As with every other Writing a Novel guide, this week I’m giving you a sample showing some of the examples I gave on the article.
As I mentioned in the Emotional Impact guide:
But the hardest emotional connection to form with your readers is Fear. A book has never scared me, because while the images it may conjure are horrifying, they’re in my head, so I’m safe. So when I write I don’t attempt Fear but anxiety, the sense of desperation that the predator is right around the corner, that no place is safe and running is just delaying the inevitable. That is more plausible but still very difficult, as you need to completely engross your reader with your world, create a level of immersion so strong it might trigger an anxiety attack.
For today’s sample, I’ve dusted off a short story I wrote a couple of years ago. This story takes place in the same universe as Bad Blood. Before I decided to write the novel, I used to write short stories about a variety of characters, one of them being The Tiger, someone who popped up in the latest Bad Blood chapters. I wrote his stories for two “cycles.” Think of them as TV Seasons. This story I’m sharing with you right now, was the opening story to the second season.
While it’s an old one, and perhaps clumsy in its attempt at anxiety or emotional impact, it’s one of the stories I’m most proud of. This story pushed me to a new level at the time, and I have fond memories of writing it.
Please enjoy, Deep Cuts
Vinnie ran as fast as he could. He only had to make it to the bar and he’d be safe, for tonight at least. He couldn’t run out in the open, a cop might recognize him. His picture had been in the news. So he took to the alleys, side streets and every shortcut he knew. And he knew a lot of them.
His heart jumped in his chest and it felt heavy. The weight, the feeling of drowning in his own skin grew worse every time he heard the growl. The creature was after him, jumping from building to building, following Vinnie’s trail, getting closer every second. He called it the creature because nothing human could make those sounds or have those eyes, those feral, merciless eyes.
He knew it would come for him. His partners were dead, taken by the creature. It was a bad plan, he knew it, but he couldn’t stop them, and they had known each other for years, he couldn’t say no to them.
It all started two weeks ago, when Ron got out of prison after a five year stint for grand theft, with a brand new plan sure to get him back for at least another five. Ron had never been the shiniest apple in the basket, but once in a while he had a good idea. This time it wasn’t and Vinnie said as much, but Keith liked the plan, so he was out-voted. Vinnie hated democracy. It always got him into trouble.
The plan was simple. Hit gas stations and the few mom & pop stores left and hit their ATMs. Smash & grab if possible, if not, haul the damn thing out and break it apart later. Ron & Keith thought it was a foolproof plan, but Vinnie had heard that one before, with the inevitable result of one of the three fools involved ending up in jail, probably Ron.
“We’ll get caught.” Vinnie reiterated for what seemed the hundredth time.
“No we won’t! Trust me man, I know what I’m doing!” Ron tried one more time to convince his friend.
“Keith, back me up here. This is a stupid plan. You know the cops will be on our asses in less than five minutes!”
“Sorry, Vin, but I agree with Ron, the plan is sound and we can hit the ATMs and be out quickly. We just take a trolley with us in the truck, go in, pick the shit up and hightail it”
“What if the ATM’s bolted to the floor? Huh?” Vinnie insisted.
“We take one of those Torque thingies they use in garages. Randy can hook us up, he still owes us from last time” Ron said.
“What if the ATM’s not on the ground but in the wall?”
“We’re not hitting those, Vin! We’ll case out the places first and then hit the easiest targets!”
“Okay, you’ve got everything figured out.” Vinnie sighed. “But I warn you: cops show up, I’m outta there. I ain’t going back to jail. Once is enough for me.”
“Sure, Vin, whatever you say”
The plan went perfect, everything worked out better than Vinnie hoped. They hit the stores, took out the cameras, took the ATMs and were out of there before the cops came. Better yet, no one tried to be a hero, so no dead. They took the ATMs to an abandoned warehouse Ron used to work at, and cracked them open like piñatas.
They couldn’t hold on to the money for long, not if the cops got the serials on the bills, so they spent it, buying as much as they could and spending the rest, as fast as possible, then sold everything again and each ended up with a nice chunk of free, clean cash. Vinnie took care of most of it, he’d done it before and it was the only part of the plan he had any confidence in. Keith wanted to keep it up, getting greedy, but Ron agreed with Vinnie and they laid low. They hit four ATMs in four weeks, and if they kept it up, they’d get caught. Each man took his share and went his own way after they’d agreed on their next steps.
Then everything went to hell.
They were supposed to meet a month later. Keith and Vinnie arrived at the Café on time, but Ron didn’t. They called him and nothing, called his brother but he hadn’t heard from him in a week and was worried. Then they saw it on the news: “Young Man Savaged in the Night”. They showed Ron’s mugshot and said the cops were investigating it. The newscaster said they’d found Ron’s body on the street, out in the open, and he had been mauled, torn to pieces and all evidence pointed to animal attack, but the police wouldn’t comment. Keith and Vinnie weren’t surprised they didn’t, this wasn’t an animal attack. No, this level of brutality could only be a mob hit. A message, but they’d asked around and none of the stores they’d hit were in mob turf, if they were they wouldn’t have hit them.
Keith and Vinnie were both criminals, but they weren’t tough guys and everyone knew it. Ron was the muscle of the group, sometimes even the brains. But now he was dead, so it was up to his friends to find out what happened to him. Of course, they didn’t do this out of loyalty, no matter how much they tried to convince themselves and each other. No, they did this for survival. They’d find out who did it and do whatever it took to stay alive and off their path.
They asked around, calling in favors, paying and begging, but no one had anything for them, which, considering their “community” never had any shortages of new players in town, brutal murderers and paybacks (and snitches), was quite worrisome. In fact, Vinnie noticed they were all scared, and not mob-scared, that wouldn’t stop anyone from giving them a heads-up. No, this was something different. The one person they pried something out of mentioned an urban legend, some kind of man-beast, a feral thing that hunted in the night. Bullshit, they thought, and when it was obvious they wouldn’t find anything, each man returned home, promising to keep in touch every day, to warn each other of trouble and call for help.
For weeks nothing happened, but Vinnie didn’t leave his house for long, and only went out for groceries. He was scared. Every night he dreamt of shadows and monsters coming for him, and every day he felt watched, preyed upon, and the looks of fear and horror in the eyes of the “community” were fresh in his head.
Then a week later his phone rang and woke him up around three a.m. It was Keith.
“Oh god, oh god, oh god, Vinnie! Help me, man! It’s after me!” He was hysterical and weeping.
“Calm down Keith, where are you?” Vinnie replied, picking up his stuff.
“I’m home, but it’s here, I can hear it upstairs!” Keith lived in a small suburban house that belonged to his late parents, and as far as Vinnie knew, they only upper floor was the attic.
“Calm down, Keith!” He insisted, but it had no effect. His friend was now sobbing and muttering to himself. “It probably just a rat, it’s nothi…” A window-shattering roar interrupted him. Vinnie couldn’t believe it, even stared at his phone, his eyes wide with panic. “Get out, Keith! Run! Go somewhere public, a bar or something and stay there till morning!”
“Oh god! It’s coming down, man! You were right, we shouldn’t have gone with the plan, you told us it was a bad idea, but I was greedy and I didn’t listen. I should’ve had your back against Ron, but I didn’t! I’m sorry, Vinnie!” Keith cried.
“Are you listening to me! Run, man! I’m coming over! Meet me at Richie’s ‘round the corner! And don’t hang up!”
“O…ok. Hurry! Please, just hurry, I don’t want to die!”
“Just go!” Vinnie set his phone aside on speaker while he dressed. A growl came over the line, and Vinnie rushed to get ready and picked the phone up again. “Keith! Run!” He yelled.
“I can’t! I can’t find the keys!”
“Jump out the window! Break the door! Just go!”
“Right!” Keith said desperately and Vinnie heard the loud crash of a window breaking and the oomph sound of his friend’s landing outside the window. “I’m out!” Keith called out. That’s it, just make it to Richie’s, Vinnie thought. “See you at the bar. Hurry up maa…oh shit!”
“It’s here, it’s found me…They were right, Vin, it’s true, it’s not a legend…” Keith said numbly.
“Run, Keith! Get away!” Vinnie insisted, his hand on the knob of his front door.
“I can’t…I’m sorry, Vin, I really should’veeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” His friend screamed in agony as the beast tore into him, its growl heard in the background alongside the slick sickening sounds of Keith’s insides being torn.
Vinnie stared helplessly at his phone, witnessing his friend’s horrible last moments, their lives and adventures and jobs together flashing through his head, and through it all he prayed for it to end quickly for Keith, but it didn’t.
Death isn’t like in the movies, where the phone cuts up just when the killer gets his victim. No, the line stayed open during the entire thing, and once the screams ended and Keith was dead in the ground, the only sound over it were the growls of the beast as it feasted on his body. Vinnie was stunned, shocked and horrified. He couldn’t move. He could only stay there and listen to it all happen, until he heard the creature rush off and sirens blaring. Keith’s screams must’ve woken everyone up and they’d called the police. The sirens shook Vinnie from his shock and his first reaction was throwing the phone out the window, the very sight of it brought horrible images to his mind. The news reported it as another animal attack case. The cops were also looking for him. His face had been in the news. Looking through Ron and Keith’s houses they’d found out they were the ones behind the ATM heists and connected Vinnie to them from their phone records. The cops didn’t know about his apartment, Vinnie made sure nothing tied him there.
With his two friends dead, Vinnie didn’t even think about finding out who was after them. He stayed home all the time. His sister, Anne, brought him groceries and insisted he see a therapist, but he told her he couldn’t leave the house. He didn’t say there was a creature, an urban legend man-beast after him. That would only worry her, so he let her believe it was shock over Keith’s death, which wasn’t exactly a lie either. That and the cops were after him, which wasn’t a surprise for Anne.
Things were working out. Vinnie found a job online, one that let him work from home, and Anne brought over everything he asked…until she went missing. He called her cell, her house, her job, even her ex-husband, but no one knew, and he had the horrible image in his head of his sister torn apart like Keith and Ron.
He had no choice, he had to go out.
As soon as he stepped outside the building he felt eyes on him, and a low trickling growl reached his ears. Vinnie lifted his head and gazed around and he saw a figure moving on the rooftops.
A small clack to his right caught his attention. He turned his head and the color went out of his face. It was Anne’s phone, the screen was broken and it was covered in blood. Vinnie’s nerve vanished and he turned to run back up to his apartment, but movement above made him turn. The shadow he’d seen on the roof was peering down on him from his apartment window, its glowing yellow feral eyes stripping away the shreds of courage Vinnie had left.
Vinnie ran as fast as he could.
He took lefts and rights and more lefts and jumped, crouched and slid under every nook, cranny, corner and dumpster he knew until he lost the creature, its inhuman eyes and presence vanishing. He could’ve walked out in the open, and make his way somewhere safe, but maybe that’s what it wants, it killed Keith on his fucking lawn, he thought and stuck to the alleys, letting the night and the shadows cover him, but he’d made a mistake. Somewhere, between the panic and the adrenaline, he’d taken a wrong turn and he was now in a dead end alley.
Confident he’d lost the creature, Vinnie turned around and then a shadow fell over him. He lifted his gaze upward and met the glowing eyes of his hunter.
He had nowhere to run, nowhere to go, but even so he did, he ran back, tried to retrace his steps, the eyes of the creature on his neck the whole way. A horrifying screech behind him meant the creature was on the ground now, prowling. He took lefts and rights, and lefts again, jumping and crouching and sliding under every single thing he knew of the city but he ended up in the same dead end alley, where vicious claw marks lined the walls. He whimpered and sobbed and mewled and ran back but it was there, waiting for him at the other end of the alley.
It stepped closer, slowly, its arms stretched to his sides, the wicked claws slicing and scratching the walls with an eerie deafening screech that filled Vinnies head with the sounds of Ron, Keith and Anne’s screams and brought their dead faces to his eyes. He pressed his back to the wall and saw his killer approach slowly, as it savored having its prey cornered.
Vinnie closed his eyes and waited for it, bracing for the agony to come.
But it never came. Vinnie opened his eyes and found himself alone in the alley and there was no trace of the creature. He panted and wiped the sweat from his brow. He stood still for the longest time and still nothing, not a sound, not a growl not even the shifting of feet.
He laughed nervously, relieved. The creature had let him go.
He stood there until his breath was even and started walking out of the alley, but as he reached the entrance, the creature’s deafening roar was behind him, shattering what little will he had left. Vinnie screamed, panic taking over and ran, but he didn’t get far. The creature snatched him with its powerful claws, piercing his flesh, and pulled him back, throwing him against the dead end wall.
Vinnie whimpered and sobbed. His vision was blurred from the impact.
He shook his head clear of the daze and the last thing he saw was the creature lunging at him, its feral eyes shining in the night and its wicked claws and fangs coming ever closer, the sight of it turning his whimpers into screams, which lasted for as long as he drew breath, and some time beyond, as if his soul kept screaming when the body had already given up.
The crime scene floodlights pierced the darkness in the alley where Vinnie’s torn body was, sprawled on the ground at the base of the dead end wall, on which were three giant slashes, as if made by a massive claw.
“This one’s the third” Detective Stewart Francis said while taking notes. “Same M.O., same horrible results, and same brand.”
“I know…” His Captain said impatiently.
“Fourth if we count the sister”
“Yep, Anne Callotti, Vincent Callotti’s sister.” He nodded in Vinnie direction. “Neighbour found her. Snapped neck. Can’t be a coincidence, but it doesn’t fit the pattern. So far it’s only been criminals.”
“I’m guessing the sister got killed to draw this poor bastard out. He’s smart and vicious”
“It’s him, isn’t it?”
“I know how you feel about him, boss, but he crossed the line. He’s crossed it a lot these past months!”
“I know…Can’t let it go on any longer. Six months’ worth of killing, the last three escalating in violence. Same brand everywhere. Only criminals before, but now he’s killed some poor innocent girl just to draw his prey out.” He sighed, tired. “Hand me the com, Stewart.”
The Detective handed the older man a small walkie-talkie. “Attention all, this is Captain Frank Allerton. Leave whatever the fuck you’re doing and meet up at HQ.”
“What’s going on, boss?” Several voices came over the line.