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CHAPTER 2: IT

 

Her brain first registered it as a shoulder-high mound of moss and forest detritus, but too many facts contradicted that interpretation. The mound swayed gently and emitted a faint, irregular crunching noise; just behind it, something like a wide, leafless, thick-limbed bush rocked back and forth in time. The conflict of her brain wanting to classify the unclassifiable made Maddie's head hurt. She rubbed her eyes in response.

 

Then the crunching noise stopped, and it rose.

 

The mound seemed to simply stretch upward, the “bush” behind it rising faster until Maddie realized it was attached to a head. In the same moment, it turned to face her and her brother, and she saw it was human-shaped, with head like a giant deer's skull and the strangest, wildest antlers Maddie had ever seen. The “mound” was made up of a fur cloak of some kind, clogged or woven with leaves, sticks, and grown with moss and lichen. It was tall, at least a foot taller than her parents, and its hollow skull-like face was covered with bright red blood. Beside it lay the rabbit in crimson.

Maddie's brain finally decided what the thing was: A threat. A cold fear invaded her, like icewater was being pumped through her heart and into her veins.“Josh, run, now.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him with her, her legs moving on autopilot and dread in the direction of the shore.

 

The creature didn't start after the two children at first, but paused as if considering two appealing choices. The bare, empty nose of the skull lifted as if sniffing the air, the creature's bloodstained talon-like hands opened and closed slowly. Then it began to move, slightly crouched like an adult stalking their child in a game of hide and go seek.

 

A soft, steady hush of trodden forest bed followed Maddie and Josh as they ran back towards shore, starting distant and slow, but becoming faster and faster as they pushed through the low branches of the evergreens. As the soft shush, shush, shush, built into a louder, more authoritative crushcrushcrush of stamped leaves and brush, Maddie began to panic. Her brain was being rewired again, but in a different way than before, a way of pure instinct and fear, of sweat, not the electricity of a first high school crush.

 

Crushcrushcrushcrushcrush

 

Her legs continued pumping, moving her as fast as she could through the wood in the vague direction of her camp. She ran, the crush behind her now coming loud and fast, like the thing was right behind her, like it could stretch its arm out and have her, and it would lay her out on the ground like that rabbit-

 

Suddenly, she was in a clearing, one they hadn't passed on the way in. She stopped. The crush was gone, leaving only the quiet sounds of the wood. Her hand was empty, Josh's arm was gone. She was alone.

 

“Oh my god, oh my god, ohmygodohmygodohmygod! Josh! JOSH! JOOOOSHHHH!” Her words were broken by panicked breaths, and she screamed at the top of her lungs. Her brain was on fire and upside down and squeezed all at once. How could she? She lost Josh! When? Why hadn't she noticed? What was wrong with her?

 

“JOOOSSHHH! Ohmygod. JOSH!” Her voice broke, and the rest of her threatened to follow. Then she saw it. Not behind her, but in front, moving slowly between the trees, heading towards the opposite end of the clearing, towards her.

 

Maddie broke into a run to her right, away from the creature in a direction she hoped was towards the shore. She had to find Josh somehow, but she couldn't lead the creature to him, either. Maybe if she got to the shore, she could get her mother and father to help. She ran as fast as she could, a deep, almost sleeping part of her brain wondering in between the pounding of blood through her skull just how long she could keep it up.

 

There was no pursuit, no shadowing crunch of the creature's feet on the underbrush. After a short time, which seemed much longer to Maddie, she got her bearings: One spread wing of the skookum pole's thunderbird top poked through the branches of the furs. The walk from the shore to the pole made for a pleasantly short trip; at a dead run, it would be only a few minutes before Maddie found her parents, and they could all help Josh together. She hoped he could stay safe for that long, but the creature seemed to be following her, at least at first.

 

Just as Maddie reached the small clearing around the pole, she heard a noise, muffled by the pounding of blood through her head. She stopped to listen, and heard it again.

 

Ahhhhhhhhh!”

 

It was high-pitched, like a child's voice, but wordless.

 

“JOSH!” A crack at the end of her voice surprised Maddie, and for the first time she noticed how dry her mouth was, and the layer of lather on her lips. “Ohgodno, JOSH!” Her voice was reedier this time, sounding desperate even to her. “F... F... FUCK! Godshitfuckdammit! FUCK! JOSH!” Why did she think leaving Josh had been a good idea? She should have stayed with him, she should have never left him, she should have... What? What could she have done? For that matter, what could her parents do? This creature, whatever kind of awful nightmare monster it was, seemed like some kind of hunter, like a predator. If she and Josh had found a grizzly in the woods, what could her parents have done?

 

She noticed she was already running towards the sound, her internal monologue pulsing with the blood as her heart pounded out harder than she knew it was capable. It had been a few years since she'd played in youth soccer, but apparently the years of dorky ball-kicking were paying off. She ran towards the scream.

 

The same high pitched scream rang out, sounding closer and closer with each fume-fueled pump of Maddie's legs. She hadn't eaten much that day to begin with, and after having run the equivalent of a track meet was now reaching the edge of exhaustion. Frustration threatened to overcome her at the thought that the screams never sounded as close as they should, that she wasn't running fast enough, that when she got there, Josh would already be dead and gone, cloaked in red like the rabbit from before. Tears began to well up in her eyes and began to stream down her face, a release of both exhaustion and despair from some part of her mind that knew she was already too late, that knew what she would find when she got there.

 

“There” ended up being the edge of the woods, which Maddie reached several minutes later. The side of a mountain stretched out before her on the opposite site of a finger of the river network. Below her lay a plain of green grass that seemed to melt into the water in the distance, with sparse, shabby trees standing every few yards or so.

The cries had stopped, leaving Maddie with the heaving of her chest and the ache in her legs as company. She scanned across the plane, along the shoreline for any sign of Josh or – God forbid – the antlered creature. To her dismay, she seemed to be alone, standing in a chill of sweat on the edge of the wood, tired, hungry, and teetering on the edge of the despair that surely her brother was dead like the rabbit, prey for whatever monstrous mythology had visited them. She felt torn, pulled between the burning force of her own like that she had struggled for like never before, and the insane surreality of her situation. Unsure of what to do next, she stood and began to wonder if if any of it had really happened, if she could trust what she had seen before. The skull, the antlers, the cloak of leaf- and twig-matted fur, the claws in red, had it all been her imagination? A hallucination? A nightmare?

 

She was answered from the wood by a soft, slow crush. It was behind her, she was fully sure. Maddie turned, her head moved over her left shoulder with a slowness that betrayed the part of her that just wanted to wake up, even if waking up meant standing there and letting the creature sink its teeth into her neck...

 

NO. No, this is real, Maddie thought, I can tell the difference between reality and a dream, and this – however insane – is real. If I let it take me, I am dead. The thought was spoken in her brain in the wordless language of instinct, and Maddie ran into the bog to escape the creature.

 

After a few steps, her foot fell into a watery pit, caught, and pitched her forward. She blacked out as her head hit the tree trunk.

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JUNEAU EMPIRE

 

Two children missing in Kupreanof after camping trip gone wrong

Madison and Joshua Clark were reported missing in Tongass National Forest early yesterday evening

 

Posted: July 21, 2017 – 7:58pm

 

By Nick Moss

 

KUPREANOF – Madison and Joshua Clark of Hilliard, OH have gone missing on the Northeastern end of Kupreanof Island, near Petersburg. Madison, 15, was taking Joshua, 4, for a walk inland on the west bank of Petersburg Creek, near Coho Creek. The two were last seen by their parents, Thomas and Katherine Clark, at around 3:30pm local time. After the children failed to return home for dinner, the Clarks called the Petersburg Police Department who organized a search, failing to turn up either child.

 

The Clarks were in Kupreanof on their annual vacation, camping inland near Petersburg Creek since 17 July. According to Katherine Clark, speaking with the Empire's correspondent at the scene, Madison took the younger Joshua inland to see an abandoned totem pole, and never returned. The two children had visited the pole several times previously including on previous vacations. Their whereabouts are, as of this writing, still unknown.

 

The Petersburg Sheriff's Department, in concert with the Petersburg Fire Department, have organized an ongoing search-and-rescue effort to find the two children, and the Division of Alaska State Troopers has also been contacted to assist in the search. Volunteer firefighter Kevin McNaughton sounded optimistic about the search effort. “Two kids probably couldn't have gotten far, and we still have a lot of ground to cover. It's summer, so exposure is unlikely, too. I think we'll find them, then everybody can go home.”

 

Katherine Clark also held out hope that her daughter would keep her brother safe. “Maddie has always been a resourceful girl... She will take care of Josh, she is the best kind of older sister.” Still, the children's mother was anxious for their return. “I just want to see my children back safe and sound,” she said.

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Prologue: 

 

Really good. It should read disjointed when Maddie is in focus, because her mind was just shocked with the abruptness of the news. Though the dad's lines at the end could have been delivered a little better. The line is fine, but I'd have formatted it somewhat differently. But then again, I think the only strong suit I have is dialogue and banter. Take my advice with a grain of salt. Or a spoon. 

 

Overall, though, I really enjoyed it and it was a great start. 

 

Chapter 1. 

 

I like the beginning, where you really give their vacations a touch of humanity. It feels very real. I'd like to have seen some sort of dynamic between describing the beauty of their surroundings from Maddie's obviously emotionally damaged state, like she was actively turning a stink-eye to the pristine nature that surrounded her by eschewing social interaction. You did this very well later one, but if incorporated during the description of the camp site it might have added another layer. Again, these are just my stupid musings. And you've read the crap I write.

 

Dialogue is good. Dad could be a little more colorful, but perhaps since we're focusing on Maddie, she wouldn't notice any quips or variation because of her current state? I think that's a good reason, and it should either clash with Maddie's obviously grim mood or not detract from it at least.

 

All in all, good chapter. Josh feels real (Don't take me Chris Hanson!) and is pleasantly brattish. 

 

Chapter 2.

 

 

This is good, and you immediately get to a description of the creature. Now I assume this scene is mean't to convey a touch of horror, of tension. Something that I am very guilty of is over-describing a horror when seen through the eyes of the naive. Perhaps less description and more mystery, and a better description can be gleamed later by a main character once the adrenaline and initial shock isn't there to cloud his/her vision and memory. Again, I fall for this a ton, so I'm being very hypocritical here. But you do make it very clear that Maddie is wrestling with the idea of what this thing is. There's a bit of bargaining with herself on how her brain should interpret this thing. That's good. As you mentioned, humans are great at explaining things off. Even things that can't be explained. 

 

I liked the alliteration involved with the creature's movements toward the protagonist (I assume that's  who Maddie is).  It aids in the envisioning of the scene in our own mind. 

 

Some of the chase scene is a little hard to comprehend, but perhaps this was done on purpose to show how harried and frantic Maddie is as she crashes through the brush away from the Thing. 

 

Her dialogue is good. You do a decent job at conveying the fear not only for herself, but for her little brother. 

 

In a couple of cases, the tone of the narration wavers from Horror-stricken to high school. An example below. 

 

 

 

She noticed she was already running towards the sound, her internal monologue pulsing with the blood as her heart pounded out harder than she knew it was capable. It had been a few years since she’d played in youth soccer, but apparently the years of dorky ball-kicking were paying off. She ran towards the scream.

 

Her heart rate is crashing the 200 BPM roof, her and her brother's lives are on the line, she's hearing screaming when her ears aren't being assaulted by the poundings of her own heart, but she describes her time in youth soccer as "dorky ball-kicking." I dunno, just doesn't fit there. You could easily clean this up. It's one example of tone-shift during the narration, but really that's a very small nit-pick. 

 

Also, during the internal and external dialogue, why are you so afraid of contractions? There are numerous instances when characters are speaking or their thoughts are being portrayed by italics that you should use a contraction instead of two words. It feels more realistic, and let's the reader really feel as if they are listening to inner thoughts or dialogue between two people. Contractions allow us to made characters that don't end up sounding like soulless robots. 

 

At the end of this chapter, she'd apparently made her way to a bog? I had to read it a few times. It was fairly abrupt. And for an end to the chapter, I feel like you could have drawn out the "Monster's right behind me, don't look don't look oh god I want to look but I can feel its breath, it smells like corn" paragraph (Note, that's paraphrased HEAVILY). 

 

It should crescendo here, if this is indeed the end of said chapter. You should bring the reader up high and then slam them down to the ground with the slip/fall/head-bump and lights out ending. 

 

As for the next bit, it feels more like a prologue to another chapter. That's what you want it to be, right? I used very similar transitions in my latest book.  I personally enjoy bringing the reader out of the story and giving them a taste of regular-people objectivity before thrusting them back into the surrealism of the protagonist's plight.  

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I figured it was all the technical writing. Trust me, it's very difficult to make the transition. My good friend and PhD, Dr. Bennett, once sent me some fantasy he was working on. 

 

It went along these lines. 

 

The protagonists had a jaw line that was very square. He was approximately two meters tall, and weighed in at seventy-five kilograms. His job was to help the Runesmith repair local spell pieces for the upkeep of the Worldgate, which was very important because this gate would allow the two dimensions to continue their commerce with each other. Though the human side opened eighty-five kilometers into the Arctic Circle, where temperatures could reach negative thirty degrees Celsius. The protagonist's hair was black, just a centimer and close to his head. He had two eyes, two arms, and two legs, which had muscle. He mostly wore plain shirts with a leather belt on normal pants. He tore these clothes often from the constant spell-work, which used his own internal energy which was quite high.

 

Basically, like that. This is of course paraphrased, as I no longer have his fiction saved on this computer. But he was coming off of writing grant-proposals, so it was difficult for him to make the transition. 

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CHAPTER 3: WAKE

The cave was part of a very old system of the sort that, if it had been discovered by man, would have been the site of furious paleontological study. Its walls and ceilings, unadorned by stalactite formations, wrapped around a wide antechamber that led to several lesser chambers. The rock from which the cave was formed was primordial Triassic limestone, with fossils of long dead sea life locked within its stony tombs for millions of years.

In one of the lesser chambers, Maddie lay in a bed of spruce boughs, stirring to consciousness. She woke to a soup of thoughts and feelings, masked with a static of her physical needs. Everything hurt. Her right leg was swollen and inflamed in her jeans, which were waterlogged. Her right ankle pulsed with a sprain. Her head pounded at her left temple, where it had struck the small tree's trunk. Her shirt's shoulder was torn, and the surface of the skin on her arms itched. Her throat was dry, and the lather she had worked up on her lips dried to a crust. She needed water, most of all.

Turning her head quickly made the world spin, and Maddie almost passed out again from it. She resigned herself to slow, steady movements, taking in the scene of the cave around her. A small exit gave off a little light, bringing the brightness of the cave about equal to that of a full moon's night. A damp, rich, mineral smell hung in the air. To her left, water trickled down a channel in the limestone, into a shallow pool about four feet away. She tried to shift her body so that she could crawl to the pool, but her leg screamed in pain. Maddie tried to stand, pulling her left foot under her, and groping for a handhold, but there were none. She tried to balance herself over her left foot and push up, but could only get a few inches off the ground that way. She collapsed onto her back, out of energy again.

The dam couldn't hold, and burst. Maddie lay there, exhausted, and cried. Pain and worry mingled with the more alien emotions of true fear and confusion, ingredients in an emotional stew that was now boiling over into a river of tears. She wanted to fixate, to cry something out, but so much of what she was feeling were primal, wordless emotions that could not be spoken. Her brain struggled with real events that she had been told her whole life couldn't happen, that they were the stuff of fairy tales. Her family was secular, so Maddie had no god to plead to, and science and education had no answers to give regarding a horned skull-faced monster that ate rabbits and hunted children.

Eventually, as she cried herself out, the terror began to fade, and she focused her thoughts on Josh. He was out there, somewhere. She hoped he'd made it back to camp, away from the creature, but she didn't know how. It was his scream she'd heard, hadn't it been? Yet, he wasn't there when she reached the scream's source... Or had he been, already lying dead in the trees, just out of her sight? Thinking of her brother made the tears return. “Josh... Oh god, Josh... Please, be safe. Goddammit, Josh... Just... Be OK.”

Eventually, exhaustion-borne sleep began to take her again. She welcomed it.

*****

It was dark by the time she woke again. The dryness of her mouth had worsened, but the pain at her temple had faded substantially. Maddie rubbed her eyes, which had become thick with dried tears and sleep crust. Her leg still pained her, but it felt deeper and more distant now. She lay there for several minutes, just feeling the throb of her leg listening to the soft, almost silent noises of the cave. Eventually, she decided that she needed to see whether her leg was broken, and that meant removing her jeans.

She couldn't stand to take them off the usual way, so instead she pulled her left leg in, using that to prop up her hips so she could undo the button and zipper on her jeans. She pulled the waist of the jeans down over her hips, biting back the pain in her leg as she moved. Maddie had wrestled the waistband down to her knees when, suddenly, excruciating pain shot up her right leg, causing her to drop everything and fall on her back, curling her hands over her eyes, tears welling out to her temples. The emotion threatened to take her over again, but Maddie fought it back, and refocused.

With her leg like it was, removing her jeans felt about as practical as standing had proved to be. Turning to the next best option, Maddie felt around in the dark for a sharp rock to cut them off with, but found nothing. Frustrated, she pulled her waist line back up, and buttoned and zipped the fly again. At least the pants had dried somewhat. Her next priority had to be water, she decided, and the only option seemed to be the pool she remembered was somewhere to her left, now invisible in the pitch dark.

Conscious of her injured leg, Maddie scooted herself back-first with her hands and good left leg, in the direction she remembered the pool was.. Each movement towards the pool strained the battered limb, causing her serious but bearable pain as the lower leg and ankle tensed and relaxed. Eventually, the job was done, and Maddie reached the pool, her hand groping in the dark and coming back wet. Briefly, she wondered if the water in the cave was safe to drink. Did she read somewhere that the water that drained through caves was naturally filtered? She couldn't remember, and was losing the fight to care. She was dehydrated and needed water, and there it was.

Maddie shifted her leg – more pain, then – and brought her left side along the pool's edge. The water was cool, although she couldn't tell how clear it was without the light of day. Her fingers reached the bottom easily, the surface barely reaching the second knuckle of her straight middle digit. She sucked her wet fingers, the cool water revitalizing her like a previously unappreciated ambrosia of life. All her caution left her, and she greedily dug in to the pool with her hand, reaping the water of life from the pool one shallow handful at a time.

Giving in was, Maddie thought, a considerable improvement. If she caught some disease, that might be a problem later, but right now it felt as though she had just made a major breakthrough, even if her leg still troubled her. With her thirst sated, and little else to do, her mind began to wander to less primal questions. What was that creature, and where did it come from? How was such a thing even possible? How was it able to cut her off so easily, and had it planned to drive her into the bog? For that matter, how did she get to where she was now? She had blacked out, could she have wandered in here herself? Did she not remember because of the head trauma? Maybe she had been brought her by someone, a good samaritan, someone living on the island?

Maddie held the thoughts in her mind, moving over each and feeling their texture. With each, something didn't fit. Maddie could remember everything about the chase, up to her fall; it didn't seem likely that she'd wake up, and, what? Walk all the way out to this cave, when there were none near where she'd tripped? Why not just head back along the shoreline, to camp? For that matter, how did she wake up in the cave? Did she come in, and then pass out again? It didn't seem likely.

Someone else must have brought her here while she was unconscious, but why would anyone bring an injured, unconscious girl to a cave in the Alaskan wilderness? If there was a search and rescue party, surely they would bring Maddie back to Petersburg. It might make some sense to bring a wounded person into a cave for shelter during a winter's night, but it was high summer, the conditions couldn't have been more pleasant. It seemed improbable that someone else would bring her here, and almost impossible that she walked here herself.

...What if it was the monster? Could the horned thing have picked her up and taken her to the cave? Was she food waiting in the monster's lair? The thought settled in her mind uncomfortably.

The room she occupied now didn't look like the chamber of a man-eating creature, or of an anything-eating creature for that matter, but there were rooms beyond. Maggie examined herself, and found no drag marks. It seemed whoever brought her here had carried her after all. And what about the boughs? If Maggie were the monster's TV dinner, waiting in its equivalent of a refrigerator, why did it seem to take the trouble of laying out a bed for her? Was the monster even intelligent enough to do such a thing, and even if it were, what reason could it have to do so?

When it had been chasing her, she didn't have time to harbor doubt that the creature was a maneater, but now she wondered. It was clearly carnivorous, the rabbit provided proof of that, but maybe it didn't eat animals as large as humans. But then, if it wasn't keeping her for food, what was it doing, and why had it chased them in the first place? She pondered these questions for a moment, but could think of no plausible answers.

Her thoughts were interrupted by soft sound coming from the main chamber, a shuffling noise like gowned feet moving in the dark. Suddely, she was alert, focused. Fear crept behind her, wrapping its fingers over her shoulders and possessing her. Her heartbeat and breath quickened, her eyelids drew back, and sweat began to bud over her brow and on her back. With no path to escape, she sat there, as silent and still as she could.

The noise became louder, Maddie's ears telling her the source was closing with the entrance of her chamber. When it got close, however, it stopped suddenly, leaving a silence that thundered with the orchestra of Maddie's blood pulsing through the veins in her head. Her short, quick breaths threatened hyperventilation, but neither could to make the noise of breathing deep. She tried to slow her breath.

Then, a new noise began in the main chamber, a sound like someone tearing cloth across from her in a large, empty room, followed by a wetter sound, too soft to identify. Maddie listened, willing herself to remain still and silent, as the wet noise continued for what seemed like an hour, but which was only a few minutes in reality. As the sound ended, Maddie slowly let out her breath, noticing for the first time she had been holding it, and then breathed in again, as quietly as she could.

A moment passed, and then the shuffling footsteps resumed their approach to Maddie's chamber, the deliberate, inevitable slowness of it driving her into a quiet, still panic in the dark. Her section of the cave was far enough from the entrance to be effectively pitch black, so as the figure approached Maddie only got the barest sense of it. She could tell when it was at her chamber's entrance, and that it nearly filled it. She could hear the figure's breath, which reminded her of a horse's. It stopped just inside the entrance of her chamber, and knelt. Something heavy fell from it, like a large sack of flour hitting the stone. The figure rose into the frame of the chamber's entrance, and stopped. It waited for several moments, the sound of its breath filling Maddie's head like a chant. Finally, it turned, and left for the entrance.

Maddie was terrified, unable to move, hardly able to breathe. Her pulse pounded in her head as if continuing the job the figure's breath had started. She sat out the night in the dark of her cave, quiet and still, not ever daring to move.

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Chapter 3: "I like the idea of an injured girl trying to take her pants off." - Sturgeon

 

I'm bringing out my tweezers for this one. 

 

 

 

Giving in was, Maddie thought, a considerable improvement. If she caught some disease, that might be a problem later, but right now it felt as though she had just made a major breakthrough, even if her leg still troubled her. With her thirst sated, and little else to do, her mind began to wander to less primal questions. What was that creature, and where did it come from? How was such a thing even possible? How was it able to cut her off so easily, and had it planned to drive her into the bog? For that matter, how did she get to where she was now? She had blacked out, could she have wandered in here herself? Did she not remember because of the head trauma? Maybe she had been brought her by someone, a good samaritan, someone living on the island?

These are a lot of logical questions to be asked by an in-pain, traumatized, scared, hungry, thirsty, teenage girl. But perhaps that's just because she's that resourceful. She's already damned near come to grips with the idea that there's a supernatural being in the woods. 

 

Which is another thing that I'm questioning. She's accepted this creature as non-human pretty damned quickly. I don't know if it would be that fast. Maybe there should be some more time spent not believing her own situation, or at least trying to think "Why is a crazy homeless person dressed up like a deer skull and chasing me in the woods?" Just a thought. 

 

 

 

Maddie held the thoughts in her mind, moving over each and feeling their texture.

 

This sounded weird to me. 

 

 

 

Someone else must have brought her here while she was unconscious, but why would anyone bring an injured, unconscious girl to a cave in the Alaskan wilderness? If there was a search and rescue party, surely they would bring Maddie back to Petersburg. It might make some sense to bring a wounded person into a cave for shelter during a winter's night, but it was high summer, the conditions couldn't have been more pleasant. It seemed improbable that someone else would bring her here, and almost impossible that she walked here herself.

 

So you've spoken to me a bit in FB messages about the narrative choices of this book. I think my biggest question is you have questions strewn all about your narratives. Is your idea that the narrator is asking this on Maddie's behalf, or is the narrator mostly a third-person Maddie? Perhaps throw the questions in italics or something, signifying that they are from Maddie's mind. If not, and the narrative shifts more to Maddie's view, then some of the things she apparently knows don't make sense. Such as the shape of the caves before she even came to consciousness.

 

 

 

Then, a new noise began in the main chamber, a sound like someone tearing cloth across from her in a large, empty room, followed by a wetter sound, too soft to identify. 

 Mmm, the lovely sounds of ripping flesh. You never quite forget that sound. 

 

 

 

Maddie was terrified, unable to move, hardly able to breathe. Her pulse pounded in her head as if continuing the job the figure's breath had started. She sat out the night in the dark of her cave, quiet and still, not ever daring to move.

 

You said this twice. 

 

Thought's on chapter 3

 

Our plucky protagonist is certainly in a pickle today! Good imaging, good tone. Minor quips and quirks are all I have to take jabs at. 
 

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 CHAPTER 4: RESCUE

 

His clean shaven, youthful face and nut brown hair, not yet showing grey, said he couldn't be older than his early twenties. He was dressed in slate blue cargo pants held at the waist with a nylon belt, and a black t-shirt with a white fire department logo over the breast. The shirt had been slashed open, his breast opened, and his heart removed. He'd been laid at the entrance of the chamber on his back in an unnatural position, eyes staring out at an angle towards the limestone ceiling.

 

At some point in the night, Maddie had fallen asleep despite her fear. When she woke, the sunlight had returned, giving her full view of her chamber, and the corpse that had been left with her in the night. Starting her morning by looking into his dead eyes was like overloading a circuit in her brain. She didn't freak out, or cry, or sit there in silent terror. Instead, Maddie seemed to feel very little, like all the sensory information she was receiving was being processed by a half-interested machine. It seemed she had run dry of feeling, and was left with only a blank emotional numbness.

 

The presence of the firefighter's body answered two of Maddie's questions. First, who had brought her to the cave. Second, whether the antlered creature had a taste for human. It seemed she was, after all, sitting in the larder of a man-eating monster from straight out of the pages of a mythology guide.

 

Immobilized in the cavern's chamber, Maddie had little to do but get to know her new guest. Although the chest was torn open, and the heart and several other internal organs messily removed, otherwise the body was in pretty much good shape. Neither arms nor legs had been eaten, and the head was still intact. It seemed as though the body had been thrown in here to keep, presumably as a snack for later. That fact seemed to clarify Maddie's circumstance: She was, like the corpse, some sort of meal for the monster, one that it had kept alive and extra fresh. In the back chamber of the cave located who knows where on the island, rescue would never come – at least, not in time. The dread felt more like an ache than the terror she had felt before, a deep anxiousness about what was to come.

 

She sat with the corpse for some time, occasionally taking a drink from the pool next to her, and pondering her circumstance and a new feeling: Hunger. It occurred to her that she hadn't eaten since the lunch of the previous day, and even then she had eaten little. Exhaustion, thirst, and fear had monopolized her mind's attention, and so hunger had been forgotten until now, when it had grown into a large, hollow pit in her stomach. Food was now her number one priority, but even it would have to wait until she could move.

 

Her leg had not improved since the previous night. It was still swollen and painful, immobilizing her. As Maddie looked at the body in front of her, an unwelcome thought began to gain ground in her mind. Maybe... Maybe rescue had come, after all. She shifted herself closer to the dead man, until his cold body was well within reach. Maddie steeled herself, pushing back revulsion against the taboo and trying to think of the corpse in the abstract. It's just an inanimate object. It's just meat, it's not a person.

 

She reached out her hand slowly towards the torso of the corpse, swallowed hard, and dug her fingers into his right pocket. Her fingers felt into the fabric, their proximity to the corpse's cold, dead skin threatening to unnerve her entirely. Soon, however, it was over; she had removed everything from the pocket. As she moved towards the next, she focused, steeling herself again, and this time found it easier. Maddie set to work at the task with forced diligence, as if she were working through a science lab at school, or sorting laundry. As she worked, the rising nausea she had felt receded, and the cold numbness from before returned to take her.

 

Once she was finished searching the body, she sat back and took inventory of her winnings. In his left waist pocket, she had found a wallet and a license marked with a little heart, which identified him as “Kevin Edward McNaughton” from Petersburg. His left cargo pocket had held a small medical kit, filled mostly with small bandaids, a worthless snakebite kit, and some wraps. From his right waist pocket, she had produced an orange-handled folding knife with a butterfly logo and a secondary hook-shaped blade. It had seemed almost miraculous when she hit pay dirt in his right cargo pocket: a folded orange object labeled “PADDED ALUMINUM SPLINT, 24-INCH” with directions for setting various limbs.

 

Forgetting the corpse in front of her for the first time that day, Maddie now had a real shot at getting out of the cave. First, she'd need to cut her jeans off of her legs. Surprised at how trivial that seemed now that she was the company of a corpse, and waiting to be monster food, she paused for just a second, and then got to work. She began by poking a hole in her jeans, near the top of her thigh with the emergency knife, taking care not to accidentally cut her leg through the tight fabric. Then, she folded the knife back up, and opened the cutting hook, using that to cut her jeans open down the length of her leg. When the hook passed over her lower leg, opening the denim, the pressure that the tight jeans had been applying released, and the pain renewed its assault on her, forcing her to stop. She managed to stay upright by hunching over to her left and covering her mouth with her arm, breathing into the limb and biting it until she regained her composure. The pain began to subside, and Maddie got her first look at the leg as she opened the pant leg the rest of the way. The leg was swollen, the skin mottled with purple and red, an intricate bruise pattern that ran around her calf and ankle. The leg hurt to the touch, but no bones protruded from the side, and she didn't seem to have a new joint. “That's good, I guess,” Maddie said out loud, the sound of her voice feeling strange after so much silence.

 

With her leg free, she turned to the orange splint, picking it up and reading the instructions printed on it. The directions listed a procedure for setting a broken leg or ankle – convenient, Maddie thought – which involved just folding the splint below her heel, like a stirrup, and then forming the sides into a curved shape, and then wrapping it with a cohesive wrap. “Simple enough,” she said in the strange voice. She folded the splint into shape, the result reminding her of a set of stylish single-piece tongs from their kitchen back in Ohio, but bright orange. Slipping it over her heel without moving her leg too much was a minor chore, but before long it was in place. She took the wraps, and bound her leg with them, hoping it was tight enough.

 

Her right pants leg was in tatters now, so Maddie thought about what to do with it. She could, she supposed, just leave them that way and head out of the cave to try to find the shore, or a rescue worker. She tried to imagine that for a second, running through the Alaskan woods with a flapping pant leg, on a splint. “Ugh, honestly, fuck these jeans anyway,” she said, rejecting the idea. She unbuttoned and unzipped her fly, cut the right pant the rest of the way open through the waistband, pulled off her left sneaker, and shimmied the jeans off her left leg without a problem.

 

Maddie found her eyes drifting to the corpse, again, regarding it with that same cold numbness from before. There is something else it has to offer you, the cold numbness said with a new voice in her mind. The monster had ripped open the firefighter's chest, destroying his shirt in the process, but the body's lower half was still intact. You need a pair of pants, the cold voice said, and his are perfectly good. It was as if some new Maddie, made of ice and silicon circuits, had taken shape in her brain and begun a dialogue with the old her inside her mind. I can't take the pants off a dead man... It feels... Wrong. Any more wrong than stripping him of his possessions? You need them, and he doesn't. It's as simple as that. Maddie recoiled in discomfort, but then sucked air into her lungs and steeled herself. The cold voice had won. ...That's right. I need them, he doesn't.

 

She found that moving was much easier and more pain-free with the splint on as she scooted over towards the corpse again, looking it over. Her hands went to his belt, a nylon, infinitely adjustable, clip-together affair, and removed it. At the fly of the dead man's pants, she hesitated, suddenly realizing what she might see underneath. Maddie had never gotten far with boys, and the extent of her adult experiences had been a couple of comparatively innocent kisses. She took another deep breath, and hoped she wasn't about to get her first glimpse of the other side with a corpse in a cave somewhere in the Alaskan wilderness.

 

Blessedly, Kevin had the previous morning chosen to wear a pair of tightly fitting spandex boxer briefs, and so Maddie was spared an impromptu bit of growing up. She once again tried to think of the corpse as just an object, not as something that had once been a human being, and as quickly as she could removed the slate colored cargo pants and set them aside.

 

For the first time that day, she allowed herself to relax a little. Having set her leg and doing the rest felt like making real progress towards escape, and Maddie found herself feeling a little self-satisfied, disgust over searching the corpse having fled from her. As she sat there, she let her mind wander a little. While handling the body, she had noticed two things that struck her as strange. The first was that the body's head flopped around as if it had no support or connection with the body, the neck apparently snapped clean. Is that how Kevin had died? It would explain the second thing: The corpse was surprisingly free of blood. Something more like a coagulated ooze seeped from the chest cavity, but the sort of blood spray one might expect was absent from everywhere but the immediate area of the cavity. It seemed as though Kevin had perished bloodlessly, and his chest plundered only after death.

 

Maddie went back to the body to look for anything else she had missed, finding herself suddenly possessed by a morbid curiosity. Having stripped him of almost everything he had left, maybe she could return the favor and find out how exactly he had died. She reached out for the head, hoping to learn something about the man's evidently snapped neck, and immediately noticed that the scalp under his hair was wet. When she pulled back her hand, and saw that it had returned with a patch of half-dried, half-congealing blood. The blood's source became evident on closer inspection: Four deep punctures in the scalp, superimposed over the curved surface of the head in a rectangular pattern. Fang marks, from something with a very big jaw.

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Thoughts on Chapter 4. 

 

You bring up how hungry she is. I'm not sure where this story is going, but I find it odd that the firefighter wouldn't have bothered to take a nutrient bar or something with him during the search effort. I'm assuming this is a guy from the search efforts. If not, then pay me no mind. 

 

Perhaps there's going to be a better pay-off for the hunger bit later on, so I'll await with a baited breath. 

 

As far as the characterization is involved, I really enjoyed it. You did a good job at balancing the surrealness of the situation with maddie's ingrained social cues. It gives her character a rounder, more deep feeling. That she is really a teenager thrust into this situation, not a mary-sue type character that falls in love with the beast-man (protip, don't do this). 

 

I think that there should be more disgust expressed by Maddie when the head flops all broken-like to the side. It should make a sound that nearly sends her into drive heaves. This reflects her current mental state. 

 

I also felt that the ending was a little cliff-ish. It just stops. Do you want the big reveal to be that the thing can unhinge it's jaw and fit a whole head in it? Not sure, just felt weird and abrupt.

 

Past that, looks good to me.  

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This was a rescue worker from the first afternoon, when the two children had been missing for a matter of hours, in summer. My assumption is that they expected the search to be over pretty quick, and the risk of things like hunger and exposure to be low.

Also, not all of the guy's stuff actually made it into Maddie's chamber. His outer shirt and radio, for example, might turn up later. Maybe I'll throw a candybar in there, too.

The purpose of emphasizing her hunger is primarily to make you think that I might be the kind of author who would have a 15 year old girl engage in cannibalism after like 20 hours missing. Having that actually happen wouldn't make sense, but I wanted to put the idea in the reader's mind. It's like foreshadowing or something.

Disgust at head flop makes sense. I'll add that.

The "reveal" so to speak is supposed to be the extra evidence that the monster is not human. I wasn't sure about ending it there, but the girlfriend loved it as a stopping place so I published that way.

Glad I fixed the characterization issues in that chapter. Took a lot of editing.

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