Posts Tagged ‘Short Story’

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So in sticking with the theme of summer horror/thriller for the time being, I was asked to review the novelette Unknown Sender, by author Ryan Lanz.  Will the chills of this short story keep you up at night?  Find out below.

Unknown Sender tells the story of introverted college student, Jessica, who has started receiving strange and sometimes frightening text messages from a blocked cell phone number.  As the texts become more personal, Jessica grows increasingly paranoid, and things start to spiral further and further out of control.  The story boils to a climax when she tries to get away from everything for a weekend, but she learns that there’s only so far she can run, and some things are simply inescapable.

In this story, Lanz crafts an impressively twisted narrative.  One where I was eagerly anticipating what new message Jessica’s mystery contact would send her.  As a character, Jessica is deep, and interesting.  You feel her fear and vulnerability as the text messages get increasingly personal, knowing things that only she should know.  The story feeds on her fear of being observed by unwanted eyes, which can be an absolutely terrifying thing for an introvert who essentially just wants to be left alone.  After Jessica, I felt the mystery sender was the second most interesting character in the story.  The texts arrive at just the right time to stir up certain feelings and emotions for the main character, which works really well to increase the tension and push the plot along.  Other supporting characters in the story are somewhat one dimensional, but that’s to be expected in a short story where only so much attention can be devoted to secondary characters, so it doesn’t take away too much from the overall story experience.

The story itself is one that all of us can relate to.  Who hasn’t gotten a phone call or text message from a number that they didn’t recognize?  Unknown Sender takes that idea and runs with it to its extremes, like daring to ask the question, what would happen if the person on the other end of that number knew things about you, things that no one else should know?  Lanz plays on that fear and paranoia well and draws it to a genuinely surprising conclusion.  I didn’t see the ending coming for two reasons.  The first of which is because it was unexpected, which is a great thing.  The second is because it came completely out of left field, with minimal foreshadowing, so it almost felt somewhat unnatural.  It wasn’t unrealistic enough to be bad, but I felt like there should have been more hinting at it throughout the story, just to give the effect more shock, and a little less confusion.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this story, my minor issues with the secondary characters and ending aside, it genuinely kept me on the edge of my seat wanting to read more, which is perhaps the best compliment I can give to an author.  For 99 cents on Amazon it’s an absolute steal.  You can, and should check out Unknown Sender for a quick summer thrill read at the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/Sender-Ryan-Lanz-ebook/dp/B00YZZ0K0Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433598133&sr=8-1&keywords=ryan+lanz

The Verdict for Unknown Sender:
4/5 – I can dig it.

Until next time,
Stay nerdy, my friends.

Upcoming reviews:
Ultimate End #2 (Secret Wars Tie-In)
Ghost Racers #1 (Secret Wars Tie-In)
Weirdworld #1 (Secret Wars Tie-In)
Secret Wars: Journal #2

East of West, Volume 4: Who Wants War TPB
March of the Crabs, Volume 1: The Crabby Condition

Something Different…

Posted: November 22, 2011 in Entertainment
Tags: , , ,

Since I haven’t posted anything for a long time, we’re going to try something different.  I’ve spent a lot of time telling you what I think about other people’s work, now I would like my faithful readers (all 6 or 7 of you :-P) to let me know what YOU think about some of my writing.  I’ve always been very hesitant to put any of my writing out there for several reasons, so this is a first for me, and it would really mean a lot to me if you provided some constructive criticism.

The story below is a short piece that I wrote in my senior year of high school and have been tweaking ever since trying to perfect.  However, knowing myself, I’ll never think it’s completely perfect… Without further adieu, I present “Dawn.”

Dawn

By

Kyle Walls

The highway ahead was dark.  There was nothing but barren desert on either side of me for miles and I hadn’t seen any other cars for a few hours.  This truly was the middle of nowhere, no man’s land.

I pressed down harder on the accelerator.  I wanted to make it to Flagstaff before sunrise.  The motor in the pickup truck hummed as the speedometer crept to 85.  The cool night wind screaming in through the open window was the only thing keeping me awake, especially since the radio went out in Santa Rosa, my last stop for gas.  I had been listening to the sound of desert wind for about six hours.

I left everything I knew back east behind me as I set out to start a new life in a new town surrounded by new people who didn’t know a thing about me and were interested in learning who I was.  Everything and everyone had become so stale back home that it often seemed like I was the only one living, or trying to live anyway.

The dim lights of the city popped up on the violet horizon a few miles ahead, just as the first few rays of sunlight crept onto the rearview mirror.  I passed the sign for the Flagstaff city limits a few moments later.

The city seemed strangely quiet.  I had been here twice before, to interview for my new PR job and to check out the small apartment that I would be renting.  It wasn’t the biggest of cities, but it was pretty lively the last time I was here.  Now, even though it was only sunrise, it looked deserted.  There were still lights in windows and cars parked on the streets, but there wasn’t a person to be seen anywhere.

“Maybe they don’t get up so early in Flagstaff,” I muttered to myself as I parked in front of a small diner.  I was hoping to find a cook inside willing to make a batch of scrambled eggs.  I had driven all night stopping only once, and my stomach was letting me know about it.

The truck door sounded like it weighed a ton as it slammed closed.  The noise reverberated from the walls of the nearby buildings and made me notice exactly how silent the city really was.  No cars passing on the street, no people walking on the sidewalk, not even a bird chirping in the sky, there was nothing.

The air had a very faint strange smell that I didn’t remember from my previous trips here, an odd burning odor that I had never smelled before.  The groan emanating from my abdomen quickly made me forget the smell and focus my attention back toward the diner.

From first looks there appeared to be no one inside the diner either, but the large neon “OPEN” sign in the window gave me and my stomach a little hope.  There was certainly no one in the dining room or behind the cash register.  A quick search of the kitchen proved my first suspicions about the place to be true.  It was deserted.  I decided not to waste a perfectly good opportunity for some eggs and fired up one of the large commercial grade stoves.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing something wrong.  The thought that I was trespassing on someone else’s ground.  I kept wondering when the cook or owner of the diner was going to come in and tell me to get the hell out of his kitchen.  My fears were unfounded.  No one came.

Once the eggs finished cooking, I slid them onto a plate and found a spot at the counter to sit and eat.  They weren’t the best eggs I’d ever eaten, kind of rubbery, but I guess that was my fault.  A little salt and some ketchup took my mind off the texture just long enough to get them down.

After I finished eating, I took the plate and silverware back to one of the sinks and placed a five-dollar bill on top of the cash register, “Keep the change,” I said with a smirk as I turned around to leave.  Just as I was about to walk out the door I noticed the small television mounted to the wall above one of the corner booths.  I walked over to the set to see if anything new had developed in the growing oil conflict that nearly every world power was involved in.  And maybe figure out where everybody was.

I pressed the button beneath the screen and the set buzzed to life.  I found nothing but static and white noise on many channels, but eventually I came across a grim-faced anchorman, with many television monitors and several people scurrying behind him.  I caught him in mid sentence as he sorrowfully said “—several major cities in the Western portion of the country.  The attack came at approximately 1:00 am this morning.  Massive casualties are expected.”

I wondered what he could possibly be talking about.  Many of the screens behind him showed rubble-strewn streets and buildings on fire, while others just showed static.  The rolling bar at the bottom of the screen instructed viewers about evacuation plans and told of federal actions.  Was it another West Coast earthquake?  No, he mentioned something about an attack.  I stared at his lips intently as he began to speak again.

“Once again, if you are just tuning in, many nuclear warheads have hit major cities in the Western portion of the country.  We now have the list of which cities were attacked.  It reads: Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Portland and Las Vegas.  As I stated before, massive casualties are expected.  We’re also receiving reports that some new form of fast-acting chemical agent was used in conjunction with the attack and experts believe that the toxins may have reached as far east as Phoenix and Aspen just a few hours ago.  If you can hear my voice, please avoid these areas at all costs.”

My heart thumped in my chest.  I couldn’t move from that spot in front of the television.  Everything I had come out here for was gone, and everything that I had come from would probably soon follow.

But something still troubled me.  His words didn’t explain what happened to the people or why I wasn’t dead yet.  The chemicals may have dissipated since the initial attack, which would explain why I was still alive.  However, the attack had clearly killed the citizens of Flagstaff, but where were the bodies?  The streets should have been filled with them.

A distant childhood memory came creeping into my mind, a rather disturbing one.  I remembered when I was about ten and we lost our family’s pet dog, Sparks.  My parents and some of our neighbors spent nearly an entire afternoon looking for him, only to end up back at our house with nothing.  Tearful and angry, I ran into my bedroom to hide under my bed and be alone.  There was Sparks.  Lying on his side.  Not breathing.  He had beaten me to my favorite hiding spot.  He didn’t want anybody to find him this way.

The thought that came next, odd as it may seem, made more sense than anything I had come up with before.  Perhaps people are the same way.  Maybe we’re ashamed of dying.  Maybe we think that it shows our weakness and we don’t want to show anyone else that we’re weak and frail enough to die.  Maybe, just maybe, because of that weakness, we hide.  It was an odd theory, but it was all I had and it was the only idea that made any sense right now.

The anchorman started to speak again.  “Our first estimated casualty totals are coming in and they are astronomical.  This is just terr—” he stopped abruptly and placed his hand near his head to press the tiny earpiece deeper into his ear.  A shocked and horrified look passed over his face.  He looked directly at the camera, a look that pierced time and space.  He seemed to be staring directly at me as he said “Dear God!  We’ve just received word that another round of missiles has shown up on radar, and by the trajectory and speeds that are being reported, this wave seems to be targeted farther inland.”

The man’s words cut through me like a knife.  I was terrified, but there was absolutely nothing that I could do about my impending doom.  I would die here, in the middle of the desert, surrounded by concrete and steel, no family or friends by my side.  I was more alone than ever.

Accepting my fate, I turned the television off and walked to the front of the diner.  The heavy glass door swung open easily under my tense grip.  Passing my truck, I brushed my fingertips against its cool metal side as I realized it had taken me everywhere that I wanted to go and it would go no farther than this.  My faithful chariot had carried me straight to my doom.

I walked out to the yellow centerlines of the street.  I stood and turned to face the darkness of the west, turning my back on the warm light of the sun coming up over the horizon.  The promise of dawn and a new life was shattered by the tiny white dot hurtling towards me in the bright purple sky.  I raised my arms perpendicular to my sides, defeated and waiting for the final blow.  I watched the vapor trail as it stretched ever longer, propelling the promise-breaking dot closer.  The sound of the missile’s thrusters over the utter silence of the deserted city became deafening.  As the winds around me began to pick up, I closed my eyes and waited for the over burdened sky to fall.