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Author Topic: Pseudopod 371: The Unfinished Room  (Read 5000 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: February 01, 2014, 04:04:02 PM »

Pseudopod 371: The Unfinished Room

by Joshua Rex.

This is the first publication of “The Unfinished Room” in any form. Joshua says “I got the idea for this story after noticing an area along a wall in my rented house where there had once been a door or window. Inevitably, I began to think about sealed doorways – both physical and mental – and what we might see if we were to reopen them.”

JOSHUA REX is a horror writer, painter, and musician who works as a luthier of stringed instruments in Boston, Massachusetts, where he also lives with his girlfriend – the poet Mary Robles – and three fat and generally bored cats. He is currently revising his first novel, INAMORTA; a supernatural story about a virtuoso and his haunted viola, as well as a collection of eleven horror short stories titled NEW MONSTERS. He will be looking to publish both later this year. Keep up with him at his website here.

Your reader this week – Bob Eccles – is a radio news reporter who enjoys writing short stories, mainly horror and sci-fi. He’s a member of the Horror Writers Association, the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and The Fictioneers. He has a collection of short horror stories – TINY TERRORS – available in the Kindle Store at the link under title.



“‘Do you hear that?’ Adele cut in.

‘What?’

‘That ticking sound.’

James glanced back at the bathroom. ‘Probably the tub dripping.’

‘No, it’s coming from in there…’ Adele stepped through the hole, zigzagged around the maze of unfinished walls and then stopped at one of the cross studs and picked something up. She stood there for a long time, staring down at the object in her palm, then slowly covered her mouth with her free hand.

‘Adele?’

No response. James stepped in, walked to one of the perimeter walls and looked through. The room seemed to float above the lawn without any visible support. Absently he brought the cigarette to his lips, took a pull but got no smoke. He looked at the lit end. The cherry now resembled fossilized bone. He tossed it through the wall and walked over to Adele, who was still staring at the thing in her hand. As he got closer he saw it was a pocket watch.

‘Where did you find that?’

‘Sitting on the wall.’

‘Looks antique. I bet it’s gold. Probably worth a nice chunk of change.’

Adele gave him a horrified look, then carefully set the watch back on the ledge. James went to grab it, but was distracted by something in his periphery. He turned and saw a beach ball, white with yellow stars, drift across the floor and settle gently into a far corner. Seeing it nearly brought him to his knees in terror. Without thinking, he took Adele’s hand and began leading her out of the room.

‘Jimmy -’

‘Let’s get the fuck out of here.’

Adele hesitated, looking back at the watch, then relented. James nailed a sheet of particle board over the hole and they didn’t speak of the room again for a month.”





Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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Moritz
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« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2014, 02:34:43 PM »

It's kind of a classical take, but it worked just fine.
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The Far Stairs
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« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2014, 04:17:30 PM »

Pseudopod is KILLING it in 2014!

This story blew me away -- in the sense that it disturbed me more than anything I've heard since... well, since "Mr. Flyspeck." The reaction of the father to the death of his son was so real. I think it's exactly how I would react. And it all seemed to happen for no reason. There was some element of cosmic justice for the couple who'd done bad things, but it certainly wasn't proportional to the crimes. Dude probably deserved it for murdering a kid, but stealing a pocket watch? Maybe the severity of the punishments were determined by each person's sense of guilt. Then again, the boy who was raped and murdered didn't do anything wrong, nor did his father, and they got the worst of it. I guess it was just a case of nameless, all-devouring evil -- probably the most realistic kind given that there isn't much justice in real life.

"The Unfinished Room," "Mr. Flyspeck," "Whispers in the Dark"... all in a few short weeks, and all of them brilliant. I think the podcast is already surpassing last year, which is saying something. Maybe coming so close to death gave Pseudopod a jolt of unholy energy. Or maybe, as Alasdair is fond if saying, Pseudopod gazed too long into the abyss, and something came back with it...
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Jesse Livingston
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Just Jeff
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« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2014, 09:32:13 PM »

I think this is the most horrific story I've heard on Pseudopod. Not my cup of tea, but effective.
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Unblinking
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« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2014, 09:10:22 AM »

I liked a lot of the imagery in this one, with the glassy water and gray skies on the other side of the patched door.  I felt like overall it should've affected me more, but by the time a bad thing or two had happened it seemed so inevitably bleak for everyone involved that there was no suspense to it for me. 

And some of the details didn't really seem to tie in with the whole.  What was the significance of the nail gashing the kid?  What was the significance of the sexual assault and murder of the kid?  Those didn't seem to mesh with the rest.
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Metalsludge
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« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2014, 06:53:13 AM »

I agree with Unblinking that the story does not feel as affecting as it might, instead feeling matter of fact for me.

Also, most people don't murder folks during childhood. So I'm left wondering what more ordinary people are shown by the room? Old test forms from a cheating incident maybe? Oh, the horror! Cheesy

The room does sound creepy though, and the tragedies these people encounter do remind one that the bad things one hears about on the news can happen to any of us tomorrow, which is certainly a theme of fear and horror. Still, it's true that it doesn't seem to come together as a common theme throughout here in a cohesive way.
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Unblinking
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« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2014, 09:49:04 AM »

Also, most people don't murder folks during childhood. So I'm left wondering what more ordinary people are shown by the room? Old test forms from a cheating incident maybe? Oh, the horror! Cheesy

Haha, true enough.  But as with most stories, it's going to be based around the people who WILL be affected in the way that makes it a good narrative.  If you want to do a little handwaving, you could even justify this in the plot--the unfinished room only attracts unfinished people who will be affected by it.  If they hadn't had such dark secrets, then they would've found a different house.
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davidthygod
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« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2014, 12:08:46 PM »

Seriously, Pseudopod is on fire this year.  For some reason, I always felt like Escape Pod would sometimes steal the better stories that might more appropriately belong in Pseudopod, like "Knowing", which is one of my all-time favorites, and is much more fit for Pseudopod.  However, currently there is no contest that Pseudopod has had much stronger stories in 2014.

For "The Unfinished Room", great tone and pacing, fantastic narration.  Very impressive execution overall.  I figured out the concept fairly early, but still could not wait to see it play out.  For the last half, I kept wondering what dastardly thing James did that was about to bite him in the ass.

Very well done team, and I really cannot wait to see more from Mr Rex.  This should really find more forms of publication, its great and deserves exposure.
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davidthygod
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« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2014, 12:14:59 PM »

To unblinking and metalsludge,  I think everyone has some bad stuff in their past that the room could exploit.  I think the room doesn't care, it just wants blood.  Pocket watch theft, child murder, or everything in between.  It will take the worst thing you have done and enforce the most horrific sort of justice. 

I do sort of agree that the child rape and murder was a jump in the narrative flow that took me a minute to adjust to, but it was definitely a dark jump and I thought it played in plenty well. 
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Kaa
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« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2014, 03:02:13 PM »

I really enjoyed this one. Pseudopod is, indeed, on fire. But in a good way, not in the "OMG BURNING HOT FLESH MELTING ARGHHHHHH!' way.

Or, this being pseudopod, maybe some of both.
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« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2014, 08:30:46 AM »

I dunno.  I wanted to like this one.  I love haunted houses, and I love inexplicable rooms, and I love random assorted weirdness.  But this one... honestly, I have to say that it was the writing that killed it for me.  The dialogue was just cheesy.  Melodramatic.  I mean, nobody talks like that outside of high school stage plays.  The reader gave it all he had and really almost got it to sound natural, but not enough to salvage it for me. 

Then the events started getting ridiculous and melodramatic, too.  I mean, randomly kidnapped by a Wal-Mart associate?  What?  And then rape-murdered?  Really?  We're going with child sexual assault as the opener?  When the kid showed back up and did that now-standard Asian horror-film crabwalk thing, I just went :-| because it felt like we were ripping off horror cliches, and not even horror cliches from the right medium.  (The crabwalk thing is way creepier when you can see it.)  (Scroll carefully at that comic, btw.)

Then they started explaining the random weirdness, and I lost interest completely.  Her grandfather's watch that she stole drove her insane?  Okay...  Wait, he murdered another child for a beach ball?  o_0  Whaaaaaat?  When random non-threatening objects are scary, I'm there with you.  When they have silly over-the-top backstories attached, you lose me.  I just couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to find any of it creepy or scary. 
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« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2014, 10:53:55 AM »

I'm with Scattercat. The murder of the child seemed totally gratuitous and unnecessary. More generally, it felt like House of Leaves meets Flatliners.
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zoanon
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« Reply #12 on: March 01, 2014, 10:12:46 AM »

the rape/murder was so blunt! so disturbing, and narrated in such a cavalier way
blah blah blah his son was abducted and raped to death, blah blah blah the dad went upstairs and killed himself.
I liked it though.
I don't understand if it was because of the room, the mechanics of how that whole thing works very unclear.
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« Reply #13 on: March 01, 2014, 01:23:37 PM »

the rape/murder was so blunt! so disturbing, and narrated in such a cavalier way
blah blah blah his son was abducted and raped to death, blah blah blah the dad went upstairs and killed himself.
I liked it though.
I don't understand if it was because of the room, the mechanics of how that whole thing works very unclear.

I liked how blunt it was. It hit me hard.

True, the mechanics were unclear, but I didn't necessarily want to know how the room worked. It was creepier that way.


I'm with Scattercat. The murder of the child seemed totally gratuitous and unnecessary. More generally, it felt like House of Leaves meets Flatliners.

Haha. "House of Leaves meets Flatliners." I loved the story, but I have to admit that's pretty funny.
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Jesse Livingston
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zoanon
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« Reply #14 on: March 01, 2014, 01:31:59 PM »

don't get me wrong, I LOVED this story, the bluntness took me by complete surprise because so many of the stories on pseudopod are of the out of sight or slowly creeping horror variety.
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Fenrix
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« Reply #15 on: March 01, 2014, 05:11:33 PM »

don't get me wrong, I LOVED this story, the bluntness took me by complete surprise because so many of the stories on pseudopod are of the out of sight or slowly creeping horror variety.

I found the bluntness akin to the good parts of Hellraiser.


When the kid showed back up and did that now-standard Asian horror-film crabwalk thing, I just went :-| because it felt like we were ripping off horror cliches, and not even horror cliches from the right medium.  (The crabwalk thing is way creepier when you can see it.)  (Scroll carefully at that comic, btw.)


I didn't realize that Asian cinema had the market cornered for monsters/ghosts walking on broken legs. Are you certain that the wrongness of these movements have no influence from the wrongness of Reagan's spider walk as written by American writer William Peter Blatty in the 70's?
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« Reply #16 on: March 01, 2014, 08:44:12 PM »

I didn't realize that Asian cinema had the market cornered for monsters/ghosts walking on broken legs. Are you certain that the wrongness of these movements have no influence from the wrongness of Reagan's spider walk as written by American writer William Peter Blatty in the 70's?

Sure, a hundred percent certain.  Why do you ask?  Hell, if we're going for "first ever," I'm pretty sure the yokai stories predate The Exorcist.

Sarcasm aside, my point was that opening with child rape/murder felt over the top, and following it with a standard "scary thing" visual trope instead of finding more nuance for some of the incidents or working to add any depth to any of the individual arcs made this story a lot less effective for me.  A story about the loss of a child to horrific events could be really touching; having it be just One More Thing, not treated notably differently than a creepy visual trope, didn't work for me.
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Fenrix
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« Reply #17 on: March 03, 2014, 10:00:35 AM »



I didn't realize that Asian cinema had the market cornered for monsters/ghosts walking on broken legs. Are you certain that the wrongness of these movements have no influence from the wrongness of Reagan's spider walk as written by American writer William Peter Blatty in the 70's?


Sure, a hundred percent certain.  Why do you ask?  Hell, if we're going for "first ever," I'm pretty sure the yokai stories predate The Exorcist.


I don't think I was trying to establish a "first ever" but merely something iconic in literature that predates Asian horror. I'll leave sweeping absolutes to the experts.

Separate from Asian horror as a relatively new movement are Asian ghost stories. Do you have any preferences for good classic Asian ghost tales you'd like to point out? I would love to read the M. R. James of any culture.

Quote

Sarcasm aside, my point was that opening with child rape/murder felt over the top, and following it with a standard "scary thing" visual trope instead of finding more nuance for some of the incidents or working to add any depth to any of the individual arcs made this story a lot less effective for me.  A story about the loss of a child to horrific events could be really touching; having it be just One More Thing, not treated notably differently than a creepy visual trope, didn't work for me.


I grok this version of your critique a whole lot better, but I still have to question the use of "opening". Is it because it's the first major incident we see in this story caused by the room? My recollection puts this halfway or so into the story with distinct ratchets of mood and imagery on the way there. I really liked the pile of stones on the front doorstep when they arrived.
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« Reply #18 on: March 06, 2014, 01:40:43 PM »

Gotta agree with Thundercrack and Scattercat. I wanted to like this. It had all the right pieces of things I like in my stories. I just couldn't dig it properly. Felt a little paint by numbers. Nothing was a huge surprise. Except the kid killing which seemed crazily over the top and unnecessary. I mean, a kid might accidentally kill another kid, but the completion of the act and then burying his body, that's not an ok person that then goes on about the rest of his life. Kids that have done that for real are ALWAYS childhood psychopaths. That's not an oops. That's a pre-Gacey.
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #19 on: March 17, 2014, 12:03:16 PM »

Pulling no punches.  Loved it.  Really got to me.

I like the idea that this house only attracts people who have some reason to be affected by the room.
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