Escape Artists

News:

  • The Semifinals of the Podcastle flash fiction contest are happening now! Head over to the Arcade and vote!

News

The Semifinals of the Podcastle flash fiction contest are happening now! Head over to the Arcade and vote!

Author Topic: Pseudopod 239: The Line  (Read 8413 times)

Bdoomed

  • Pseudopod Tiger
  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 5358
  • Mmm. Tiger.
on: July 22, 2011, 05:07:12 PM
Pseudopod 239: The Line

By Grady J. Gratt
Click his name for his website and check out BLOODY FOUNDATIONS at PODIOBOOKS.

Read by Mark E. Phair

““I bet you to cross The Line!” Tommy Carlson says.

The crowd of boys goes quiet, Mikey Sloan’s eyes widen, Samantha Hammond gasps, and Tommy Karlson knows that he has just gone too far.

The Line is located on the other end of the park, past the playground, past the baseball field, just at the far end of where the park slides into a steep ravine. It is a small patch of concrete. The adults know it to be part of an old drainage ditch, or a fill-in for a sinkhole, or some kind of marker that the city placed, a long time ago. The story is never consistent. The truth is that none of the Adults can remember why there is a 7 foot long, 5 foot wide rectangular patch of concrete at the far end of the park, right next to the ravine that is the park’s boundary. The cement itself is light grey and ordinary. Cool to the touch, except on warm days like this, and slightly buried, so the perfect 90° edges and corners won’t scrape anyone who passes by. The cement patch is only an inch or two thick; a child could spend a day slowly digging a small hole at the side and wiggle their finger underneath the slab and feel the rough underside. All children are in agreement; there is nothing wrong or special about the grey slab that The Line is on.

The Line itself is a different story. It is a long, bright red stripe that divides the middle of the slab. At 4 inches thick and 5 feet long, it doesn’t cross the entire slab. A child can stand on the cement patch and walk around it. (Of course, everyone knows that that does not count as crossing the line.) The Line has not faded or peeled since it was painted. The children say it was painted long ago, before the dinosaurs. The mothers say that The Line has just been there since ’82, when the city did some construction. The fathers agree with the mothers, but then they would start to mumble about how that particular area of the park is dangerous, and all children should stay away from it.”


Music in the promo is “The Gift” by Joe Mieczkowski. Music by Music Alley.


Listen to this week's Pseudopod.

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


Bdoomed

  • Pseudopod Tiger
  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 5358
  • Mmm. Tiger.
Reply #1 on: July 22, 2011, 05:58:56 PM
Hey, this mountain is large... oooh hey look a crown, just sitting there on the ground, waiting for it's king.  AND I AM THE KING UNDER THIS MOUNTAIN.

Ooooh this one was creepy.  This story does a great job of taking those little dares and myths from childhood and making them something more... sinister.  I remember as a kid, exploring the tree in my best friend's back yard.  It was a massive oak tree and supposedly haunted.  And when I was nine and on my first (and only) cruise, I met a kid who swore his cross necklace could call forth dragons and sea monsters from the ocean.  I asked him to prove it once, but he said they were just sleeping.  I didn't dare ask again.
I like this story because it takes those little things, the stories and tales of children and makes it real, makes it even spook the adults who "know better".  Even makes you feel bad for Big Dan Johnson.

It's kind of funny though that this evil ancient beast has such... well... childish rules for its feeding.  Or perhaps it's merely the juxtaposition of those rules with the dares of the children that make it seem childish?

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


Kaa

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 619
  • Trusst in me, jusst in me.
    • WriteWright
Reply #2 on: July 22, 2011, 08:31:15 PM
I really liked this story. It reminded me very strongly of Stephen King back when he was good. It had a very It feel. A sense that the kids knew something the adults didn't, that they had stumbled onto a truth that they sensed was lurking just beneath the surface.

I was actually slightly disappointed when it was confirmed. I was expecting Danny "Big Dan" Johnson to just...disappear, and no one knew what happened to him, except that he was last seen at the concrete slab, near that painted, red line. Thus "Big Dan" would become just another in a long line of scary stories the kids told to scare one another.

Creepy and whimsical at the same time.

I invent imaginary people and make them have conversations in my head. I also write.

About writing || About Atheism and Skepticism (mostly) || About Everything Else


Frungi

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 67
    • More contact info
Reply #3 on: July 23, 2011, 04:05:40 AM
I loved how genuine the kids felt in this story. The descriptions of their thoughts and feelings seemed true to life.

I have to agree with Kaa about the ending; we didn’t need to know why the line was there, or what lay beyond it. It would have been enough for the bully to inexplicably disappear.



evelet

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 13
Reply #4 on: July 23, 2011, 09:13:34 AM
I love this kind of childhood story - and the IT reference above works. For me the narration was perfect for it. Definitely a voice I can listen to in bed spooking the shite out of me...



Thomas

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 58
Reply #5 on: July 25, 2011, 12:29:27 AM
takes me back to a time of double dares and step on a crack.... things kids worry about, real and imagined. what if they were true ... ??

the explanation of the existence of the line is not needed... takes away from the story, we each have childhood memories that would fill that in... knowing the bully got his just reward loses something in the telling, leaving it in mystry would have worked better.

the adults wondering if the line of children was just as long was a nice touch, made me shiver

Enjoy and be nice to each other, because "WE" is all we got.


Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #6 on: July 25, 2011, 01:51:25 PM
I enjoyed this one.  It captured the mood of childhood dares perfectly.  As others said, it perhaps overexplained at the end.  I didn't mind that too much, but I think it would've been better without that part.  In any case, good stuff!



Scattercat

  • Caution:
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 4880
  • Amateur wordsmith
    • Mirrorshards
Reply #7 on: July 26, 2011, 07:49:14 AM
I don't really have much to add except to second all of the wishes that it hadn't gotten explained at the end.  I pictured a closing scene of the groundskeeper coming in to carefully repaint the line as the "camera" pulls slowly out and fades to black.  I kind of prefer that one.

For most of it, though, I was deeply enthused and enjoyably creeped out.  Very young viewpoints are difficult, but rewarding when they come off, and this one was mostly a hit in that respect.  The tone of childhood was very strong, from the egregious use of last names to the complex and arbitrary Rules outlining the common-sensical reactions one naturally has.  (Of course walking around it doesn't count, and being pushed, and etc. etc. etc., but to kids, those all have to be Rules, not just assumptions, and it ends up feeling arbitrary and oddly baroque for what amounts to a simple concept.  Very true to children, in some ways.  I approve.)


(P.S. - Where were all of you "It's better left unexplained" commenters on "Terrible Lizard King," huh?  :-P  There, everyone wanted to know if the dinosaur was "real" or not.  No pleasing you people, I swear.)

(I'm kidding in that last bit there.  No offense or actual umbrage on my part should be inferred.)

---
Mirrorshards: Very Short Stories
100 Words.  No more.  No fewer.  Every day.
Splinters of Silver and Glass - The Mirrorshards Book


Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #8 on: July 26, 2011, 01:25:57 PM
(P.S. - Where were all of you "It's better left unexplained" commenters on "Terrible Lizard King," huh?  :-P  There, everyone wanted to know if the dinosaur was "real" or not.  No pleasing you people, I swear.)


I would've been disappointed if I didn't know if the threat of the line was real too, but the disappearance of Danny Big Dan Johnson (or whatever his name was) would do nicely in that regard without the full explanation.  :P



Oren

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 9
Reply #9 on: July 27, 2011, 05:18:47 AM
I'm actually going to voice approval for explaining the monster. I feel like this is a different situation than the "Terrible Lizard King" story, as that one was all about the little boy's character growth. This one was more about the Line itself, none of the children really changed or developed. That's not a bad thing, just saying I like to know more about the main character.



iamafish

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 261
    • Thoughts from a Fish Bowl
Reply #10 on: July 27, 2011, 05:58:16 PM
i would have preferred for the explanation not to have been there as well.  It felt a little unnecessary. I'm not sure we even needed to know that Danny 'Big Dan' Johnson had disappeared, although either would have worked. I like my horror to be shrouded in mystery, so the exposition really broke the horror a little bit. An unexplained line with all that folk law attached is so much more scary than a big monster that eats people. A big monster that eats people is only scary if no-one knows it's there, including the audience.


Thomas

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 58
Reply #11 on: August 02, 2011, 10:46:01 PM
A big monster that eats people is only scary if no-one knows it's there, including the audience.

Agreed. I think this story work ed as is, but I would have preferred the line & what happened to danny left in mystery.

I still think the best part of the story was the parents wondering if the line returning had the same number of children ...

Horror works best if there is still an unknown element left unsaid ....

Enjoy and be nice to each other, because "WE" is all we got.


eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
Reply #12 on: August 17, 2011, 01:24:33 PM
This was a really, really excellent story. I thought the pacing was utterly brilliant - the buildup kept a slow but constant escalation of the tension.

I do agree that the ending was over-explained, and that it could, perhaps should, just have ended with the bully disappearing and whatever lay beyond the line remaining a mystery. Though I really did like the reveal that the line pre-dated the concrete block and indeed modern civilisation.


(P.S. - Where were all of you "It's better left unexplained" commenters on "Terrible Lizard King," huh?  :-P  There, everyone wanted to know if the dinosaur was "real" or not.  No pleasing you people, I swear.)


I would've been disappointed if I didn't know if the threat of the line was real too, but the disappearance of Danny Big Dan Johnson (or whatever his name was) would do nicely in that regard without the full explanation.  :P

There's definitely a sweet spot between over-and-under explaining, and the two stories are on opposite sides of it. But the difference between this story and Terrible Lizard King was that in this story, it was clear from the start that either there is nothing special about the line, or that there is something beyond the line, and the story needed to answer that question. The complaint is that it then went on and started answering a question that nobody asked, which is "what is the nature of the thing beyond the line". Lizard King refused to answer its central question, not an ancillary one. That was obviously deliberate, but, too me, far from obviously a good decision.

I find it interesting that Scattercat's proposed ending:

Quote
I don't really have much to add except to second all of the wishes that it hadn't gotten explained at the end.  I pictured a closing scene of the groundskeeper coming in to carefully repaint the line as the "camera" pulls slowly out and fades to black.  I kind of prefer that one.

Would have pushed it back from "answer just enough" to "leave on a question".



Scattercat

  • Caution:
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 4880
  • Amateur wordsmith
    • Mirrorshards
Reply #13 on: August 20, 2011, 11:46:39 AM
I always prefer to leave a question.  I like fiction that asks me things rather than fiction that tells me things.

---
Mirrorshards: Very Short Stories
100 Words.  No more.  No fewer.  Every day.
Splinters of Silver and Glass - The Mirrorshards Book


eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
Reply #14 on: August 20, 2011, 12:03:26 PM
Fair enough; certainly, I don't think there's anything wrong with your taste, though I don't always share it.



birdless

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 581
  • Five is right out.
Reply #15 on: September 07, 2011, 04:49:31 PM
I loved this story! Has to be one of if not the favorite PP story for me. Very Stephen Kingish, but in a good way. I found the over-explained ending kind of refreshing. I hardly ever see over-explained endings.



Fenrix

  • Curmudgeonly Co-Editor of PseudoPod
  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 3959
  • I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.
Reply #16 on: September 10, 2011, 08:10:16 PM
I'll come in support of the Stephen King IT feel. Nicely done (and with a better ending than that book).

I'll also come and support the exposition scene. Maybe there could have been a better scene, but we needed a scene break so that we could transition effectively to the flash forward scene with the children grown to adults. The scene as written provides enough depth and space that the "20 years later" scene wasn't jarring.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


Sgarre1

  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 1211
  • "Let There Be Fright!"
Reply #17 on: September 11, 2011, 12:11:24 AM
Yeah, I also kind of held back from pointing out that not much is actually "explained" in this supposed explanation scene - things are "confirmed" (there is a thing, it has to follow the rules as well, it's been there a long time...) but as to the why and the how and all, still pretty mysterious....

“It was this mystery, bereft now of all fear, and this beauty together that made life the endless, changing and yet changeless, thing it was.  And yet mystery and loveliness alike were really only appreciable with one's legs, as it were, dangling down over into the grave.”
Walter De La Mare, THE RETURN



Scattercat

  • Caution:
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 4880
  • Amateur wordsmith
    • Mirrorshards
Reply #18 on: September 11, 2011, 12:03:55 PM
Confirmation is dull.  :-P

Mind you, I didn't really like the "twenty years later" bit, either.  It felt too pat, too much a classic Twilight Zone ending.  That's not bad, per se; it just interests me personally a bit less than something that trails off a bit more suggestively...

---
Mirrorshards: Very Short Stories
100 Words.  No more.  No fewer.  Every day.
Splinters of Silver and Glass - The Mirrorshards Book


Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #19 on: September 12, 2011, 02:15:10 PM
Yeah, I also kind of held back from pointing out that not much is actually "explained" in this supposed explanation scene - things are "confirmed" (there is a thing, it has to follow the rules as well, it's been there a long time...) but as to the why and the how and all, still pretty mysterious....

Me, I liked the unconfirmed speculation of the flavor of most of the story.  That's much of the reason why I find religion such a fascinating topic--so much of it is unconfirmable and therefore more interesting to my scientist's mind that seeks explanation.  What if there are a heaven and a hell but your placement in them is not determined by how you've behaved in life, but what your favorite color is?  The same thing here.  Even though it didn't explain WHY the creature was there, it did explain a great deal about it, and separated the creature from the line that held it back.  That's much more confirmation than what we'd had before where it could just as easily be a force of nature making kids disappear, rather than a creature with intent.  Or maybe they teleport to the kingdoms of ERB's Mars.  Or maybe they time travel to 200 years in the future.  Or maybe they get teleported into the depths of space.  I liked that there were rules, but the actual CONSEQUENCES of breaking the rules were only to be speculated upon.



justenjoying

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 144
Reply #20 on: January 08, 2012, 05:14:44 AM
This brings a whole new meaning to playground rules, and the bully gets his just desserts. I love the expansion of "don't cross the line". Though this story was very serious, there were the perfect amount of line metaphors. The mob mantality in small children is hard to capture, but is perfectly realized in this story. I loved this story from beggining to end!