Destination… The Lake!

I mentioned before that I participate in a lot of the writing challenges within the AutoCrit community. I’ve always enjoyed the writing prompts they use, and the community is one of the best I’ve tried out so far. (This post is not sponsored, but maybe someday… A girl can dream). Today marks the final day of this year’s Destination Unknown challenge and I really enjoyed this one. The problem is, I didn’t finish.

Now, I didn’t struggle with the prompts, and I surpassed the minimum word count, so what’s the problem? What was supposed to be a short story is currently on its way to becoming a novella. And I anticipate that it could even reach novel length by the time I complete draft 2. I love the way the story is turning out and can’t wait to dive deeper into the uncomfortable world of cosmic horror I’ve created. That’s right! This story is one of the reasons why I felt the need to write a blog post about cosmic horror last week.

With Destination Unknown, AutoCrit supplies the first line, the last line, and a twist all throughout different days during the challenge. Between those rules/prompts and a nightmare I had a few weeks ago, I stared writing From the Lake. The story starts with “The attack was over in seconds” and will eventually end with “Far too many people put their faith in me.” Although the first and last lines were easy to work into the story, it was the twist that caused me to make some major changes: The story must not contain physical violence. In a horror story, this can be tricky, but it has allowed me to explore and experiment with psychological horror instead. And I love what I’ve written so far.

I’ll continue to work on From the Lake until it’s finished, and it is something I enjoy enough to want to publish. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of the first chapter from the unfinished first draft:

The attack was over in seconds.

That headline jumped out in thick, black front from the crumpled pages of the newspaper. It still smelled damp from sitting out in the mailbox for too long during the storm. Betty tried to read the story beneath it, but her Papa snatched away the paper before she could get close. He noticed the slight bend in her neck from craning to see the page and he shook his head.

“You’re a sinful girl, Betty Rue Paisley.”

“Yes, Papa.” She didn’t understand what she had done that was so sinful, but she knew from experience that it was better to agree with him on this point.

“So much evil in this world,” he said into the paper, and Betty knew he wasn’t speaking to her or anyone else in the room.

Mama was doing her evening knitting, the click, click, click of her needles the only sound that could be heard above the low hum of the radio. Bobby was sitting on the chesterfield next to Papa, scribbling in a colouring book that was precariously placed on the edge of the table. Betty was relegated to the carpeted floor with her picture book of wildflowers.

“… You’ll want to cancel those beach plans this weekend. Looks like we’ve got another big storm coming,” said the man on the radio.

Betty didn’t know what “beach plans” were, but she was certain she didn’t have any. She would be doing chores this weekend, same as every other weekend. The weather didn’t change that. The only difference was that Bobby would not get to play outside, and she would be stuck listening to him whine and complain as Mama babied him to make him feel better.

He was only two years younger than her, but Bobby was five and their parent thought that was “the perfect age”. Then again, he had been spoiled long before the age of five. And Betty had never received such treatment two years ago when she was the perfect age. It was clear Bobby was the favourite because Betty was a sinful girl.

Click, click, click went the knitting needles, and the dampened newspaper rustled in response.

“Tut, tut,” went her father.

Betty knew what was coming next. Even the knitting needles paused.

“I swear, Martha, this world is becoming a desolate place. Just when I think we as a species can’t move farther past the point of redemption, I read something like this.”

He smacked the paper with the back of his hand, but didn’t bother to share what it was he had read that was so awful. Betty wondered if it had something to do with the attack.

“We can only hope they will come to their senses and find their way like we have,” Mama said in calm, measured words.

Papa shook his head.

“I think it might be too late. And they have no one but themselves to blame for their sinful ways.”

“Sinners die in agony!” said Bobby, parroting previous speeches from Papa. He looked Betty right in the eye before returning to his colouring book.

“That’s right, Bobby. Sinners die in agony and only the righteous will gain eternal peace as servants to our Lord and Master.”

“Amen,” said Mama quietly with a slight bow of her head. Betty copied her, but made sure her voice didn’t rise above a whisper.

“And now for today’s Message Board.”

The newspaper slammed shut, and Betty was on her feet before it even hit the table. This was their evening ritual, and she knew better to show initiative than to be asked. Papa would not be pleased if he had to ask her to do what she knew she had to.

Making sure not to crank the volume too loud so as not to give Mama a headache, Betty turned the dial on the radio until the man’s voice was the only sound in the room.

“… So, if you’ve got a message for your community, send it in!

“First up, from Bobbi-Jo down in Kingsport is looking for a strong, young boy to come over and mow her lawn…”

Papa’s nostrils flared and his brow furrowed as he turned every ounce of his focus towards the small radio.

“… Glen, your neighbour in Arkham, is selling vacuum cleaner…”

Even Bobby stopped colouring to devote his full attention to the program. Although neither he nor Betty understood what was so important about the Message Board, they knew it was very important to their parents. If one of them was to so much as sneeze, they’d be spanked so hard they wouldn’t be able to sit for a week.

“… And finally, Smith from Dunwich has a special message for the special people in his life: When times are tough, look to your Lord for Salvation.”

A ball of yarn rolled to a stop in front of Betty’s picture book, and she looked up to see her Mama’s knitting on the floor. Her face was pale.

“Aww, now isn’t that sweet of our pal Smith? I’m sure he’ll be praying for us all. And now–”

Papa’s hand was on the dial, and his face was blank. Something had happened, but she didn’t know what. Usually, after the Message Board, he announced that it was time to turn off the radio and get ready for bed. But this time he didn’t say anything. He was just standing there. Betty couldn’t even hear him breathing.

When he did speak, the sound of his voice made her jump.

“It’s time. We’ll start preparations at dawn.”

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