The challenge this week was pretty open ended: create a 500-word story with a cliffhanger at the end. The more gut wrenching the cliffhanger, the better it is.
Lots and lots of high scores this week. Was mine among them? Let's find out.
Here's what I came up with.
It had been seven months of cold trails and dead leads. It seemed like an easy case on the surface. Investors in the local water treatment plant had been coerced into retirement, and were being replaced by a group of people whose only connection was a mysterious businessman named Dante Evans. Money was disappearing from the county budget – redirected into a single unknown project.
Marshall was certain that Evans was behind everything, but for seven months, he’d been unable to prove anything. So when his go-to informant, came to him, speaking of strange meetings between the investors and Dante at the quarry, Marshall knew he had to see one of these meetings himself.
Marshall staked out the quarry for the next week, to no avail. No one entered, no one left. He decided to investigate the quarry further. Looking around the area, he found a small path down into an interior room, carved into the sheer rock wall. The light from a fire flickered in the distance, but the path was dark.
He came to an opening, far beneath the surface and hid behind some rocks. A group of hooded figures lingered around a fire in the middle of the room. The figures milled about, waiting for someone who had yet to arrive. Marshall heard someone coming from further up the path. He waited, then ambushed and subdued the individual. He stripped the man, and put on the robe he had been wearing. Infiltration was the way to go if he wanted to learn anything more, so Marshall made his way to the group. He couldn’t make out anyone’s faces, and no one spoke. He stood and waited.
Evans arrived, curiously un-hooded, a few minutes later. He montioned for the group to organize, then spoke.
“Brothers, tonight, our leader will give us his blessing in person. We will go out into the world, spreading his truth and converting others to his glorious cause. Come, and receive your blessing.”
A new figure was in the room, but Marshall couldn’t discern how the man had gotten there. There were no other entrances into the room, and he was quite certain that no one had come in through the corridor. The man walked by each of the other figures, stopping to mutter some words. The voice and language were unlike anything Marshall had heard before. They had a vile, sinister quality to them, and Marshall felt a chill when he heard them.
The leader’s robe was loose around the face, and Marshall couldn’t help but try to sneak a peek at the enigmatic man’s face as he passed by.
Marshall’s blood ran cold. Where a human face should have been, there was a seemingly infinite, featureless darkness.
Slowly, a thought that wasn’t his began to form in the back of his mind. It lingered, and twisted there, laying waste to all conscious thought…..it knew.
Suddenly, Marshall snapped back to his senses.
Everyone in the room was staring at him.
And here were the Judge's remarks...
K: Now here’s a friggin’ cliffhanger, damn it. The story flowed and grew in tension beautifully, and although it sounds like an idea that’s too big for this challenge (and to be sure, I’d love to see this extrapolated into a longer story) I didn’t feel cheated. 5 (out of 5)
DK: I love the writing here, and the buildup of tension is excellent. The way this ends is also just the kind of thing I personally was hoping for from this challenge. 5 (out of 5)
Hey! Perfect scores! Sweet!
I had the idea for the last paragraph fairly early on in the week. I recalled the Anubis character from Stargate SG-1, and thought that something like that, especially if the supernatural wasn't expected, could be a great twist.I then thought of a Chinatown-like scenario, where an investigator finds a plot that turns out to be much deeper than expected. The name "Marshall" come from an old detective novel I liked as a kid - it just seemed very detective-ish to me.
I almost ditched the whole thing multiple times. Flow was way off initially, and again my rough draft came out WAY long (700 words). As late as noon, with only two hours left, I was staring at a blank screen, before I decided to CTRL-Z my story back from deletion. I stuck with it, slimmed it down, and I'm pretty happy with the results.
As mentioned, there was a nonsub, so the unstoppable machine keeps rolling for another week.