Experiment #15 – Dusk 1000 words

Welcome to the Story Laboratory! This is where I share drafts from various prompts and writing challenges, fish for feedback, and then head back to the drawing board with everything I learn in the comments.

Put on your goggles and lab coats. It’s going to be messy! Tell me what you really think. Be as mean or as nice as you like, I’ve got thick skin (and an even thicker skull!)

“No-see-ums” by S.C. Jensen

Genre: Horror?
1002 words


Diana trudged through the trees, a fresh kill slung over her shoulder. If her unexpected guests had luck at the river they’d eat well tonight. Small blessings. But the insects droned an incessant warning in her ears.

Thick evergreen boughs trapped the midday heat against the forest floor. Damp air burped out of the dehydrated muskeg like a blister coated in buzzing black flies. Her feet left pools of dank water in the film of pale green mildew. Diana broke out of the thicket and into the fresh air of the clearing next to the river. The sun skimmed the tops of the trees now; she had about an hour of daylight left. Nina, the hapless wanderer, perched upon the mossy granite stone they’d chosen as a meeting place. She smiled and waved.

Her face fell as Diana approached. “Is that a bunny?”

Diana lay three rabbits on the rock beside Nina who jumped to her feet. “Where’s your friend?”

“Brooding about getting us lost.” Nina shrugged. She popped a handful of wild blueberries into her mouth. “I left him with the fish and went foraging instead.”

“I told you to stay together.”

“He’s just up the creek there.” Nina pointed with her chin. “He’ll be back any minute.”

They watched the sun until it sank halfway into the spruce trees. Diana sifted through Nina’s basket of berries and mushrooms and plucked out any of the forest’s offerings that might kill them before the bugs did. “It’s time to go.”

“But what about Liam?”

“I told you I’d pick you up here.”  Diana flung the rabbits over her shoulder and stared up the thin, winding river. “I didn’t say I’d wait.”

“He might not be able to find your cabin on his own.”

Golden rays of sunlight filtered through the trees and kissed the rippling water. The river deepened from clear blue to indigo as Diana watched. “I’m leaving.”

“What’s the hurry?” Nina stumbled along behind her. “It’s a beautiful evening. We could—”

“How,” muttered Diana, “did you two survive long enough to get lost in the first place?”

“Ouch!” Nina slapped at her arm and spilled half her berries onto the forest floor. “Something stung me!”

Diana stopped. Her eyes shot to the sky, still blue, but darkening. She grabbed Nina’s arm and inspected the mark. “Did you see it?”

“No, but I sure felt it.”

“Come on,” Diana said. “I can treat that at the cabin.”

The little wooden building hunkered between the trees like a kicked dog, its shoulders hunched against the impending darkness. Diana ushered Nina inside with the berries and rabbits and set her to boiling water. For the stew, she told the girl. But she’d need it to sterilize the knife as well. Diana slipped outside to complete her twilight ritual.

She kept the shutters closed all summer. Each night she packed a paste of mud and sawdust into the chinks and inspected the boards for signs of infestation. You could survive in the bush if you knew how; the worst of the season only lasted a few weeks. But they were in the thick of it now.

Purpling fingers stretched from the trees across the trail to the river and plunged into the gloom beyond. A high pitched whine rose from the darkened trees. No sign of Liam. Maybe he was still sulking. Maybe he was already dead. Diana closed the door behind her and checked the seal from the inside.

Nina lifted the lid of the pot and peered at her through the steam. “Do you always do that?”

“Only if I want to see daylight.”

“Are there bears?” The girl’s eyes widened. “But Liam—”

“Nothing that big.” Diana dropped her equipment into the rolling water. “Now let’s have a look at that arm.”

Nina extended her forearm warily. A red welt erupted from her soft brown skin. The centre oozed with milky yellow pus. “I have some Sting-Eze in my backpack.”

“It’s not a sting, it’s an egg sac.” Diana levered her knife out of the pot. “I’m going to have to cut it out.”

The girl wrenched her arm out of Diana’s grip. “Are you crazy?”

“When the larvae hatch they will get into your blood and eat your body from the inside out.”

Nina’s dark pupils floated in wide white orbs. She backed up until she pressed against the door.

Diana shook her head once, sharply. “I will kill you myself if you try to open that.”

“Liam is out there.”

The buzzing outside reached a fevered pitch. Even the shutters seemed to vibrate. “Your friend is dead.”

An ululating wail cut through the whining of wings and opened it like a wound. Terror and pain poured in from the dusk and filled the cabin with their lecherous breath. It hung in the air, damp and cloying.

“Liam!” Nina scrabbled for the door handle.

Diana whipped across the room and snapped the girl back like a snare wire. She pinned Nina’s arms behind her back and wrapped the girl in a smothering embrace. “Shh. You can’t help him. He’s gone.”

Sobs convulsed Nina’s body and tears streamed down her face. “I don’t want to die here!”

Diana relaxed her grip on the girl. She held her by the arms and turned her around. “You don’t have to die. Just look at me.”

Nina’s eyes flickered over Diana, taking in the tiny crescents of puckered flesh that dotted her skin. “Will it hurt?”

“Barely a pinch.” Diana led the girl back to the stove. “They inject a numbing agent with the eggs sac so animals won’t bother the site.”

Nina’s lips pressed into a thin grey line, but she held out her arm. It was quite outside now. The bugs were always worst around dusk. Diana cut into the swollen mound and pried a thick white clump out of the centre. The girl didn’t flinch. It would be safe again by sunrise.

Diana flung the egg sac into the fire.

*********************************************************************

This piece was written for the #BlogBattle Stories flash fiction challenge. March’s theme was “Dusk” at 1000 words or less. This piece is 102 words. Oops! Check out the other submissions HERE! And, as always, let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

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21 thoughts on “Experiment #15 – Dusk 1000 words

  1. Testing, testing!

    Sorry folks, I think I missed out on some potential comments because I had forgot to turn them on!

  2. Hello, Sarah,
    Your story bothers me for various reasons, from your too descriptive word choices at the start to a lack of descriptions toward the end, or at least how it seems to me. Your time sequences jump without warning. But mostly you have built a character in Diana who comes across as less than human (more like a Vulcan relative of Spock) and definitely less than female. She has no love in her.
    These are, of course, only my observations.
    I am not going to presume to rewrite your story for you. As you mentioned in your comment to me, indirectly, we find the story we want to read, not necessarily the one the author wants us to read. I will leave this comment here, with the invitation for you to ask for better explanations if you want them. Meanwhile, as I get the chance, I will read other of your stories, to try to get a better picture of who you are, both as the writer, and as the narrator. It is nice to meet you.
    Jerry

    1. Hi Jerry! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment 🙂

      There is definitely room for more development of Diana’s character. I’ll see if I can justify her nature in the next draft.

      I’ll look into the balance of imagery, too. In part the way I did it was intentional. I wanted to build the scene with more description, and then use less as the action started. But there’s always too much/too little of a good thing! I actually cut about 250 words of imagery from the first half before posting 😂 It’s my guilty pleasure.

      Was there anything that you did like? That would help me focus for my revisions. If not, no worries. I can stumble my way through it.

      Thanks for the crit!

  3. Oh yes that was really good! There was tension, there was grief and there was some mild gore of the wound without the nasty details of how Liam died.But there is this question… how did they survive in the first place. Nice story.

    1. Thank you so much, Simon!

      I always have some long, complicated back story in my head to go along with my flash fiction pieces. The struggle is decided which bits are necessary to the scope of the story at whatever length I’m limited to. Kind of like the reverse engineering I had to do on my Sea-hag story.

      So, I have an answer to that question… But I don’t think I can tackle it at 1000 words! I might need to see what I can do to give more of a sense of resolution to this piece, even if I don’t answer the question of their survival explicitly, I might be able to hint at it. Hmmm. I’ll think on it. Thanks!

      1. It’s ok to leave mystery I think. Loose ends like that can give the reader something to explore in their minds and let’s them complete the story for themselves.

        1. True. So long as the loose ends don’t interfere with the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief, I think they’re okay.

    1. Thank you! It might be one worth expanding into something a bit longer 🙂

  4. Interesting for sure. Do I want to know more of the story? Yes! The setting was cool. I think I liked that the most.

    astorydetective.blogspot.com

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! I had a lot of fun with the setting. I grew up in northern Canada and have spent a lot of time in boggy, buggy muskeg. Imagery is one of my favourite aspects of crafting a story, and I go overboard sometimes, but it’s a lot easier to overwrite and then trim out unnecessary details than it is to go back and flesh a bunch of unfinished scenes in! I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  5. Quirky direction and quite fascinating in a macabre way. Hard to trim this sort of story tightly because it’s probably in need of a longer piece that can then be edited back….or turned into something larger. For me, loose ends work very well too. It lets me create a wider image of the world they live in. Granted with short stories it’s no easy take to actually take each one and flesh them out. Mind you, in my case, loose ends leave plot exploration markers for the next one!

    1. Thanks, Gary! With flash fiction, I almost always have a much bigger story in mind at the start, and then have to focus myself on a single scene or idea from that big idea. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It can be hard to separate what you know about your idea and what you’ve conveyed with the actual words, too.

      I know it is a compliment when people wish they could read more of a particular story, but it can be frustrating feedback with flash fiction when the whole point is supposed to be the brevity. I always wonder if it’s because I’ve failed to create a satisfying arc, or that the story feels incomplete, when people say they wish it was longer.

      But then again, I often wish I had more words to explore many of my ideas, so I suppose I can’t complain. It’s a good problem to have!

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      1. Ha, ha, that’s the trouble with writers! A prompt soon explodes into an idea that could lend itself to a novel. Thing is, if every flipping prompt did that we’d never get round to finishing them all!! My anthology piece keeps rearing up with haunted “When you’ve got time, don’t forget the world needs saving” echoes.

        If I say I’d like to learn more about a flash fiction piece then take it as a compliment because it means I’ve identified with the story and am trying to impress that on the writer. My own prompt words have become a continuity now. That’s deliberate at present though. I’m using it to procrastinate instead of actually writing the epic lol

        1. Thank you! I know I *should* always take it that way, but the self-critic is strong, haha.

          I’m learning to appreciate the short form for what it is. When I was younger, short stories frustrated me immensely. What was the point of getting invested in these characters only to be with them for such a short time? Now I appreciate the bitter-sweet connection writers make with short fiction. It’s fleeting, and sometimes leaves you longing for more. But there is beauty in that ephemerality, too. Especially as a writer. We can explore a particular emotion or image in great detail without having to expand it into something more than that. It’s been very freeing to explore! I think I might be a convert. I’m finding it very difficult to get back to my novels these days.

          1. I hear you about the strong self critic! I offer loads of advice in a do what I say, not do as I do type of thing. #takeownadvicemore!

            I actually think short story writing can help when novels stick or the mojo withers a bit. They can be intense projects and sometimes the mind just needs to recharge. Flash or short fiction keeps the habit going and allows exploration into areas or genres one might not naturally fall into. Totally agree about the exploration part too.

            Oddly my short stories have led to 50k of material now on one project. I’ve not dipped outside the backstory for prompts in ages. In fact not since last years A to Z where my new character emerged as the narrator that merged all my writing together. From that came a very unexpected project that’s got me stuck inside this “novel of what happened before the project starts! It’s quite possible I’m rather good at procrastinating via prompts now 🤔

  6. I loved it, though horror has never been an enticing genre for me to read. Too often the characters or ideas come to life and haunt me. I almost didn’t read this story because you identified it as such in the beginning, but I figured I could handle a 1000 words of horror. Lol!

    Your scene and mood-setting were amazing, and I think Diana’s curtness and callousness were well rationalized by the environment you created. She simply “fits” there; enough said. Nina was a perfect foil, balancing the story and suckering me in. Together they made “dusk” a mortal play, where one was night and one was day. So I loved their interaction immensely!

    The only thing that left me confused was what killed Liam? How quickly do those larva hatch, and how long does it take them to consume a human? It seemed to me that if they took him down so quickly, then Nina should also have been more affected, as she likely contracted her bite near the same time as Liam’s first. But she showed no ill effects at all, even though the removal did not occur until after Liam died. Unless the actual insects (that Liam would have been exposed to en masse) also feast on human flesh…?

    I would have wished for just one or two more sentences to rationalize that time glitch.

    Overall, a touch of brilliance shines through. I look forward to future blogbattle entries from you. 😁

    1. Woohoo! You got what I was trying to do with the imagery exactly! That makes me very happy.

      Yes, I think you’re right. I need to drop a bit more information about the bugs and exactly what happens after dusk. I really like the length at 1000 words, but I might bump it to 1200 during revisions and add just a touch more.

      I was pretty happy with Diana’s character. She’s supposed to be gruff. Folk who live by themselves in the woods are generally not there because they are bubbly social butterflies! But I could be a bit more explicit about the fact that she is a hermit.

      Thank you very much for your feedback. This gives me a very clear idea of what worked and what needs a little extra oomph. For your future reference, I often write “horror,” but it is never of the gory/gruesome kind. I appreciate that you strayed out of your comfort zone to read my blogbattle! I’ll add a warning at the beginning of anything that might be too gross/creepy 😊 Thanks again!

  7. This one has been bugging me since I read it yesterday. I liked it, but something felt off, and I think it comes down to what rawgod said – the unevenness in tone on the description between beginning and end. (The end worked better for me, but then I prefer a lighter touch on the description.)
    The harshness/coldness of Diana works for me, and seems to fit the environment.
    Was the choice of the “goddess name” a deliberate one, because that also works. The classical Diana has a dark side, or three.

    1. Thanks Mark! The imagery balance definitely needs some work. I’ll never give it up! But I suppose I should spread it out more evenly 😂

      The choice of the name Diana was intentional! I’m glad you picked up on that 😊 Those gods and goddesses always do have a darkness to them, and there is something not quite natural about Diana’s neck of the woods. I’m not sure I want her to actually *be* Diana, but I do want her to have an otherworldly quality and to represent some of the Huntress’s qualities.

      As I develop this piece, I’m going to make it clearer that Liam and Nina have stumbled into another world. I may give Nina a bit of a quest in order to escape, in keeping with the mythological undertones. I think I’ll actually make Nina the main character, too, since she’s less static and would make a stronger POV from an emotional investment standpoint. She’s the one who experiences the fear, loss, and who will have to rise to the challenge… 🤔 Now, there’s an idea!

      Hey, even when these flash challenges don’t quite work out the way you want them to, they are still a great jumping off point!

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