get the reaction down with the paragraphs between what is being said. Choking on food, for example, would show being taken by surprise, or intrigue, and you don’t need to mention it in the dialogue tag.

      “Only slightly less of a shut-in then Fred,” use than.

      “I remember the echo of a piece of rotting wood shrapnel peeling off of Fred’s house and landing on the gravel driveway below, as if on cue.” This doesn’t fit. Are they eating outside the mansion?

      “Further conversations with the residents involved similar exchanges. I visited the cemetery the morning after the dinner. It seemed almost abandoned, Fred’s antics meaning it was seldom used by the locals. My only real discovery there was the existence of a fresh pile of poppies and daffodils sitting on Mrs Hazelton’s grave, not in a bouquet, or vase, or any sort of container, just scattered lightly across the soil around the headstone. My guess was that Fred had spent the night, just like every other night, meticulously combing the ground for the little flowers, heading back inside come morning, when he deemed the pile to be of a suitable size. I was never exactly certain whether the residents knew of this or not; either they didn’t know, or they just didn’t care. The fact that Fred’s behaviour could very well have been of a grieving man mourning the death of his much-loved mother and nothing more never seemed to occur to anybody. It perturbed me somewhat. I mean, it wasn’t as if Fred was being actively persecuted, but he was hardly being shown the basic social decency of being a human being, either. A little bit of time went by regarding my stay. I remained perplexed by Fred’s presence in the town, but it wasn’t an obsession by any means. Shortly after my first few weeks in St Anthony, I found my initial curiosity regarding the man die down somewhat, and the constant knowledge of his existence in the town in the back of my head beginning to fade. I started enjoying myself more, soaking up the radiance of the local landscape, and since I had still not heard back from the job company, I prolonged my stay.”

      All of this bogs down the story. You can cut the middle paragraph already, it was told from the stories told about the man. The other two paragraphs can be condensed and combined to make it more streamlined.

      “With that being said, it came as a huge shock, as you can imagine, when I received a dinner invitation from Fred early one morning, written in his very own handwriting.” Don’t break the fourth wall, you haven’t done it so far, and the way the story is going, it doesn’t appear that you’re going to do it again. It pulls the reader from the story.

      “It seemed likely the locals would do nothing but discourage me if I dared tell them about the invitation, so I kept the information to myself. I spent the rest of the day I had received the letter in quiet contemplation, wondering how the night would unfold. Dozens of questions swirled around my head as I lay splayed out on the living room sofa, staring at the ceiling. What would the conversation be like? Would the food be nice, or even stomachable? What would the food even be? Something posh and sophisticated, or basic and recognisable? I pondered how Fred was feeling, about to have the first guest in what I assumed must’ve been years. Was he making preparations, or just winging it?”

      I’d cut that entire paragraph. It’s not meaningful and doesn’t really add anything to the story.

      “I felt that inherent survival instinct start to kick in as I took a few seconds to examine the building, telling me to run, bail, sprint home and never look back.” Okay, something that I haven’t mentioned yet, because I was going to save it for the end of this review, but this is a perfect example of it. This entire story is telling. There’s no showing, and it hurts the story a bit. Show what’s happening with this guy’s survival instincts. Is his heart rattling his ribs? And for the other parts, show how the people interact when talking about Fred. Do they lean in and talk in whispers? Do they glance around to make sure no one will hear the story? Those things will add a lot to this story, and it can still be told more than shown. But it would give it a bigger impact, and draw the reader in a lot more.

      “Slow, irregular footsteps came down the hallway. I swallowed and put on a warm smile, forcing my hands away from retreating inside my trouser pockets. The door caught on the chain lock as it opened, and I heard soft breathing coming from inside as the footsteps came to an end.” This may not be something you want to hear, but all the stuff up to this point is mostly filler. You’re starting in the wrong place, you can cut most of the first part of this story, and it will have a stronger punch.

      Your style up unto this point is a very Lovecraftian. In that you’re describing a lot of things. With that being said you spend a lot of time painting the picture, but nothing had happened yet. You can say that you went to the town, stayed with those people, or met them at a restaurant or whatever. Have them tell the stories about creepy Fred, and get the letter the next day. It throws the story into the action faster, which is what people will ideally want to have happen.

      “He looked around somewhere in his mid-30s, a slither of blonde hair sitting atop his head, neatly combed just above his ears. His face was narrow and elongated, and his eyes were full of caffeine, the dark bags beneath them being the most noticeable symptom of his nocturnal habits. A black bowtie was wrapped somewhat shoddily around his collar, and the rest of his outfit gave off the impression of an early-1900s gentleman, with a pinstripe jacket and a white dress shirt, along with jet-black suit pants. The rest of the room seemed to reflect this formal, old-fashioned sense of style. A tall, looming grandfather clock stood just beside the head of the table, and a blackened fireplace was located beside that. A cupboard of antique dining-ware was also present, displaying ornate plates and gleaming cutlery. I took another deep breath. Still, the smell of Febreze lingered.”

      You can spread the descriptions around a little, and it can be used to show more than tell. Have them sitting at the time, silence ringing through the room, only broken by the looming grandfather clock beside the head of the table. It gets the reader into the mindset of the people in the room, and makes it a little creepier. It will not just be a break to explain everything in the room, and the story can continue while also giving more details about what’s happening.

      Okay, so most of the issues with technical problems have been mentioned above. With that being said, there is a few more issues with the story itself. I’ll get into the things that are good in a little bit, but let me just get this last problem out of the way first. The ending comes out of nowhere, I the flowers were due to Fred in some way, but it doesn’t make sense how he was able to do that. You need to give some kind of hint as to who he was able to make giant flowers sprout for his mother around the world. And it isn’t scary, it’s creepy, whenever Fred is in the scene, but that’s about it.

      Right, with that being said, the high point of this story is the dinner. We get to see how weird that guy is, and you did a good job at making him odd. When Howard was leaving and he got charged at was the high point, but the threat was never paid off. He was just a weird guy, and I think if you made it where maybe someone went missing in the town before Howard got there, and some thick flowers sprouting from the yard or something along those lines. Give hints that he is making the flowers grow by experimenting on people, or something that gives him a more menacing vibe it would make it scarier. Something that can make it so that we know he is doing some real shady stuff, not just having it be speculation would make this a lot scarier.

      Okay, so this is almost 3k words of a review, and most of the major problems should be mentioned here. Overall, I think the story can be cut down a lot, because there’s a great deal of filler in the beginning. It makes the story slow, and a bit of a drag to read until he gets to Fred’s house. I don’t know how many people would stick with it to get to that point. With that being said, this story does have a good amount of potential, and if it’s cleaned up, I’m sure it would find a great home on this site.

        Loading editor
    • Thank you for such an in-depth review. Just a thing or two I would like to point out:

      I'm not entirely sure that you actually got the ending, so let me just clarify things. I don't mean to be patronising or anything, I just want to make sure you completely understand.

      1.) Fred is known for his late-night walks through the cemetery. The morning after one of these walks, Howard visits the cemetery and describes two important details. The first being that it's overgrown and sort of semi-abandoned, and the second being the presence of flowers on Fred's mother's grave (specifically, poppies and daffodils).

      2.) Howard mentions how Fred's house is covered in a mist of Febreze, and that there is another smell being concealed by said Febreze.

      3.) This is the important bit: Fred mentions over dinner that his mother wished to have a private spot of land to be buried in, but ended up being buried in the local cemetery because she never put the request in her will.

      Are you connecting the dots yet? If not, let me explain further:

      4.) When Howard visits St. Anthony again toward the end of the story, he finds Fred's house overgrown with flowers. This is an easy connection to make, of course. Obviously Fred's house was full of dead bodies before the incident actually happened.

      But he wasn't murdering/experimenting on people. Fred had nothing to do with the worldwide corpse-plant event thingy. The bodies in Fred's house came from the cemetery. He was digging up the graves one-by-one overnight and stashing the bodies in his house so his mother could have a private place to rest. And when the radon incident happened, he stayed behind and cleared up all the gravestones, leaving the note behind because he knew Howard would come back someday.

      As for how the grave grew specifically poppies and daffodils, well...I really just thought that would be poetic. Maybe chalk it up to since those were the flowers Fred left on the grave every night, they had some sort of effect on the soil. I don't know, really. It's kinda weird and coincidental, but I think it makes the story better as a whole.

      If there's anything you still don't get/think doesn't make sense in terms of the plot, please let me know.

      As for technical issues, you were right in the way that I do tend to struggle with run-on sentences and 'crutch words' as I think you described them as in a recent blog/forum post (I don't remember which one). Your advice in this regard was very helpful, and I'm thankful you pointed out specific errors for so long into the story.

        Loading editor
    • Okay, I got the first three points, but didn't connect the dots that he was stealing bodies. Because of that, I'd make it more obvious, as in just mentioning that there were a few fresh graves, and maybe have him ask about that during the dinner, where then neighbors say no one died recently. Also, for the ending, they way it is written, and that Fred said his mother liked daffodils and poppies, it makes it seem that he had some hand in it. He talks about her wanting to be alone in a field with those two flowers, so that's why I assumed he had something to do with it. With that being said, and that you said it was something to just wax poetically, it may be better to cut it out. You can have Howard come back and notice that the cemetery is empty besides Fred's mom, or have there be some connection between the flowers and Fred.

      Try to keep everything, especially the ending, to stay within the same story. Magically having flowers growing, just because it is a beautiful idea doesn't fit without an explanation in this story. That's not to say it isn't a good idea, but without anything to indicate it had something to do with this story, it shouldn't be in there. Focus more on the grave robber. Another thing, since I didn't get the clues you dropped, it may be a good idea to add more information about it. You want to make sure your readers get the point of what you're trying to do, so if they have any questions, you may have to spell it out just a little more.

        Loading editor
    • A FANDOM user
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