The Seeking Girl

June 6, 2005

Sophie walked slowly, aimlessly through the woods. It had been a little over a week since her father’s heart attack, two days since his funeral. Time alone was what she needed now, time to let her father’s death sink in, time to accept that he was, in fact, gone. No more Sunday dinners with a movie on TV afterward. No more lovingly teasing banter. No more comforting hugs. No more seeing the pride in his eyes, even though he’d never say it aloud. No more seeing the ‘I love you’ in his eyes or hearing him say it aloud.

She paused and brushed the tears away from her cheeks, took in a deep breath, pushed it out through her mouth slowly, listening to it whistle quietly past her lips.
Continuing on, she pushed thoughts of her father from her head, practicing for what would be normal for the rest of her life. She looked around at the trees, the patches of wildflowers, the chipmunks that scurried under piles of leaves as she drew too close to them. She listened to the chirps and squawks of the birds overhead, the rustling of branches as the squirrels made their way from tree to tree.

A few feet ahead she noticed a structure obscured by a copse of pine trees. Though she’d wandered these woods all during her childhood, she never came across this dilapidated house. Curious, she walked toward it.

It was obviously long abandoned. Little more than a shack, the wood siding was weather-worn to a brownish gray, and the small windows on each of the four sides of the structure were glassless now. The door, offset from the middle and balanced by the window set three feet from it, hung slightly ajar in the frame, the hinges barely holding it in place.

She pushed gently at the door at first, and when it didn’t budge, she gave it a shove. It scraped across the rotting floorboards leaving a semi-circle in the dust as it moved into the room. Sophie stepped over the threshold into the barren room that contained nothing but dirt, leaves, and the remains of animals’ nests in the corners.
In the middle of the main room there was a doorway that led to what looked like a kitchen. Sophie crossed the creaking floorboards creaking and stepped into the second room. It was empty except for a countertop set atop a bank of three cupboards, and a rusting woodstove in the opposite corner. Next to the counter was another door, though in contrast to everything else in the building, it hung on its hinges straight and the light blue paint seemed less worn, barely streaked with dirt like everything else. The doorknob even glinted slightly in the dim ray of sunshine that filtered through the window from the other side of the room.

Sophie reached out for the knob and spun it easily, the door swinging into the room with no resistance. Beyond the door was a staircase, built of simple boards, leading down to a basement. She felt a slight shudder run up her spine as she stepped toward the stairs, but her fear dispersed when a feeling of need overtook her. She was drawn to the basement, an unnamable force pulling her down the stairs and toward whatever it was that was down there.

After feeling her way down the steps, Sophie dug through her jacket pockets and pulled out a book of matches. She struck the sulfur-coated cardboard tip against the sandy strip on the back of the book and watched the dark room flare into view. She gasped when she saw the basement’s contents, still sparse, but definitely inhabited at some point. A high table was pushed against one wall and held four candles. Sophie made her way over to it and, lighting another match, touched the flame to each of the four wicks, casting the room in a yellow glow.

A desk and chair were set against the opposite wall from the table with the candles, and a bookcase overflowing with dusty volumes sat on the wall in between. Feeling drawn again, Sophie moved toward the bookshelf. She felt a shift in the air, a tightening of the atmosphere of the room as she stepped into the center. She looked down then, and noticed for the first time the marks painted on the floor.

It was a large circle, taking up nearly half the room, and just inside the white line of the circle were a series of symbols, all carefully spaced and neatly painted. She barely had time to spin in a full circle and take in all the symbols before her vision began to waver, growing fuzzy at the edges and wafting in waves like heat pouring off hot asphalt under a noontime summer sun. A stabbing pain began then, from the center of her skull, an icepick forcing it’s way out, then growing, spreading through her whole head, making her ears ring and her vision go dark. Sophie felt herself falling, felt her knees bending against her will and her head rushing toward the floor until everything around her went black.

***

Sophie could feel herself trembling as she rose back through the darkness to consciousness. She could feel cool air around her, a stark contrast to the warm, stifling closeness of the basement. Not yet able to open her eyes, she was confused at the difference. She was sure she was outside, not in the dank basement anymore. Although the sounds were different from the woods she’d been in, too. There were no birds, no rustling leaves. There was… traffic?

Confusion brought her further toward consciousness and she forced her eyes open. The sky above her was blue peppered with white clouds in amorphous blobs. Not a tree in sight. She turned her head to the left, saw grass. Just grass, for yards ahead of her. Turning to the right there was more grass, but beyond it, the familiar shape of a highway’s metal guardrail.

6 thoughts on “The Seeking Girl

  1. bruinsmap says:

    Well written generally, so just some comments.

    “She was drawn to the basement, an unnamable force pulling her down the stairs and toward whatever it was that was down there.”

    Sorry but “unnameable” is a cop out 🙂 If you cannot name it then don’t. If you can describe it then do so. Just says “I took the easy way out here” 🙂

    The house? Is it important? Will it be revisited? If not then that is a large amount of descriptive language on something to be thrown away. Are you going to describe every location in such detail? If you do, then you are setting yourself a difficult standard to keep. If not, then it may stick out, and with everything after you just got lazy with.

    “white clouds in amorphous blobs”, don’t like the unnecessary use of a fancy adjective. You write well enough without the need to use them. Looks like a thesaurus trawl.

    But certainly you have a promising start. Not that I read horror books 🙂

  2. packoffeathers says:

    You have pleasant and swift writing (though I agree with first commenter here about some fancy words). There is a little too much telling here and there.
    In the first paragraph you can skip “It had… fact, gone.” and mention the word father somewhere in the following sentence.
    A risky thing is that there is little that sets your story or worldbuilding apart at the moment. Also, it feels a little too convenient that she happens upon this house. Perhaps the way to discover the house can be the distinguishing hook?
    At the moment she lights the match and gasps, I expected something horrible or at least surprising, but it’s just a table and books. If that’s also more unique and intriguing I believe you’ll have a killer opening.

  3. Prerna. B says:

    Very nice!!
    I really like your descriptions. You definitely paint a clear picture in my mind!

    I would say maybe go a bit easy on the adverbs and try to describe the situation using another word. As well, the tone of the piece seems a bit unclear at some parts. Are you going for more of a dark tone? B/c if you are then make sure the types of descriptions you say resonate with that. For ex: “It was obviously long abandoned.” – The word “obviously” threw me off because it added a very casual tone to the entire scene.

    “The basement’s contents” – You don’t necessarily need to tell the reader that, because the reader knows the character is in the basement.

    There were some instances that you “told” the reader what was going on instead of “show.” For ex: “her vision began to waver, growing fuzzy at the edges” – instead maybe show the reader that her vision is blurry

    Overall, well done! 🙂

  4. archie (@causticanatomy) says:

    The first paragraph just didn’t work for me. I think Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) said it best in The Bad Beginning: “If you’ve already lost someone close to you, then you know how it feels — if not, you couldn’t possibly imagine it.” You’re trying to add emotional weight by describing all the things Sophie lost, but we have no reason to care about either her or her father, so the sense of loss is, well, lost. Also, “No more X, no more Y, no more Z” is kind of a cliche, especially because the things you list are so generic. It would probably be more impactful if you took one particular memory, something that was unique to their connection, and focused on that.

    On the whole, I think you’re going too fast. Like, first two paragraphs we’re thinking about the dead dad, and then we’re exploring this hut… why, exactly? I agree with Bruinsmap, “unnameable force” is a cop out. The descriptions are all very objective, and entirely visual. For example, a tiny enclosed space filled with animal remains is bound to smell nasty. The basement is probably cold and damp, and there’s no way a single match could illuminate the whole room at once. This would be an excellent chance for Sophie to explore it inch by inch, to reveal all the little unnerving details one after another, until it all comes together in the horrific realization that something sinister happened here, and not long ago at that — and then BAM, knockout.

    At least, those are my first impressions. Stylewise I think you’re good, and the sentences have a decent flow. If you slow down and take the proper time to walk the reader through Sophie’s experience, you’ll probably develop a more personal voice as well.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know why, but I absolutely loved the description of her opening the door and the semicircle of cleared dust. Spooky, vivid, oh my gosh yes.
    There are quite a few clerical errors that need fixing before you’re ready to send to an agent. I assume that you haven’t got around to it, that you’re in the beginning stages, so whatever.
    Why is she exploring this house? I could make up reasons (I totally would), but I’d love a little introspection from the character, some guessing perhaps or some overriding emotion (if not curiosity and fear, then anger- perhaps she’s transferring emotion from her family crisis onto the house like making parallels between its rotting and emptiness and her own life) to make this adventure deeply personal. You have that opportunity- take it!
    Related to the last paragraph is believability of the scene. TRICK her into lighting those candles and getting herself in trouble. You don’t want the audience to hate her because she’s making stupid decisions needlessly. Maybe she has to light one candle because she has been using matches and is about to run out. Then maybe she can’t read something or see her whole surroundings because the darkness is so oppressive, so she lights another and another candle until she realizes with horror that she’s completed some ritual by lighting them all. Otherwise, I’m all for her dying because she’s been stupid in a creepy old house.
    Great work! I thoroughly enjoyed your 250 (definitely my fave of the selections I’ve read in this critique session, so awesome!!!). Keep at it, I’d be excited to see where it goes!

    -Risto

  6. writer33! says:

    I love a great thriller! However a girl walking alone in the woods and coming upon an abandoned house seems very cliché. I also think there should be a more believable reason why she would enter the house other than curiosity.

    I think the first paragraph could be shortened. seems a bit redundant with so many ways she will be missing him.

    You are so good with your descriptions, I was hoping for more than “obviously abandoned.” I know you could come up with something better there. On the other hand when she strikes the match the first time, there is too much detail of the sulfur-coated cardboard tip against the sandy…

    one more thing, the paragraph where you have “could feel her body tremble as she rose.” and then “could feel cool air…” instead of could feel, just show that her body trembled as she rose, and cool air brushed against her body. Just a suggestion.

    Over all I do believe you are a very descriptive writer who pays attention to detail and can easily paint pictures for the reader to see. Good job!!

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