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Thread: Short Story Assignment

  1. #1

    Short Story Assignment

    My assignment was to create a suspenseful 1500 word short story from the viewpoint of a child witnessing an occurance.

    Comment and Critique - Also title suggestions are more than welcome


    The stifling sun glared down on the small village of Addison, Texas on a hot September afternoon.
    A cool breeze gave minimal comfort while I gazed bleakly at the miles of flat, dust-covered land that I now called home and thought of the old house in New York.
    “That boy can’t be normal.”
    “Hmm?” I replied, still caught up in my daydreams.
    “Look at him, that ain’t a normal kid.” My mother pointed to the yard.
    I shifted my glance to Thomas, my younger brother, playing by himself but talking to his left as if someone were there with him.
    “I’ll go talk to him mother,” I said, grudgingly getting out of the shade. I sauntered towards the middle of the yard where Thomas was.

    “Vroom! We’re space men! We’re going to the moon!”
    “Hey Tommy what are yah doing?” I said, interrupting his game.
    He lifted his chubby face up and stared at me with a strange glow in his eye.
    “We’re going to the moon!” he replied.
    “Yeah? Am I coming too?” I asked playfully.
    “Nope. Just me and him.”
    “Who?” I demanded, looking around.
    “My new friend! We just met. He’s standing right here,” he said beaming.
    “Alright what’s his name?”
    He paused. “He doesn’t want to tell me.” His eyes seemed to drift into the distance.
    I shrugged and crossed the yard to report back to mother.

    I told her about Tommy’s imaginary friend and she furrowed her brow.
    “Does Tommy have any friends at school?”
    “Yeah, a few.” I said cautiously, feeling the lie come out of my mouth one letter at a time.
    I thought of the last time I had to save Tommy from the lower school bullies led by Arnie Johnson, the biggest of the grade. They had circled him, pushing him into the centre taunting him with the regular ignorant jests. “Tubby retard,” or “stupid fat yank,” became the most common remarks. Tommy seemed to shrug these incidents off, because of how regular they had become for him.
    Mother interrupted my thoughts, “He’s way too old for that kind of thing. He’s going to be 9 this winter. Maybe I should get him an appointment with that nice psychiatrist down the road.”
    I wasn’t paying attention. I was back staring into the endless fields and distant houses. “Yeah sure. Alright,” I replied without knowing what was said. I watched a group of lambs graze in the far off pastures as I dozed off.

    The next morning I woke up late for school, and rushed down the stairs where mother and Tommy were waiting for me. Before we shot out the door my mother whispered in my ear that I needed to take Tommy to Dr. Gall, the psychiatrist, after school.
    I went through the school day without doing much work at all. The only thing I could think of was if Tommy was all right. I wondered what the psychiatrist would say of the imaginary man and what damage the bullying caused to Tommy’s mind.
    The school bell rang and I began to make my way over to the lower school to bring Tommy to his appointment. He wasn’t there. He never got in trouble so he couldn’t have been in detention, and he was always - In the distance a blood-curdling scream interrupted my thoughts, and pierced my ears. I ran toward the sound begging, saying to myself, “Please not Tommy, please, please.”
    I burst through the gate of the pathway behind the school and there lay Arnie Johnson. Dark red stains soaked his clothes, and he was holding Tommy’s bloodied and torn yellow shirt. He was lying on top of a pool of blood.
    “No, No!” I wailed.
    I knelt down and checked the body for a pulse – none. I swiveled my head around and screamed desperately, “Tommy!”
    “H-h-help,” a small familiar voice whimpered from the bushes. “I-i-is he gone?”
    A wave of relief washed over me as I checked Tommy over and over for marks, scratches, blood. He was fine, but his eyes were… -a leaf crunched. “Get inside now,” I ordered; quickly thinking the murderer might still be around. We both ran back into the school building. I called the police.
    They arrived a few minutes later, in full force. There was never anything going on in the town and the murder of little Arnie Johnson received full attention from the police, and from the newspaper reporters.
    A murder was something that had never happened in the town before, and Tommy became the center of attention. He told them that Arnold ripped his shirt and ran away with it. He put the spare shirt that he always brought to school on and chased after him. He heard a scream then crawled through the bushes to look, and there was a man stabbing Arnie. The police quizzed Tommy for the identity of the murderer. He hesitated and his eyes glazed over. He gave a full description of a man I swore I saw while we walked to school earlier that morning.
    Tommy identified the man in a lineup, Walter White, a young black man who had just moved to town. He had no alibi because he had been fired from work earlier that day. The jury saw it as an anger motivated murder and without solid condemning evidence, Walter almost immediately got the chair.
    Tommy and I both sat in the waiting area of Dr. Gall’s office. It had been nearly a week since the trial of the murder and today was the earliest that the doctor could see Tommy.
    “You can come in now,” the doctor said in a soothing voice.
    “Can my brother come in with me?” Tommy said looking up at me.
    “All right but you’re the center of attention,” he replied smiling.
    We sat down on the cushioned chairs arranged around the room and both faced the doctor. I paid no attention to the conversation; I stared out the window until I heard the doctor mention the imaginary friend.
    “I don’t need him anymore,” Tommy replied quickly.
    “How do you mean?” the doctor asked.
    “Well um…” I watched as the familiar strange look in Tommy’s eyes appeared. “He could do things I couldn’t do by myself – and I have new friends now,” Tommy said, adding the second point in as if to cover the first.
    “That’s good that you have new friends, but what did you mean by your friend being able to do things you couldn’t?” The doctor watched Tommy’s eyes behind his thick lens glasses.
    Tommy hesitated, and then a grin replaced his nervous expression. “Well he was a spaceman, a fireman, a cowboy and a scientist. He knew so much more than me and he took me on so many adventures, but I don’t need him anymore for that.” Tommy said with confidence as his eyes returned to normal.
    The doctor seemed content with that answer, and decided to end the session there. “I’ll see you next week as well,” he mentioned as we left the room.

    On the way back I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. I didn’t speak a word to Tommy on the walk home. I thought of what Tommy had said. I wondered who his new friends were, and why I had never met them. I thought of the strange glow in Tommy’s eyes that was familiar to me yet unknown. What did it all mean?

    When we arrived home Tommy went quickly with mother to do the shopping for the week. I decided that I didn’t feel well enough to go with them.
    After they had left I approached Tommy’s room. I felt as though I needed to check it all over once, for a reason I wasn’t sure of; I just knew somehow it was necessary. Everything was normal but there was a smell that I couldn’t quite identify. I sat down on his bed. The floor creaked. Thud. A floorboard shifted under the weight. I moved the floorboard to reveal a small hole in the floor. I reached into the hole and fished out a small wooden box. The odor was penetrating now. I slowly lifted it open and inside was a pair of black gloves. I was shaking now. I lifted one of the gloves. It was crusted and was the cause of the smell I couldn’t identify. I lifted the other; there was something else under the glove. I stopped. I was frozen in fear. I carefully placed the gloves back into the box, placing it in the hole and pulled the floorboard back to where it originally was. I closed the door behind me, went outside and sat down slowly on the porch. I gazed blankly across the fields where a man was carrying a lamb back to the farm for slaughter.

  2. #2
    I enjoyed reading this and you write well – skilfully building the suspense as the tale unravels.

    I particularly liked the way you suggest things are not all well with Tommy :

    “Does Tommy have any friends at school?”
    “Yeah, a few.” I said cautiously, feeling the lie come out of my mouth one letter at a time.


    But I'm not sure you have managed to resolve the story clearly enough. I’m assuming Tommy was the killer – and Walter White was his ‘imaginary friend’ (hence the black lamb led to slaughter – a really subtle touch) - but what else lay under the gloves?

    There were also a couple of weak areas midway where I felt you rushed things; adding a lot of unnecessary exposition and expanding the plot until it became extremely unconvincing.
    A murder, arrest, trial and sentencing completed within a matter of days? These normally take 12-18 months…
    And it seemed rather strange that you were the one who telephoned the police. Surely someone in authority at the school would already have done so.

    In fact the entire paragraph from ‘I called the police’ to ‘He put the spare shirt that he always brought to school on and chased after him.’ is a bit of a mess because as well as repeating yourself – you are stretching credibility beyond its limits (always carrying a spare shirt for school seems bizarre – why not leave Tommy wearing the bloodied shirt – or have him shirtless?).

    I suggest you look closely at this scene and try to simplify it – do we really need to know the outcome of the police investigation other than to be told Walter was arrested for the crime?

    These two paragraphs also left me scratching my head – are they typos?

    He wasn’t there. He never got in trouble so he couldn’t have been in detention, and he was always - In the distance a blood-curdling scream interrupted my thoughts, and pierced my ears.

    A wave of relief washed over me as I checked Tommy over and over for marks, scratches, blood. He was fine, but his eyes were… -a leaf crunched.
    And having the boy visit a psychiatrist seems rather extreme (even for America where one assumes therapists are more prevalent than elsewhere on the planet).

    Finally – you have fallen into the trap many story tellers fall into by starting your story with a description of the weather in order to set the scene.
    I would suggest you begin with ‘I gazed bleakly…’ in order to create an immediate link between the narrator and the reader… that's more important than telling us it was a sunny day with a cool breeze.

    and – He lifted his chubby face up and stared at me with a strange glow in his eye. – the word ‘up’ is redundant since ‘lift’ implies an upward movement.

    As for the title – it’s been used before but something along the lines of ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ which could apply to the narrator or Tommy’s imaginary friend.

    But overall, despite my nit-picking, I thought this was a great effort. With a little editing it can be a real gem.

    H
    Last edited by hillwalker; 10-15-2011 at 10:13 AM.

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