Tag Archive: suspense


I found a misused copy of this paperback on the shelf of my local swap shack (basically a large lean-to filled with “free to a good home” items) and it begged to be picked up. Like many I knew about the Lovely Bones, it was a bestseller after all, and I had seen the movie, but I had not read the book. So nearly 15 years after it had originally been published I started my secondhand copy with the dark ring shaped stain (suggesting it had functioned as a coffee mug holder way more than as a stunning piece of literature). I am happy to report that where it fails as a coaster it more than succeeds as a work of fiction.

This book opens with one of the most hit you in the chest lines I have ever read.


In my opinion books live and die in the first chapter, if I’m not hooked by the end of Chapter 1 it’s going to be a slog. This book had me by paragraph 1!

There are many things to love about this book, and just as many ways to approach this review. I won’t be sumerizing, go find another review if you are looking for a book report, or doing an in depth character analysis. I will instead give you 5 reasons why you must read this book (as I see them anyway).

  1. The tension- If you love a good who done it mystery or crime drama don’t pass this book up. You may know who did what but believe me there is tension in spades. Will the guilty party be found out? Will Susie figure out how to live in her heaven and in her family’s world? What impact will this have on everyone who was touched by Susie? Can a family torn apart by violence pull together? I could go on too. Don’t be fooled, knowing the killer’s identity does not mean that this story will disappoint in the surprise or gasp worthy moments.
  2. It is not a let’s hold hands and cry cathartically book-So I recently tried to convince someone to read the book and the response was “I don’t like books about little girls being murdered” followed by the “is something wrong with you?” look. That is not this book! Yes of course there are sad moments, Susie and her family grapple with some very serious things, but for me at least it was way more joyous than depressing. For example I felt sheer joy when Lindsey falls in love, laughed out loud at/with Grandma Lynn, and smiled from ear to ear as Ruth cajoles Ray into friendship. Don’t let the emotion behind this story scare you off, embrace it. The young feel everything as passionate extremes allow yourself to get swept up in it, it is Susie’s story after all take this opportunity to look through another’s eyes.
  3. For the lines you will want to highlight and quote (though I cannot condone book disfigurement)- This book is full of memorable lines and I am sure different ones will stand out depending on what you need. Goodreads lists over 200 and I am sure there are even more quotable lines. As I read The Lovely  Bones I was struck by how many people could be reached by Alice Sebold’s words. I found lines to share with those struggling with loss, that I would love to text to my young cousins, to help the many who never felt like they belonged in their current situation, to inspire, to encourage, and to just mull over. The words in this book are living things and each read breaths new life into them.
  4. It is better (longer) than the movie- Now I know that every time you hear this sentence it is accompanied by a look of disdain, but that’s not how I mean it. What I mean is the movie is constrained by time. There is only so much time which can pass during a normal length feature film before the audience loses focus. Whereas books can be as long as they want spanning decades of time. So while the movie keeps us focused on let’s say the next five years surrounding Susie’s murder The book reaches further into the future where we see Lindsey graduate college, Ray working towards an MD, and an aging Mr. Harvey. The reason I like the extended time line is twofold. Firstly, it suggests, with subtlety, the timelessness of Susie’s heaven. The jumps in time are not the same from chapter to chapter and we follow her friends and family for different stretches of time as well. To me this makes perfect sense and is a wonderful way to show the disconnect between Susie and everyone still living on earth. Secondly, it puts a fine point on the fact that Susie doesn’t get to grow up. A little harsh I suppose but true. This is a life and death story told by a young adult and her perspective cannot change because she cannot change (which is important to how the story ends). Mr. Harvey is a man and Susie is a girl if she becomes a woman the fear of him will lessen. So in my opinion the time in the book is critical both explaining and being explained by the story making the book better than the movie.
  5. Karma- So whether or not you believe in the religious component of karma most of us like the idea of good things happening for good people and bad things happening to bad people. Believe it or not, but I think this book adheres to this universal ideology. Yes, something horrible happens to Susie but she is not lessened by it George Harvey is. She is in a perfect world and she receives the ultimate gift in the end (not to give anything away here is tricky). While this may seem like a small consolation I still believe it counts because Susie gets joy, love, and wonder while Mr. Harvey does not. His fate is darker and well deserved.

Susie’s voice is refreshing and the story is captivating, hit the library stacks you will be glad you did.

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It’s never like how they show it in the movies, when things feel like they are slowing down its rarely so we can gain some clarity usually it’s because the complexity level just ratcheted up a notch.  Too much is happening and the human brain cannot sort it all out so everything slows down, not usually a good thing as it slows reaction time.  For instance, move head to avoid speeding object goes from ‘priority one’ to ‘take a number please’, really really not good, when your mind is also dealing with let’s say a bleeding arm and ringing ears.  However, there are exceptions to the rule though they are far and few between, whatever Hollywood tells you.  This…is mine. 

I am Jamie Sanger.  I grew up in a typical childhood, dad worked too much while mom took care of us kids, you know normal stuff.  I suffered through the usual young adulthood, filled with broken hearts and curfews, and now I am the quintessential 20 something adult.  My parents have divorced, I have lost between one and five friends I graduated high school with, and I work a job that grants me maybe one week’s worth of vacation time, counting sick days.  Since I suffer from that unique brand of guilt only those who have left home to purse a dream can know, I spend my meager vacation time back at my old stomping grounds.  Where I am obliged to see every family member possible while tiptoeing around my past as a form of relaxation.  However, only a small fraction of this information will be useful to you in understanding my moment of clarity A) when I travel I come home and B) I have lost friends.  Moving on.

I am taking a four day weekend to come home and see my newest batch of cousins, a housewarming at my aunt’s new modern home, and see my sister who I have missed the last two times I have visited.  As I close my eyes on my packed bags and list of “do not forgets” which I must remember to do before I leave I feel anxious about all the relaxation I will soon be dealing with, and so I dream. 

I dream of missing friends, deserted cars, and his eyes, his creepy now red now yellow burning eyes.  I wake myself up trying to articulate the words, “I hate you, I fucking hate you,” through my tears.  I thought that I was past Kelly’s murder, turns out I was wrong.  See two years back I came home with one purpose, friend time with Kelly.  However, plans often go awry.  When she neglected to show up at the airport I was pissed, when she refused to answer my calls I got worried.  They found her car, empty and deserted, and her boyfriend Trent, but not even one of Kelly’s hairs.  I can still feel the hate pouring off of Trent and his red eyes as I publicly accused him of hurting Kelly, but with no evidence Trent didn’t even see jail time.  Her murder simply dismissed as a runaway.

I have made it past the obstacle course they call an airport and now reside in seat 23B near the engine. All the loud angry burning of jet fuel creates a form of white noise which lulls me to sleep. Straight into the outstretched arms of my dreams, my twisted poignant dreams. Again I see his eyes, yellow this time, watching me from the dark as I search in vain for any scrap of Kelly in that terribly beat up old Toyota she still drove from high school. The car just sits there useless and empty clean except for the burning yellow eyes I catch marring every inch of reflective surface. I wake up thrashing as a stewardess jumps back from having leaned in to whisper ma’am at me with that itchy feeling that someone is watching. Not to far off the mark apparently as I was mumbling in my fitful sleep and disturbing the other passengers. She just wanted to make sure I was alright I’m sure that and to wake me up so I stopped whatever I was doing.

So I sit blurry eyed and drink my caffeine silently waiting for the tarmac to rush up and meet the plane signaling that I am home.

Tonight is the house warming I am expected to attend. I have slept maybe four restless hours out of the last 24, but still I pile into the car with my sister and mother. We ride in the quiet you would expect of people who knew each other well but don’t want to discuss anything meaningful. Comfortable. We walk in the dark to the door of this new modern house and I think I see a cat’s yellow stare measuring our progress. I shake my head to clear it, after all I’m tired. Through the door we meet a foyer which is unnecessarily walled off with a wall which doesn’t even reach the ceiling. Inside door number two family mingles loud and aimless. I take a seat facing the silly second door and zone out.

I could not tell you how much time passes but suddenly Trent is rushing the second door. He is shouting obscenities and threatening myself and my family. I run for the door begging for help from my nearest cousin. And then it happens. While I’m frantic with fear for my family, am physically trying to force Trent back out the door, and my mind is attempting to make sense of his verbal assault, everything slows down. I am face to face with my nightmare his vermilion eyes locked on to my amber ones, and its like I’m falling through the shards of mirrored glass I call my memory.

“I’ve seen this before.”

“What have you seen Jamie,” a disembodied male voice asks.

“Eyes look like that.”

“When, Jamie? Where have you seen this before?”

“I can’t…”

“Let yourself remember Jamie.”

The lights are the gross brightness of high wattage electric bulbs, the floor is aged broken tile, and walls are some version of faded yellow. All I can hear is the buzz of the bulbs till a faucet opens. Then harsh scrubbing and pouring water fills my ears. I force myself to open my eyes and take in the scene. I see a girl standing at the sink scrubbing her hands so hard they must have started to bleed because red water splashes over the porcelain edge. I look up and into the mirror and see the now red now yellow eyes staring back at me. The color changes keep time with the flickering harsh electric light.

“Its a reflection.”

“What is? Jamie what are you seeing?”

“It must be the blood. The blood reflecting in the eyes.”

“Whose eyes Jamie? Whose eyes do you see?”

“Red blood in amber eyes…dead eyes. Mine…my eyes…my amber eyes.”

“Jamie on the count of three I want you to wake up. Do you here me? One…two…three.”

Jamie Sanger blinked as she sat up from her reclined position on the couch and faced both Detective Halloway and Dr. Bernside. “Did the hypnosis help,” she asked excitedly, “will it be able to help find Kelly?”

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As seen on DeviantART Amber Eyes by JuLyFriDay

Fear the Reaper

The fear was palpable, yet everyone stood at ridged attention unable to hunch or hide from the coming of fate.  Even the slightest breeze could cause a flurry of turmoil here, as without meaning to one would brush up against the next, so tightly packed in were they.  That however was the way of things…here.  There was no escape, if you were born here then you died here.  The nights had gotten longer, and even those with the most closed of ears could hear the hum of the harvest getting closer.  Destiny was finally upon them and its name was combine.

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Harvested corn field

This is a 100 Word Challenge for adults. The prompt was HARVEST, and the challenge is to use 100 words plus the prompt (ie 101 words total) to tell your story. The link closes on Monday. Have fun writing!

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Voyeur

Her nerve endings burned with the need to be two places at once as she both found it impossible to look away and desperately wanted to run screaming for help…

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The afternoon was as comfortable and easy as her favorite song on repeat.  Yet again Nora sat on her favorite bench watching the last hour or so of the day slip away.  She loved to sit here more than anywhere else in the park because it meant she would have to walk by the rose garden twice, because it rested beneath the shade of an ancient oak tree, and because it was the only bench at a look out point, meaning she could pretty much watch anything happen anywhere in the park.  Nora took a deep breath and just sorta…soaked it all in rolling the tension out of her shoulders as she scanned the horizon.  A soft breeze wafted up from the roses tangling her honey colored hair across her face, momentarily blinding Nora.  As she shifted to keep the wind at her back something caught her attention. There was a man standing at the crest of the hill which lay due west from the park, making it the best setting for watching the sun set.  Nora could remember many evenings where she had watched the cosmic battles between the blue day sky and the waring orange and purple night sky from this vantage point, but somehow this felt different.

This man was not looking west at the gorgeous painted sky he was looking east, toward Nora. Even at such a great distance she would have bet good money that it wasn’t the tree which had caught his attention. With the sun behind him it was impossible to see the direction of his gaze, but the crawling sensation on her skin left little doubt, in Nora’s mind, that she was his focus. Immediately an internal struggle erupted within her; should she wave, walk away, or ignore the man completely. Her uncertainty froze Nora in place so completely that she nearly choked on her breath, which she seemed unable to either pull in or release. Leaning forward she scrutinized the silhouette wondering; what the man might want, why he wanted her attention, what was he doing?

The last thought sent alarms ringing through Nora’s already befuddled mind, what was he doing? The man had broken his pose, his hands searching for something, but his head never moved an inch. There was an uncomfortable feeling to the expectant silence, as if Nora had, somehow, agreed to participate in this inexplicable event but still he refused to look away, lest she break her unspoken word and bolt. So she watched, mesmerized by his need for her to watch, which was a tangible thing filling the distance between the two strangers. There was no way for her to have seen any emotion on his shadow of a face, but Nora knew when he had found what he was looking for.

There was no telltale sign or signal, no perceivable nod or motion of any kind. In a distortion of time and space it became as if the man was close enough to reach out and touch. Still shrouded by the fiery orb of the setting sun he was distinctionless, but she could feel his pain and sadness, his person nameless, but she felt a kinship as she rose to meet his need, alone in this moment Nora would be there for him. Her perspective shifted back to normal just as his arm jerked suddenly bent in an upturned angle. She watched helpless as he fell to his knees. Her left hand shot to her mouth stifling a scream the other reached for him across the acrers. Her nerve endings burned with the need to be two places at once as she both found it impossible to look away and desperately wanted to run screaming for help.

His eyes never left her’s.

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Please let me know what you thought of this short story. I wanted it to be brief, but I need to know if it made sense 🙂 I am contemplating continuing the story so please please please comment. Feedback, even negative, is helpful. Thank you in advance for stopping by.

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The Midnight Listener

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Shower scene from Psycho

Sofia had no idea what had woken her up, but based on the fact that the TV screen was showing nothing but blue she must have been out for quite awhile. A muffled snore to her right suggested that Drew hadn’t made it through the movie either. Sure enough Drew was reclined in his favorite armchair, head back, mouth open, remote hanging by a pinkie. Sofia smiled and shook her head shifting to grab the thing before it crashed to the ground scaring him awake. As she snatched her prize the coroner of the afghan that remained covering her legs slid into the puddle of brightly colored yarn already on the floor. The shiver that ran up her back was so sudden she nearly dropped the remote herself. With a quickness at odds with her supine position Sofia managed to juggle the stupid hunk of plastic onto the coffee table without a sound, but the damage was done. The warmth of her spot had immediately vanished in the fractions of an inch she had moved. Another shiver racked her body this time causing her shoulders to lock and her head to tilt to the side. The sheer yellow curtains, which looked a sickly green in the TV light, billowed away from the wall on an icy breeze.

“Damn it Drew,” Sofia swore under her breath, “it’s almost October you know.” His unconscious body gave no indication that he had heard or cared. She practically ran to the window, then shut and locked it in one fell swoop. Chafing her arms Sofia tip-toe danced over to the armchair and softly said, “Hey Drew, baby, I got too cold with your fresh air window open; so I’m going to take a hot shower before I go to bed.” Her only response was a gurgling snore. “Drew!” This time she punctuated the word with a rough shake. His sleepy eyes lacked focus as they fluttered open, “Whadiya think of the, the, the movie?” She had to smile at that, he hadn’t even stopped while yawning. Already he was turning over just seconds from his next REM cycle. “No, baby, wait a sec,” Sofia grabbed his face and waited till his eyes opened again, “I’m going to take a shower why don’t you just go to bed.” Drew blinked twice and nodded, “Probably a good idea, Sof,” he said, “or I could join you.” She threw him a wink as she handed him his scruffy green housecoat, “Sounds good to me,” and walked into the bathroom.

The white tile floor stole the last of her heat reserves as she turned the shower on, but in just minutes Sofia could feel the steam start to stick to her body. She quickly undressed and slipped under the boiling hot shower water. Her head fell forward and she just stood there letting the deluge of warmth wash over her. Till the sound of the door shutting startled her. With water in her eyes Sofia groped for the opening in the shower curtain. Eyes streaming she saw a blurry version of Drew’s robed back heading for her vanity chair, “Jesus Christ Drew! You scared the life out of me,” Sofia shrieked as she closed the curtain angrily and placed her hand above her quickly beating heart.

He scoffed with a quiet laugh at her exclamation.

She took a deep breath and rolled her shoulders relaxing again in the muggy waters. “You know this is kinda nice, we haven’t had a shower chat in years.”

“Uh huh.”

“It must have been all the way back when we first moved in together,” Sofia mused aloud. “I remember thinking that if we passed on any chance to spend time together that I was somehow sabotaging the relationship. Can you believe how dramatic I was?”

“Hmmm…”

“Oh you have to think about it huh?” Sofia flicked water over the top of the curtain and giggled. “Well I just think it’s sweet that you came in here to check on me, it’s almost as if you still love me or something,” she joked.

His sigh of, “Mmm huh,” was his only response.

“Mmm huh to you too baby,” she said imagining him head in hands doing his best to not fall asleep. “You must still be half asleep Drew I don’t think you’ve managed a complete sentence since you walked in.”

“Eehh.”

“Then go to sleep baby, I’ll be there in a minute. I think I’ve finally warmed up.” He didn’t say anything but Sofia could have sworn she felt his hand brush across her shoulders through the curtain. When she looked he was gone.

As she opened the bathroom door not even the steam behind her could stop Sofia from gasping in the cold air. Afraid that she hadn’t shut the window as well as she had originally thought Sofia went back to the living room before heading to bed. The first thing that registered in her mind was that Drew was exactly how she had left him, asleep in the armchair, but not the robe. Rather, Drew’s robe hung from the handle of the sliding glass door which was not just slightly ajar but wide open to the dark and chilly night.

Exhumed

    
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In the grey watery light Ann stood toe to toe with a dark chasm which reeked of two things fresh dirt, faint in the dew laden morning air, and decomp, a smell nearly impossible to miss.  Thinking of how the delicate wording of the dispatcher paled in comparison to the reality Ann radioed in, “Someone exhumed Peter Saunders.”  But why?

Note to Reader-

I am trying something new and hope you will help me along the way.  I am trying to build a story around a series if flash fiction episodes, however much more interesting to me is that I plan to do this one word at a time.  The title “exhumed” is the word I started with.  I am hoping for you, the readers, to provide my next word.  In this way writing the story will be as much of an adventure as I hope reading it will be.  Thank you in advance for participating, and as always please leave comments so I know if I’m still on the right path.

The Price of Peace

Trusali while important was not well known to many outsiders.  At first glance it was nothing more than a small, quaint, town.  Located far enough from any city, so as to be considered out of the way, it boasted a mine, fertile farm land, and not much else.  Perhaps the most important good Trusali could offer the world were its people, who were both hard working and capable of collectively keeping the secret.  That was the real surprise to all branches of the government; that unanimously the people of Trusali had chosen to take on the secret.  For the good of all mankind they told themselves indoctrinating the young rather than allowing their noble purpose to become diluted.  So the work continued, though the risk was high, and so far the people found the price of peace worth the cost.

Life went on as usual, mostly.  Children ran to school late with the ringing of the great brass bell, hardworking men and women worked the mine and associated plant, and life, loosely defined, continued on. 

In Trusali each day started with the sounding of the air raid sirens.  This signified the beginning of production in the plant.  Unless you were currently working in the mine or plant what was actually being produced was largely misconstrued.  In the school kids were told that their parents were heros striving to bring a lasting peace to the world, rather than the truths about what exactly was being mined from beneath their fine town. 

For the people of Trusali, though life ran like clockwork, it was the siren not the tolling of the clock tower bells which dictated life.  While the plant was in production mode none entered or left the grounds, but in the pre-dawn darkness curious children would meet at the town center and watch as the adults filed wordlessly past.  From this vantage point the brave ones would bet and dare each other to sneak inside the mines or look into the windows, which leaked  flickering grayish light before the sun rose high enough to mask the weird glow.  Until this night no one had been so foolish as to go more than a few steps onto the plant’s grounds, but Trish, feeling bold in the face of her 18th birthday, had more than just peaked in a window she had slipped inside the plant.

As the door clanged shut behind her an awful sense of foreboding stole over the girl. Trish who only moments ago had looked and felt so alive, as dark strands streamed from her ponytail and light reflected from her bright blue eyes during the mad dash from the gazebo at town center to the well hidden back door, but now the gray light washed her out and dulled her young features. Contemplating either the stairs to her left of the long hallway before her she stood frozen, folded nearly in half, with caution and fear. The sound of someone in the stairwell decided her. Trish, once again determined, started down the hallway, unaware that the person from the stairs was diligently making his rounds to secure and lock all exits.

The hallway had been uneventful, though she had paused and listened at every doorknob there had been neither movement nor sound, which only caused her curiosity to pique. After what seemed and eternity of intermittent tiptoeing and pauses Trish finally neared the end of the hallway. Rather than bursting out into the open space of the lobby she hugged the wall and waited. In the eerie quiet she heard the clock tower bells chime the five o’clock hour and visibly relaxed, knowing that by now all workers were inside and that production was still 30 minutes off. The loud click and whirl of an old fashioned movie projector drew her into a main corridor where she quickly dropped to the floor in an attempt to avoid being seen. Rather than moving through the corridor of windows to the plant, which must lay beyond it, she stopped realizing that she had found the source of the flickering light.

It was an old black and white news reel, the kind which was interwoven with public announcements. Trish was in no risk of being spotted as every set of eyes were glued to the screens at the opposite end of the room. Without the sound she could make out very little of what was going on but to her it looked like something the very first plant workers would have watched to convince them of the good they were doing. Shaking her head Trish moved on, but was disappointed to find that the movie was the only thing happening no matter which corridor she ventured down or which windowed room she peaked in. Standing at the end of one hall she considered making her way back to the stairway, then a series of events occurred so quickly she barely had time to react.

The monotone dong of an electric bell sounded, a horrible hissing sound filled the building in time to the windowed rooms filling with greenish-yellow gas, and the factory, a windowless pit of a place dead just moments ago, whirled to life in a mess of random moving part sounds. Just as quickly the bell toned again, the gas cleared, and the doors opened.

The sound of the air raid siren cut through her confusion and sent the girl into action.

Trish, finding no other options, crouched beneath a wooden bench doing her best to calm her heartbeat and steady her breath. Her eyes, shut tight in an automatic response to fright, were forced open as she heard them and their uneven gait scraping ever closer. Trying not to move an inch Trish scanned the room for an exit, even an improbable one, but in every direction she was met with horror movie images. Her family members and friend’s parents were no longer recognizable with their gray skin, yellowed eyes, and blackish drool as they made their way with single minded intent towards the plant.

A scream caught in her throat nearly broke free and the strangled sound was enough to have diverted a few of the “workers” from task, they moved towards her bench blindly searching for sound or smell to identify the anomaly. Television sets she hadn’t even noticed click into life, a repeat of the film from earlier, catching the attention of those “workers” not yet in the plant. So terrified by recent events Trish stared at the floor hopping a very young hope, that if she could not see those around her that perhaps they would not see her either. Finally the slow sickening shuffle of the “workers” couldn’t be heard anymore, but the propaganda film continued on even without its captive audience.

Unable to walk away from such horror without answers Trish stood and listened to the clean cut man in the nice suit talk.

“The world was brought to the brink of annihilation with nuclear war threats. Parents and children alike in a state of constant fear, but fear not people of Trusali for your government has found the answer.

Peace.

Peace is an element that in its raw form, which has been found within your mine, can be processed in such a way as to put you, your town, and our lands well outside the reach of nuclear fear forever. Sound too good to be true? Well it isn’t.

All we ask of you and your fellow workers is devotion to our cause, career long devotion, and daily aerosolized vaccinations, for your own protection of course. By taking these vaccines you will be able to work with the element as it is converted into its final stage without any fear of harm to yourselves or your families. The reason we are asking this grave favor from the people of Trusali is because without your help…”

Trish never heard what Peace could do for the world nor saw what the finished product looked like. Because while watching the t.v. she had failed to notice the high sharp sound that kept her motionless or the gurgling “worker” moving towards her with slow awkward intent. It was not till the thing had its hand on her shoulder did she awake from the trance, and by then her ability to care was lost in a spray of red as the thing feed.

That day the other children whispered possible scenarios to one another about what Trish might have seen and how much trouble she would be in when her parents found out what she had done, but none were brave enough to look for here even as the sun started its decent and the end of day siren sounded.

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