Secrets of the Short Story

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic


Is this tunnel to be my tomb?

Submitted: November 22, 2017

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Submitted: November 22, 2017

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The best way to start writing a great short story is to imagine yourself alone - utterly, completely alone - in your hometown. Add to your isolation a situation where, as in a sensory deprivation chamber, you are stripped of modern conveniences such as electricity or indoor plumbing.

Place yourself in the unsettling milieu that your hometown has, by some mysterious cataclysm of unknown origin, suddenly become a ghost town - all the familiar places and faces are frightfully wiped out by an unseen force, the nature of which could be malevolent or merely unconcerned about your wellbeing. The paranormal element has phenomenal mass appeal.

The reason for placing yourself and your hometown in this macabre situation is because even if you don’t like yourself and even if you don’t like your hometown, you have deeply rooted psychoemotional connections with both and you are very familiar with both - the effect being that you can write from your heart about what you know best, which will ensure you don’t inadvertently crash headlong into the dreaded compositional death sentence known as Writer’s Block.

When you base your lead character on yourself (or even your fantasy self), you are loading your pen with an ebullient source of infinite inspiration. Has love been good to you, or have you suffered a broken heart? Are you as attractive as you want to be, or do you worry that others think you are ugly? Are you rich or languishing in the hopelessness of abject poverty? Are you a career success or have you flopped in failure? Has your name been in the arrest log or are you the most outstanding pillar of your community? Do you practice witchcraft or have you a paralyzing fear of the occult? Is there something embarrassing about your personal habits that causes you to avoid intimacy with another?

You have enough ghosts inside you and haunting your memories of the places and people in your hometown to easily generate a streaming flood of vividly transporting, profoundly evocative words for a great short story, and when combined with the desperate need for survival in such gloomy circumstances as inexplicably finding yourself alone in a formerly familiar place that has been sucked dry of life, you’ll definitely have readers’ attention and interest to find out how well you cope facing such surreal phantasmagorical hardships.

With this mental primer, your literary stage is set with engaging characterization in concert with suspenseful mesmerizing plot for the penning of a great short story. To prove how effective this strategy is, I shall now provide you with a graphic example of the potency of this intellectual formula. This is the start of a great short story I recently conjured by applying the profitable method herein described. I’ve given this soul-stirring tale of ill-omened woe the symbolically elemental title Culvert Pipe….

The hour is late as I write this. I sit alone long into the watches of the night making a record of these inexplicable events. If something should happen to me, at least there will be this notebook to provide information that may be of use to others…. if there are any others. I have no way of knowing the date or the time. When I awoke a few days ago, my watch had stopped at thirteen minutes past midnight. My smartphone is dead. There is no electricity for recharging. The lights are out all over what is left of this decimated town.

I stumbled across a discarded notebook. It was empty, absolutely nothing written on any of the pages. At first I was going to use it to feed the flames of the fire to help me stay warm, but then I thought of writing a journal with it. Besides, a diary is like a friend when one is lonely. Oh, how I wish I had at least one other human being, a friend, a companion with whom to face this grim horror!

In the ruins of a drugstore, I discovered a whole brand new pack of ball point pens, so I was able to begin my written account of this inexplicable nightmare from which I apparently cannot awaken. I wake up, but I’m still in the dream.

The dust hasn’t settled from that last cataclysmic explosion some miles off in the distance. I have not seen another person since the bombs began going off. I suppose they are bombs. They could be atomic blasts. I know little of such things. The dust rises high. It stays aloft. The sky is red all day and, for some reason, right at sunset the lightning starts. The blinding streaks of multicolored electricity tear mercilessly through the smoky atmosphere all night.

The thunder is terribly loud, shaking the roof and walls of this mostly empty warehouse in which I hide from the violent elements. I could find no other shelter. Most of the buildings and houses have been flattened to the ground by shock-waves from the mysterious explosions. The few structures left standing are but charred skeletons of the modern edifices they so recently were. Some of them are smoldering, some still in flames.

Did World War Three start? Is this Armageddon? Could it be that Earth has drifted into the deadly path of a devastating megalithic meteor storm? Could this have been the holocaust that brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs? Did dinosaurs ever actually exist?

Perhaps alien beings from another world are attacking. For all I know there could be a rip in the fabric of the space-time continuum; some alternate reality colliding with the one into which I was born.

About an hour ago I thought I heard the sound of a machine, a high revving engine buzzing somewhere outside and nearby. I couldn’t be sure because of the deafening loudness of the incessant thunder. During the few moments that I thought I heard the machine, the lights in here flickered and came on. Then, abruptly, they went back off and though I strained my ears to filter out the booming thunder, I didn’t think I any longer heard the noise of the machine. I must keep my wits about me. I must not give in to fear and panic. I must not fall into despondency or collapse into a nervous breakdown. I must focus on the practical - on survival.

Using trash such as bits of paper, plastic, cardboard boxes, and scraps of broken lumber, I’ve been keeping a fire burning in a rusty fifty-five gallon metal drum. I don’t know if it’s because the red dust is blocking out heat from the sun, but the temperature continues to drop. Day by day it is getting colder and colder. Tomorrow I’ll go out in search of warmer clothes.

It is the next day now, whatever day it is. When the sky began to glow blood red and the lightning and thunder slowly ceased indicating that I had managed to survive another harrowing night, I stuffed shreds of old newspaper into my shirt and pants and wrapped myself tightly in a burlap sack in order to insulate myself against the deepening cold while venturing forth from the relative snugness and safety of the warehouse in search of food and warmer clothes.

I brought my journal with me to make notes and sketch maps of the locations of any useful supplies that I might dig out among the smoldering wreckage in which I, by some unknown catastrophe, now find myself utterly alone.

In what remains of a grocery store, the roof of which is entirely missing, I found several gallons of bottled drinking water and a few days’ supply of canned food. I put as much as I could into a metal cart but the wheels were bent and jammed, so by the time I dragged the heavy thing all the way back here to the warehouse, I was completely exhausted and had to sit on a cracked milk crate to rest for awhile.

Later, I set forth on another expedition to forage for anything that might help keep me alive. A smoking angel hair factory that had been obliterated by flames provided me with a much needed jumpsuit and heavy overcoat. They are both somewhat too big for me, but in the decreasing temperatures of this post-apocalyptic bad dream it is better to have warm clothing that is larger than my size than not to have any warm clothing at all.

The articles of clothing survived the inferno that destroyed the manufacturing facility by being buried beneath a massive mound of stockpiled factory product. Angel hair, being made of spun glass, is extremely fire resistant. Yet, what if the angel hair I found isn’t spun glass? What if it’s something else entirely?

For many decades reports of angel hair falling from the sky during and immediately after UFO sightings have been documented by Paranormal and UFO research groups. In some cases there are only small amounts of the mysterious otherworldly substance; in others vast quantities of angel hair have been found draped over miles of utility lines.

When researchers attempt to collect samples for study, the suspicious angel hair, as if touch sensitive, immediately undergoes sublimation bypassing the liquid state changing from solid directly to gas and thus evaporating into the atmosphere.

I will endeavor to locate a library (though I doubt that very many books could have survived the explosions and subsequent fires) in order to find out further facts about angel hair. This I shall do later, because at the moment I am facing another difficulty of more immediate threat.

I had donned the jumpsuit and overcoat and was threading my way through the rubble that clogs the deserted streets of this smoking ghost town when I heard what sounded like the heavy footfalls of some large thing approaching rapidly from behind me.

Through the dust and smoke I could only see a vague shadow of the thing, but that shadow was very big and hulking. It was coming straight for me with obvious malicious intent, so I hopped from the roadway and ducked into a large concrete drain pipe extending from beneath the high mangled razor-wire fence of a sprawling and totally annihilated industrial park.

Apparently, the snarling thing is too huge to crawl into the culvert after me. I am about twenty yards into the pipe and I can see the hideous creature pacing back and forth just outside the open end of this four foot diameter concrete tunnel. A slimy effluence is draining in a thin stream out of here. I am balancing my feet and upper body in such a way that the flowing waste passes beneath me without soaking my newly discovered warm clothing.

I don’t know if my beastly pursuer is animal or machine. I hear metallic clanking sounds and the start-stop hum of servo motors, but then again, there are bone-chilling carnivorous growls resonating from deep in its massive chest. I get the impression of something akin to a rhinoceros with deadly, enormous, very sharp fangs. Fortunately for me, the air is too smoggy to get a good look at the vicious predator from where I’m crouching, otherwise I might die of sheer terror.

The effluent passing through this shadowy sewer pipe flickers with an eerie florescent green luminosity, thus providing the dim light by which I am making a written account of this ghoulish misadventure. If the horrifying thing that is stalking me doesn’t go away soon, I have a terrible fear of a gruesome painful fate.

For one thing, the slimy flowing waste could be radioactive. The other gnawing worry is that I don’t have any water with me. I stored it all back at the warehouse. I might be all right for a day or two without food, but I don’t know how long I can last without water.

What is the unspeakable monstrosity that paces threateningly back and forth at the opening of this culvert? Why is it after me? How long do I have before nightfall? How long can I sit in this precarious position holding myself up out of the foul-smelling glowing muck that oozes under me? Dare I crawl further into this concrete passageway? It obviously originates from somewhere deep in the ruins of the industrial park, but how far would I have to crawl to reach the other end? Would I find an opening large enough to provide a means of escape? Is this dark tunnel to be my tomb?

The mysteries penned by suspense author Sean Terrence Best are at your fingertips via Books-A-Million, Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble, and many other booksellers.


© Copyright 2018 Sean Terrence Best. All rights reserved.

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