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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/profile/reviews/rustika
Review Requests: OFF
91 Public Reviews Given
Review Style
In-depth, wordy, conversational. I don't have a set template but I do try to cover plot, characters, descriptions and personal impact.
Favorite Genres
Comedy, Horror, Mystery, Slice of Life
Least Favorite Genres
Finance, Political
I will not review...
I don't have much experience in analysing poetry. Since I don't want to provide low-quality feedback, I won't be reviewing any verses.
Public Reviews
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Review of Doorstop  
Review by Rustika
In affiliation with WdC SuperPower Reviewers Group  
Rated: E | (3.5)
Doorstop is a short, entertaining ghost story with some lovely gothic tale elements: an abandoned manor, a tragic backstory that has left it in ruins, foreshadowing... shadows. It surely scratches that itch for a classic spooky tale. I loved the premise of two items that while should be a pair, couldn't quite match. spoiler Perfection!

On the other hand, not everything felt as well connected as this aspect. Personally, I felt like some of the paragraphs were rushed. While the plot itself unravelled smoothly, and the events were easy to follow, the presentation had some jumps that didn't feel quite as right. Let's take the introduction, for instance:

You set up the scene with Jessie sleeping on an unfamiliar bed, raising a question why, answering it – it's a nice string of thoughts. Yet, after that, we get that it's good that her boyfriend was there, but it's not exactly clear why (emotional support? Jessie is not good at changing tires?). Hence, the mention feels a bit random. It has little correlation to the previous thoughts. We get the first jump of thought.

After that, we follow up with the spare tire not being good. And while it's a nice comparison (good news – bad news), right after it, there's another jump of thought – the couple finds an abandoned house. Where? When? How is that related to the car's tire popping? Such questions arise but aren't answered. In the end, we see separate facts but don't get to learn how one transitions to another. There's the beginning, the end, but no middle.

Personally, I would suggest taking some key facts and exploring them to a deeper extent rather than focusing on a lot of details. Painting the big picture and then making some details pop would help more than creating a picture out of many small elements.

When writing a short story, Chekhov's gun is something to go by. After all, you have a strict limit of words, and so – things to focus upon. For instance, we learn that Jessie slept in an unfamiliar bed, but there wasn't much of a reason to make it the focus of the very first sentence. After all, the unfamiliarity of the house was not the focus of the story either. Similarly, we learn that there was no phone signal, but besides the one mention, it didn't contribute to the plot. Hence, rather than having no signal, it'd be interesting to learn why Jessie decided to explore separately from Josh. Especially if she did so to keep herself from feeling stress/fear. Her motivation feels a bit unclear in this part.

In general, her reactions are easier to relate to in the second part of the story. It's always nice to get a description that shows thought process (i.e. Sita giggled, her eyes flickering with glee. She caressed Jessie then toppled her over as if trying to protect her from what would happen next.) instead of words that summarize one's actions of feelings (she felt ___ or she decided/wanted/preferred that/to ___). Of course, it's not wrong to use these expressions in general. Going into the deep psychoanalysis mode all the time can become taxing to your reader. But a fine balance always makes the story feel more immersive.

Similarly, it'd be nice to get some hints about the layout of the house – at the moment, it feels like Jessie made a beeline towards the office and then to the master bedroom that was right next to it. The exploration (perhaps with hints of the house's history) before the discovery of the fishes could play a big part in this work. Yet rather than experiencing that exploration, we get an impression of Jessie going from point A to point B with a clear understanding of how to get there. And if wandering around the house is not important in the end, Jessie could notice the doorstop at the entrance instead.

So my suggestion is this – out of all those that you have written down, decide upon the key elements that compose the story and focus on painting the whole picture with them. Each should have a purpose and a reason. Why did Jessie notice the doorstop among all other items instead of, for example, looking at the photographs? Why did the lovers decide to murder their spouses instead of eloping or divorcing? Why did Dimitro's wife plan to curse the lovers before the incident? Once you yourself can answer every important question about the plot, you can string everything with more ease, knowing what is needed and what is only flavour text or extra information (which can be nice, just shouldn't be overdone).

Overall, it was a very enjoyable read with a great premise. However, a bit of polishing to make the most important parts stand out should be done. Clearer transitions a bit more focus on the reason why you mention something could make it shine. Enjoy every bit of it, don't rush to 'the good part' (since all of it is good!), and the reader will as well.

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#1300305 by Maryann
Review of The Lie  
Review by Rustika
In affiliation with WdC SuperPower Reviewers Group  
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
As a short story about complex relationships, The Lie added another layer to the topic. Besides regrets, not-regrets, avoidance, it also touched upon the topic of staying silent. And so, the closing line was one of the strongest parts of the story – it gave just the right sort of a punch.

You have mentioned that this story was written after a long break, alas, the flow, descriptions and flavour were done with skills that don't seem to have been lying dormant at all. I quite enjoyed the background for Layla's musings. The truck was a great way to give a break from the constant stream of thought.

Alas, while this is only a sample of your writing, it does feel like you could expand on certain aspects a bit more. While you take a few key parts to construct a tale (and each is great on its own), they don't seem to complement one another all too much. The cause and effect or a clearer purpose for some of your choices could add some more to the work.

For instance, we have the traffic, the present conversation and the memories of the office party. It would be nice to see how the situation – the traffic– would affect the mood besides Preston's annoyance and Layla's indifference towards it. After all, Layla could have similar thoughts even if they were gliding down the road or watching television at home. You mention a few times that her mind is only focused on the past with Rex, so how can we make the present have a reason to be described as well?

You do have staying silent as a prominent part of the story, so perhaps there's the contrast of angry drivers around them and the silence inside the car. Perhaps there's the emphasis on being in a space that neither can leave easily. Perhaps it's the fact that they're moving slowly but inevitably towards something. You have created a great setting that could have more links to the characters. After all, even if Layla feels detached from the situation, the scenery does make her take out a camera (though right after you mention that she hardly notices the scenery – a rather abrupt change). So more links to her thoughts or feelings wouldn't be unnatural.

Similarly, it would nice to have a stronger buildup towards her final decision. Layla's thought process so far is:
• Part of her wanted to tell him the rest. But...
• She thought up ways to bring up his name again.
• No, not now, she decided.
• Enough with the secrets and the lies, she thought.
• but that now threatened to destroy her marriage.
• It isn’t a lie if I don’t tell Preston.

The change in her intentions sometimes feels arbitrary. The thought that her marriage might get destroyed, while true, doesn't feel prompted. Preston in the story remains a very static character who comments on the traffic and says that Rex had a crush on her. He doesn't do anything in particular to influence Layla's thoughts.

She doesn't think much about their relationship or what it brings to her either. So her decision to stay or leave would be similarly accepted by the reader. Revealing a bit why this relationship is important to her would make her motivation clearer. Especially given that the thoughts solely focused on Rex, and Preston's current mood make the general favor go towards Rex. A bit more balance here would make that decision both more understandable and the initial conflict a bit stronger.

Regarding the writing itself, I did mention that you have nice skills. Somehow, I really loved this bit: Several cars had tried to pass the truck but to no avail. The frequent twists and bends in the road made for perilous passing. Plus, the “Do Not Pass” signs posted at every mile mark reminded even the most intrepid drivers to think twice. Yet, there are two aspects that I'd like to bring to your attention. While this part is quite subjective, that's what distracted me the most:

Layla's interactions with her surroundings feel a bit passive. The view surprises her (the subject is the view/it happens to her), and her interaction with the view is “she watched, gazed out of the window” (therefore the view is noticed by her). The reminder of how she receives certain information isn't necessary. Given that the story is focused on her and her inner world, the surroundings portray only the things that she notices, to begin with. Therefore more active “Behind them, drivers rolled down their windows...” feels more natural.

Also, your choice to use italics both for emphasis and inner thoughts ends up a bit cramped. The reader ends up thinking whether a certain sentence is emphasized like the phrase before it, etc. The tag 'she thought' that you already have is enough to note the reader that it's a thought. Or trusting your reader to know that something was omitted when you write “if she would ever tell Preston everything” without emphasis is also an option.

To sum it up, The Lie was a great sample of your writing. It presented an interesting conflict, vivid imagery and a good balance between the past and present. Some bits could be a bit more developed or could have a stronger purpose. But overall, it's a strong start when pursuing creative writing once more. Keep it up!

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#1300305 by Maryann
Review of At The Door  
Review by Rustika
In affiliation with WdC SuperPower Reviewers Group  
Rated: 13+ | (3.5)
What a curious little story. Just a few minutes pass while the plot unravels, and yet these few minutes manage to pack a surprising amount of tension. All we have are some suspicious knocks and being home alone. And that's enough – the reader is pulled into a tale with many possibilities.

It's quite easy to imagine how staying alone can feed your imagination until you're ready to either flee or fight with all you have. And if there's a suspicious sound, all reason can go out of the window. After all, can it be mere paranoia if you have physical evidence of an intruder? And so, the way Sarah reacts feels quite relatable. If you're all alone and expect no one to come and help you, there's nothing else you can do but face the music in one way or another.

I quite liked Sarah's improvised weapon – it showed her creativity and quick reaction. And so, personally, I think I would have enjoyed the focus on it instead of the upgrade into something more common. Perhaps the feel of the metal or holding something in the hand at all ─ expressing how it affected Sarah in a bit more detail not only could be a fun aspect to explore, it also might put more significance to her actions.

In general, the story had a great buildup and some fun flavour text – from talking about possible visitors and outcomes to Sarah's fondness of headphones. The flow was quite smooth, though the ending statement (as charming as it was) took me by surprise, and the third paragraph seemed a bit abrupt. Perhaps describing how the intrusive sound cut through the private sound bubble that the headphones had created could have tied the topics a bit better instead of mentioning the knocks after the abrupt talk about general paranoia.

Nevertheless, the story had some charming moments. Lines such as “the door is the portal to the outside, and that outside is unknown and awful” added some nice flavour. Alas, there were a few run-on sentences or those with a confusing choice of words/structure:

Anyone who grew up in a city or simply was raised by paranoid people like Sarah here knows that there's always some amount of anxiety when there's a knock on your door. / No reason, or at least there's no one story of the time someone knocked on the door and she saw the devil himself standing there or anything so awful. ─ Such sentences feel wordy and rather confusing. Sometimes splitting the sentences or finding shorter phrases might work in your favour.

Too human and regular for an animal even if she had one, too distinct to be nothing. ─ This lacks clarity. The impression is the sound is an animal, not caused by an animal. Hence: for an animal to make or for it to be an animal knocking something over, etc. would work better.

The mix of past and present tenses (the swearing comes out, the aggression is out to play, and the paranoia creeped [crept] into the room the moment the door was touched.) and overlooked misspellings (tendency to assume the worst of others means it's engrained [ingrained] / he went to his friends [friend's] house / She knew she liked it's [its] sharpness for a reason / Windows in tact [intact]...) did draw attention from the content, but there's nothing so severe a moment taken to proofread the story wouldn't fix.

Overall, it was an intriguing little story about rational fears growing into irrational ones, of quick reactions and slow-coming afterthoughts. It was a fun ride, though not without its bumps. Alas, with a bit of polishing and cleaning up, it could end up as a very entertaining short tale.

Best of luck with your future projects.

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#1300305 by Maryann
Review of Break the Chains  
Review by Rustika
In affiliation with WdC SuperPower Reviewers Group  
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
Little did I know when taking up this review request that I'd stumble upon a diamond in the rough. With skilled use of words, pacing and descriptions, you have managed to capture my attention in a few sentences. Your strength seems to lie in the natural flow of thoughts, in speculations and ideas that draw your readers into a journey.

I loved how your character Sin reflects the thoughts of the whole crowd and adds something personal to it. Lines such as “No matter the winners, the children will play in it, enjoying the only snow they’ve ever known. And no matter what, some adults will wither inside, wondering if [...] They will wonder. I will wonder.” worked especially well in creating a strong mood.

You have created an interesting and vivid dystopian world. I especially loved the climate control and the concept of biodomes. These little details reveal a lot of thinking done behind the scenes. Yet, the details, as vivid as they are, seem to take priority over establishing general laws. You can compare the world creation to painting a picture. First, the observer sees the composition, the colour scheme and the main shapes. Only when they know what the picture is, our mind can focus on the details: expressions, textures, shadows.

In this situation, the overall picture feels rather blurry so the details lack context. At the moment, we have learned that there is a (government-forced) friction between the clans. But we don't know the clans. What makes one – locale, specialization or family lineage? What's the difference between coppers, silvers and golds (besides dancing in pairs or threes)? Is that a clan name similar to Gamma or some status? Creating a specific terminology without establishing what it is will only confuse your reader.

Overall, it'd be nice to get some information not only through Sin's explanation but through the actions and events as well. Perhaps during Laureltide, each clan gets called out and have their achievement announced. A situational introduction can give your readers a chance to memorize the specifics of your story better.

This leads to Sin herself who takes the time to introduce us to the world. As a person, she's analytical and observant, she has a strong sense of responsibility (or obedience) planted in her by the circumstances, though like anyone her age would, shows a sarcastic point of view and a specific sense of humour. Alas, as a character, she isn't entirely convincing.

At the moment, her point of view feels almost omniscient. Not only does she describe the world as a person in the subservient position, but she talks about the tricks the ruling ones use. This position of knowing what happens behind the scenes and yet acting like a person who believes in the facade creates a certain clash. It seems that the knowledge is revealed purely to give the reader a context and is detached from the character herself. She's a narrator more than a proactive character. And that narrator-like knowledge doesn't drive her motivations nor does it affect her actions. I would suggest focusing on what the character knows from her limited point of view and revealing the rest through hints and real-time situations that illustrate a certain point.

For instance, you mention that Sin's clan never wins the competition of fruit gathering (“Our clan hasn’t won in years. Not for lack of meeting the quota, but because we are not the favoured; not like the high-reds past the delta ”). There's also this mention: “We know we won this month. There’s no doubt about it. Now we see if we actually get it.”

Yet, there is no tension at the moment when it should exist because we already know the outcome (from the former statement), and the expectation soon is proven right. Therefore, the scene loses much of the impact that it could pack. The reader also starts asking, why does the clan remain hopeful? What do the masters do to kindle that hope? A scene or a dialogue that answers this question would be far more convincing compared to simply saying that the clan keeps fighting against the odds.

Similarly, it would be interesting to see the friction between the clans a bit more clearly. How do they act towards each other? What is Sin's stance in all of this? You write: “Despite the rift between us, both sides celebrate and commune just the same.” But the rift gets described only as mild displeasure about the results: “Even the smug-looking Gammas who sit at a table across the Burgin know we’ve won. Disappointment floats through the crowd but is soon forgotten by most as the music starts back up.” That's about it.

What if we circled back and presented this scene with inductive instead of deductive approach? After all, who is to say that Gammas didn't win fairly if we took our Sin's (narrator's) claim? Let's say we focus on the quota that each clan reached. Perhaps we get shown that Sin's clan did get better results but the victory is taken away because of 'attitude' some 'act of disobedience' or any other obvious excuse. This could show how hope exists within the clan. “They could have done it if not for...” etc. Let the reader draw conclusions about this world from the events that take place, not only trust the narrator's statements that something 'is'.

To sum this point up, you have interesting ideas, yet they're not presented to their full potential. First, it would be good to learn some more about the basics of this world. And secondly, it would be nice to have these aspects illustrated and not only told: instead of “Disappointment floats through the crowd but is soon forgotten”, try answering “how” and “why”. How does the friction reveal itself? How is the motivation to work and win kept up? Etc.

And so, drawing the line between personal knowledge and reader's knowledge, with actions and reactions taking over broad observations, we could understand both the world and Sin's personal point of view better. After all, we do learn a lot when witnessing the red-haired girl meeting her demise even if there are far less explanations compared to the other parts. Or the breakfast scene – seeing what food is presented in a casual manner is anough to understand the circumstances even without the several mentions that it's the usual ordeal.

I have already mentioned that I love the way you craft your sentences. My only warning is to be careful with your sentence structure when describing actions. You seem prone to adding the -ing form to the main clause which can feel a bit repetitive: Grunting, he struggles to crawl over me and get up from the bed, kicking me repeatedly in the process. Soon, I follow with a sigh, dragging behind him and plopping down into a rickety chair beside the stove.”

With this said, all that's left is to sum up the main points: You have great ideas, the talent for crafting worlds and words. Descriptions seem to be one of your biggest strengths. World presentation itself, on the other hand, lacks clarity, a lot of is said but hardly revealed in the events that take place. Your characters could benefit from reacting to the situations more, not only following the crowd mentality (especially if the knowledge they have is different from the rest – had I known the tricks, I'd show more disgust than hope and remorse, perhaps) and/or separating the narrator's knowledge from the character's knowledge.

If you have any questions, points you agree or disagree with or want to discuss a bit further, feel free to send me your thoughts anytime. Good luck with your work!

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#1300305 by Maryann
Review by Rustika
In affiliation with WdC SuperPower Reviewers Group  
Rated: 18+ | (3.0)
Hello, thesuperpapagai ,

Thank you for the review request, and once again sorry for delivering my feedback this late. Hopefully, what I've got for you will be worth the wait.

After reading this script I can't help but send my praise for the two main characters. Both Gwen and Suzy have a captivating liveliness and interesting quirks. In fact, I think I got a little of their energy transferred to myself (these two got a sugar rush, no doubt. Especially with how much ice cream, chocolate and whatnot they got to eat!). The fact that their peculiar speech patterns add to their personalities is a small yet important detail. Though we didn't get to properly get acquainted with these sisters yet (more about it later), they do hold a great potential.

Personally, the most captivating part about this script was how you showed some background information through little details such as “The source of her amazement, this time, are the brightly colored promotional posters filling the dark room. They contain images of happy people carrying assault rifles and phrases...” That's some good story-telling through the background visuals. On the other hand, I do wish you used this tool more often. Let me illustrate it with an example.

When it comes to the details that you present, some portions could use some more 'show' instead of 'tell'. You have got a fun and adventurous concept in mind, and yet, instead of seeing it unravel, we're often presented with people sitting and talking about it. In general, a good portion of the dialogue is used for exposition (even telling the reader/viewer what emotion the character is feeling: “Why are you so happy?” // “What's with you and happiness?”) which might end up dragging the plot.

“Suzy, why are you trying to buy really big companies...?” // “Ooh, I gotta do my super- important training.” // “Hey, Ms. Fluffy, isn't that Willis's room?” “Aw! He's not here.” mostly informs us about the situation through character's voices (in this case, while they're eating) as well as serve as a recap/extra explanation (“If you really wanna know, I just got a super cool new job.” “Wait, are you working as a--?” “I mean, you literally get to crush the competition.”) which in such a short work isn't necessary.

Rather than being told that the girls are unusually capable, it would be good to learn that through their actions instead of dialogue alone (after all, it was impressive to see that Gwen knows how to use a gun. It also raises the intrigue – where did she learn that?). Otherwise, the scenes might not end up as convincing as you're aiming them to be. For instance, let's take a look at the second scene:

She pulls out her cheese-dust covered resume. → Bob is shocked. He glances away from the free entertainment to take a peak [peek] at her resume and is surprised by how impressive it actually is. → BOB I'm not wasting my life waiting for a good applicant.

In the end, we're told that a fifteen-year-old girl has an impressive resume. Hence, we're told that she's great for the job of a hitman (though Bob's talk to himself contradicts it which is a little confusing). However, there's nothing the viewer/reader learns to back that fact up. Unless we see something that convinces your audience, we only know that a random teenager was hired for a dangerous job, but we can't quite understand why it is so. She's quirky, yes, but that's not the reason Bob makes his choice to hire Gwen. perhaps she shows a clear gap between herself and other applicants? Maybe it might be fun to play with the others' resumes somewhere in the background?

Regarding the execution itself, I'd like to draw your attention to the way you set the scene and translate the situation into visuals. While some of the scenes (such as the talk with the police officer. Suzy's nervous giggle was really cute) were easy to follow and let us imagine the characters' actions vividly, some would require a bit more attention.

Some of the phrases have left me slightly dubious. Since the setting descriptions are meant to give a clear visual, phrases such as “GWEN (15) stands in the middle, wearing [...] a super-duper excited smile” don't seem to serve their purpose that well.

What is a super-duper excited smile? Given that it's just the beginning of the scene, we're not that familiar with Gwen to decipher such nuances based on her characteristics either. Hence, niche colloquialism would be better if restricted to dialogue alone. Instructions on the setting and character appearance should remain more universal.

Similarly, “Gwen halts her pursuit. It dawns on her that she's distracted herself, again. She shakes her head like a dog to regain focus, pulls her head up high and walks down the splinter-filled stairs.” can also raise some questions. For instance, let's ask ourselves how does “It dawns on her that she's distracted herself, again” translate to the screen?

When working on the action and the setting, remember that a novel narrative and a scrip narrative are not the same. While one can dwell on the inner world with ease, the other one should focus on the presentation of that world on the outside or at least not mix it with the detailed action at the same time. Otherwise, we get a mashup of very detailed instructions (such as shaking her head like a dog) and very vague ones (she realises that she has done something again) that can hindrance each other. When both approaches are condensed into one short scene, that can become a difficult puzzle to sort rather than a smooth guideline.

Hopefully, my critique will serve as some useful highlights instead of sounding scathing. You do have the ability and mind to create something highly entertaining. All that's needed is brushing up and some scenes getting clearer purpose (compared to being recaps or sum-ups). Keep on writing!

I'm always open for post-review discussion if you have any questions or comments to share.

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#1300305 by Maryann
Review of Oubliette  
Review by Rustika
Rated: 18+ | (4.5)
I'll share a secret. In the past month, after reading quite a few short works, this one remained in my memory as one of the favourites. Some time has passed since I've first read this work, but now is the time as good as any to share the impressions with you.

I think what I'd consider the strongest part of this story is the mood and the rapid yet smooth progression from clear reality to the feverish play of the mind. William isn't a character whose personality you should turn to or even the reasons why he got into the predicament he's in (though I admit, I'm curious about that part). It's his memories and perception that make "Oubliette" so worth a read. I loved “A vision, I realise” becomes “I hold on to sanity and refuse to acknowledge the voice” and gradually shifts to a plain “I am seated on a throne when I awake.” You can almost spot the exact moment when the illusions become his reality... Is it odd that I really liked the pig? I really liked the pig.

The idea of using an oubliette as the setting is worth separate praise. Personally, I'm always impressed when I get to learn a little bit about the odd or unique tidbits of history, and implementing these into a story can bring some very unique results. Not only do we learn something intriguing and real, but in this specific case, there's also limited space, limited actions, limited characters – with so many limits, the creativity shows itself in the best ways. The focus on the character's mind leaves a strong impression.

I only wish that the strong play with the mind was accompanied with some more outer stimuli not only the hunger, loneliness and lack of vision. Certainly, we get the damp wall, the bones, the deep darkness. But the darkness heightens other senses. I keep wondering about the smell. Would there be only clean bones around? That's the impression we get, but common sense says that it cannot be. Would there be no echo? The stench of death? Playing with repulsion probably wouldn't be the best way, but seeing how these senses that come from reality (not only memories or thoughts) mix with the fantasy might add one more layer to this insanity. After all, they do say that the most believable lies are mixed with the truth...

That aside, there were just a couple of nitpicks that were more based on personal preferences than anything else. Take them or leave them, the way you choose to polish this story is entirely up to you.

My hand tests the pain and discovers a lump on my forehead where I must have been struck. ─ these expressions often leave me conflicted. In cases such as “My legs carried me along the way, but my mind was still within the house” shows the detachment, and it seems rather fitting. In this specific case, why is the hand that tests and not the person? The choice to focus on the hand (or another specific body part) can be a little bit confusing if it has no meaning besides varying the sentences.

It seems I’ve been in a coma. ─ This choice of a word also seems a little bit peculiar. The character has been unconscious for a while, but with no way to tell the time and circumstances, when William is clearly lost, the word 'coma' feels a little too specific.

• In general, some of the sentences feel like they could be rewritten to focus on the surroundings instead of the fact that William senses them (As I watch, it becomes brighter and suddenly I see... At the same time I hear a crunch (a crunch echoes) as my foot steps upon something...). The I-me-my can get a little overpowering in some paragraphs. Just like in the first note, the choice of focus can do a lot when it comes to both expression of the events and the structure of the sentences.

But these little nitpicks aside, the unique idea, the interesting focus and the great pacing have been mixed into an incredibly interesting tale. It doesn't dramatize anything, it doesn't shock you with sudden horror, but it plays with the mind, uses wit and good timing to make a dark tale worth remembering for a long while. Each of the illusion we see strengthen each other, pushing us deeper and deeper... but is there a reason to resist?

Amazing job!
Review of Dolphin Pool  
Review by Rustika
In affiliation with WdC SuperPower Reviewers Group  
Rated: E | (3.5)
Reading “Dolphin Pool” with woollen socks still an optional part of clothing, this was an especially nostalgic trip. I love the way our narrator introduced the day: how familiar the gleeful shouts of children, the scent of heated pavement and the relieving occasional breeze was. The story was incredibly vivid, tickling every sense with the right words. It brought me back right to the times when we'd take similar trips to the lake in the neighbourhood.

I daresay my favourite part was the ending, the comparison of that warm childhood memory to the fresher ones. The inevitable changes we have to face when growing up and the passage of time itself felt incredibly relatable. It's bittersweet, sad even, but knowing that the memories remain despite the place itself being gone is some sort of consolation, isn't it? This was beautifully done!

The only dissatisfaction, let's say, for me would be how transitional the work felt. While it's only a memory and not all details would remain clear, sometimes the scenes felt aimless, waiting to “get to the point.” For instance, “Once I finished my lunch, I set out to see if my brother and sister wanted to go swimming too. It was almost pointless to ask them, of course, they were going to go too. I could feel my excitement build inside me as I thought about the fun that we were going to have at the pool!
A little while later, I heard my Mom call, "Are you ready?" ”
didn't covey much. The narrator goes to do something, but then we immediately jump to 'a while later', and the reader is left questioning why it's mentioned at all. We don't learn anything about the characters or their interaction, and it has already been established that all siblings are supposed to be going on the trip.

So in the end, we get the introduction that promises the day at the pool, the trip there and the stay itself. But besides the dialogue in the kitchen, most of it ends up summarized. The stay is “Us kids spent most of our time playing in the pool. That usually consisted of jumping off the diving board, [...] As the evening approached, Mom would call out "Okay kids, it's about that time!" ” We have so much anticipation built up (even the title contributes), but we end up not quite certain what about that pool visit was a change from the “usually consisted of”? You have Kevin and Kelly introduced in this story, so perhaps their deeper involvement could add to it? After all, besides saying, "Awesome!" they didn't contribute much... A couple more “real-time” moments with or without them would a pleasant addition.

Regarding the execution itself, I could only commend you. The story was clear and easy to follow. The inconsistency when using indents made the work look a bit messy, but otherwise, there were just a couple of overlooked hiccups:

• Dialogue punctuation occasionally was amiss (i.e. "Why don't you go see if Kevin and Kelly want to go too.[,]" Mom [mom] replied. )
• There were some slip-us with the tenses in a story that is mostly written in the past tense (We all reply [replied] in sequence / ...that I know [knew] of is [was] at the school, which was several miles away. – he/she knew at that time.)
• Lastly, there was a part when “as” felt overused. (When lunchtime came around Mom asked, as she was rinsing the grape jelly off a knife […] I said as I started to get out of my chair. [...] she said as she was rounding the counter and extending the PB&J in my direction.)

For me, personally, those were the most distracting bits. Of course, you can edit and polish any work till the end of time, and each person will point out different aspects, choices of words, etc. etc. So take what you consider useful and leave the rest. I'm but one of the many readers with different opinions...

Overall, this was a brief nostalgic trip to childhood, to the summer, to the most carefree time of our lives. It's a sweet short story, full of scents, sounds and the feeling of the sun on the skin that probably everyone misses now and then... And, oh, It's good to be back even if just for a couple of minutes. Thank you for sharing this!

Review written in affiliation with "WdC SuperPower Reviewers Group
Review by Rustika
In affiliation with WdC SuperPower Reviewers Group  
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
What a picturesque tale! As I read this story, each and every movement flashed in front of my eyes, accompanied by the distant sounds of a raging battle. The story is quick to impress with its descriptions and detailed character design. The Black Queen surely lived up to her name.

Perhaps not entirely convinced by some of the decisions the characters made or their reasoning (such as the romantic side of the work since comradeship, understanding and interlinked fate felt more prominent than the need to kiss while one of the party didn't even know about the other's existence half an hour ago), I was thoroughly immersed by the backstories and motivations you have managed to compact into this short work. Not only the lore without feeling overdone. The dark grey reality also serves its purpose – neither side is right or wrong, neither is good or completely bad. The different perspectives of the fights from the people who're on the same side gave both of them a chance to grow in a short time.

I enjoy the presence of a strong and self-sufficient character who is hindered by those very strengths. The inner and outer conflicts were nicely executed. This work certainly had a lot of thought and care put into it.

Still, as curious as I was about the queen, personally, I found her entrance a little bit chaotic. One moment she shoves a person with such force they fall, the other, she can hardly stand herself. Her varying strength and expressions (from booming voice and refusal to be given any support to the scream of agony and gentle pushes – I'd have expected her to try suppressing the scream out of sheer pride – or coughing blood and stumbling for a couple of sentences before bursting into a long monologue) appeared seemingly in no pattern, changing frequently enough to make the two extremes of strength and weakness feel forced at times.

Also, there were a couple of expressions that didn't feel fully convincing. However, this bit is based on purely personal impressions so please take it with a grain of salt. What I find confusing, others might find as the most illustrative lines:

“Bring me wine…” the woman’s voice boomed. ─ Booming voice and ellipsis that usually indicates trailing thought, hesitation, shortness of breath feel contradictory.

The scribe’s eyes widened after hearing her words and he trembled.
“Yes, my Queen,” he said in a shaky voice as he tried to keep his composure.
─ The man has already started shaking so his composure was broken before he tried to keep it. Perhaps a more prominent correlation could create a deeper impact? He tried to keep his composure but the shaking voice and hands betrayed the fear, etc...?

The mumbles turned into loud chatter as they argued amongst themselves, while others fled for fear of what will come. ─ This feels a little bit too vague. Who are they and the others (how do we distinguish between them)? How many have fled in relation to the ones who stayed (this especially becomes relevant when we immediately learn that only one did)? In general, while you use the crowd to create the mood expertly, their actions from time to time don't contribute to the clarity.

There's also a small distraction slipping in with your dialogue punctuation/tags. While most sentences have it nicely wrapped up, some unnecessary capitalization sometimes weasels in (i.e. “My queen, let us stand one last time,” He said, with a menacing smile on his face.)

But the subjective hiccups aside, this is a nicely flowing work with a lot of detail, clearly expressed mood and well-developed characters. I don't think they managed to push me into believing their cause (though it's a good thing, given their alignment) but they certainly made me feel sorry for such a tragic fate, the would-have-been and possible chances to redeem themselves in their own eyes and the eyes of those whom they have wronged. The tragedy is clear and it leaves a strong impact. Well done!

Review written in affiliation with "WdC SuperPower Reviewers Group
Review of magpies  
Review by Rustika
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
As I read this story, once or twice I looked out my window at the evergreen where a couple of magpies live... though I'm always happy to see them since they're rare birds around these parts. Pity, it's not the case for the poor narrator.

This short story has a distinct and strong voice. The thoughts had a very natural flow and dug deep at the inner world. From the small ritual of saluting to the urge to scream, because... it all has a reason and a purpose. It's not always a tangible one, but that's what it makes these thoughts so much more believable. Besides one jump of thought (I like to wake up in the early hours of the morning when the air is still and quiet, and Mother has stopped her nervous pacing and gone to sleep. A magpie sits on my windowsill.) that felt rather abrupt/choppy, the narration had an amazing execution. You have great skill!

My only wish was for the plot to have a little bit more buildup. Since the narrator suspects that “there is something unspeakable down there in the long grass,” the story takes a straight line to the ending; a very purposeful one. Yet, the fixation doesn't meet a lot of opposition or leave many hints that we could speculate with... Thus it's pretty straightforward.

SPOILERS: I absolutely loved the line “and Mother has stopped her nervous pacing and gone to sleep” which showed some of the family's circumstances. Yet, in the end, we hardly get to know any nuances and just learn the facts: Father was stabbed. Mother knows what you'd find in the garden. Yet the whole pursuit of the something that's already correctly speculated as a corpse seems so purposeful that the reveal of the knife and the deliciously disturbing question a the end feel a little underwhelming. The body could have belonged to a postman, and we'd probably hold a similar sentiment towards it. Thus additional focus that would make the discovery more significant, in my personal opinion, would add some depth to the work. Perhaps some deeper exploration of the family's relationships now compared to before? Perhaps the meaning of that silence that the narrator would like to break or why there is a hunch about a dead body instead of aversion to the evergreen, for instance... you have a lot of things you could explore, and I'm certainly not a person who should push you in one way or the other.

There is a small nitpick that I'd like to mention, but just like my opinion about the plot, take it or leave it as you see right – nothing should compromise your idea and style.

“Mummy, I want to look in the garden,” I tell Mother, who sits staring with eyes just as glassy as the magpie’s, and skin just as pale. ─ “skin just as pale” feels a little bit unclear. Is it as pale as the eyes? Or as pale as the magpies' feathers? Neither comparison feels completely accurate since they tend to have dark eyes and have both black and white coloured feathers; neither colour dominating over the other.

Overall, I'm really glad to have discovered this little story. It has a clear mood, a strong voice and vivid imagery. A little bit more nuanced trip towards the ending might have been nice, but even as it is, “Magpies” is a fun atmospheric read with an intriguing twist, well worth the few minutes it takes to reach the end. Thank you for sharing it!
Review by Rustika
Rated: E | (3.5)
Seeing this story on the Please Review page, I was immediately captured by the unique theme of it. Not only does it offer a fun point of view, but it also shows an entirely new side to an old superstition. Now I'm having fun imagining a cat rush towards the empty street just to be in time to cross a lone person's path in the right manner. On the other hand, not meeting your quota seems to offer a great reward? There probably are quite a few lazy ones, given the two outcomes. After all, one of them is doing the hard work all over again.

It's a bit of a shame not to have more of this feline gathering, though. What would happen once the cat was called forward? Seeing at least one cat's journey till the very end would have been a nice addition to the tale. You certainly know how to raise your readers' curiosity, so why not take a step further? There's a whole ritual to witness! How would they be assessed? How does the portal to another realm look like? You have a lot of interesting ideas added to this tale, and seeing them take a full shape would be a real treat. Of course, as a contest entry, this story probably has a strict word limit, so I won't jump ahead of the gun with all the possible twists and turns.

The execution itself was nicely thought-out. Some sentences resembled ones from archaic tales: “Many were the felines who met their demise foolish enough to try and devour one so wise.” which added a lot to the overall mood. It was like reading an old legend. Yet, some instances felt too cramped to be enjoyed fully. By no means were they deal breakers, but getting rid of redundancy would enhance the story quite a bit. During the editing session, if you agree with my point of view, I would suggest taking a look at the adjectives and adverbs you used and see which ones might serve as excessive information. Let me illustrate it with a small example:

“The vivid orange harvest moon shone brightly over the tops of the canopy of tall pine trees that densely populated the gently rolling hills just out of the slumbering village.” ─ In this one, for instance, you fill the sentence with adjectives that don't add a lot to the picture we've already created in our heads. “Vivid” already implies that the moon is intensely deep or bright so it's natural to imagine that it shines brightly. Rolling hills, as well, create an image of soothing scenery. “Gently” becomes unneeded information, as “harshly rolling” is unlikely to enter the mind. Hence, taking out a few words could make the picture just as vivid, but the sentence easier to follow.

It's a small nitpick, and I've already rambled how some details felt a little vague, but I'll add one last exampled that felt quite specific compared to the others: “It was a thin volume, despite the massive amount of data it held, for such was sometimes the way with things bewitched by Magic.” ─ The word “data” doesn't seem to fit overall tale-like story... but what's bothering me a little bit more is the lack of clarity. Is data that you mention legends, commandments or account of every scare that the cat has done? You have such intriguing pieces of lore added to the story, and getting a bit deeper into it would be an enjoyable option.

Overall, this is a unique and intriguing piece of flash fiction. You certainly have a lot of fun ideas, and it looks like making them grow into a more elaborate story would be no trouble for such a creative mind. If you intend to do so, of course. Some pruning to make the sentences flow better might be a good idea, but overall, this is a nice little work. Thank you for sharing it!
for entry "A Crack In The Wall
Review by Rustika
Rated: 18+ | (4.5)
It hasn't been a long while since I joined "SCREAMS!!! as a temporary judge, but it has been long enough for you to impress me with creative tales and the dark twists on the given prompts. And “A Crack In The Wall” is no exception.

The personal tone and the effective change of tenses made it such an engaging read. After all, you can never tell what will happen after “now...” Besides a couple of times when it seemed like you mixed the tenses up unintentionally, this was one smooth trip to a character's mind. I even ended up arguing over the new setup of the furniture as though the narrator could hear me. Not that any would have helped with such a quick progress...

As always, you've created an amazing visual with a lot of attention to the detail. From the balance in room feeling wrong (I wonder if that's really caused only by a little bit of pushing around) to the cobweb pattern of the crack to the reflection in the mirror showing what sticking your fingers into odd gaps in the walls can do. And while that crack grew, it did make me think about something trying to get out (punch out...?) from within the wall. If that's the case, simply cracking up is just scraping the surface of the affliction... and the prospects are horrifying.

I wonder how it started. What lives within these walls? Maybe the workers did have something to do with it after all, even if unintentionally? Or maybe the new coat of plaster simply created canvas for a useless forewarning... I think I'm leaning towards the latter assumption, but you can never know...

Thank you for such an intriguing tale. It was great fun not only to read it but also to try coming up with possible explanations. Keep on writing – you certainly have a talent for it!
Review of Meet the Parents  
Review by Rustika
Rated: 13+ | (3.0)
Hello, thesuperpapagai ,

Thank you for your review request. It has been a long, long time since I've last gotten to interact with scripts so it was a welcome change of pace. *Smile*

It seems like you have created quite a curious town for us to explore. Despite the dull architecture of the place, it holds a lot of quirkiness; from impressive nature to the colourful town's residents (I have to admit they zombie boy playing catch with his head was really fun to picture). Though I admit, starting the series at this point, I'm left slightly confused about what the world is like. While the lack of knowledge from the previous entries makes it impossible to accurately assess the lore, I'm facing some confusion from my current standing. While I did learn that David, Rose and Greg have been given the title of “battlers of monsters,” it seems like the supernatural creatures out there are living pretty normal, mundane lives (even if they are shunned by humans), and most are friends with the trio. Are there some troublemakers popping up now and then? I do imagine the siblings investigating unusual occurrences like supernatural Nancy Drew... but battling sounds odd at the moment.

On the other hand, this entry is more focused on the trio's backstory rather than lore, and trying to dig deep at everything at once would make it a rather chaotic experience...

David looks like the leader of the group, though a rather passive one who just goes with the flow. He often becomes a spectator rather than a person with his own point of view. For instance, even when addressing the complicated relationship with his parents (which does make his emotions run stronger when they meet), his reactions even to the “murder plan” remain “what if this blows over” and “you can't really stop her once she has her mind set on something.” In general, the characters here tend to run into each other only to update the events and then separate again to do their own thing... which leaves their bond a bit vague.

It would be nice to see them have different levels of energy. At the moment they seem to flare up at the same amount of provocation and react to it in a rather similar manner, even disregarding the situation. Be it in the face of a bear or simply sitting in a park, the dialogue seems to have the same amount of urgency, snark and depth. Different tempos and more sensitivity towards the surroundings could make the emotional intensity vary as well, keeping your audience more engaged.

On the other hand, Rose seems like a person who is more likely to ignore circumstances just because that's her nature (which makes her stand out from the rest of the group). She does have the eye for money more than anything else, seems fine with murdering (well, she does have an interesting, though still calculated way of reacting to her parents)... Still, her go-at-my-own-pace way would shine more if it was clear how different it is from the rest of the cast.

It seems like your work aims to be a bit meta which is a fun approach (can't forget the mayor's comment about politics here). But even with this in mind, when it came to me believing what's written, some of the events feel a little bit staged, and so, less convincing. For instance, a crowd appearing to support Mark's “What kind of crazy place is this?” just after it was said makes you wonder where the crowd has been hanging around to eavesdrop for the right moment (by why should they eavesdrop on a random pair of people walking with Mathwell?). The crowd feels more like a prop than a mass of actual people. In general, I believe most of such timing issues could be fixed if you addressed the setting a bit more. For a script that is going to transform into visual arts, the lack of clear surroundings can be a hindrance, after all.

For instance, if we look at the 'tour on the beach' scene in more detail, at first, the impression is that the place is empty save for the trio's parents and Mathwell. Then, we learn that there are some supernatural beings hanging around after all... but it turns out, there's a whole crowd tagging along. It would be a good idea to address the setting as each scene starts so that it would be clear what the reader/viewer should be expecting. If we learned that there were a lot of people around, that one passer-by heard the conversation, raised their voice and attracted the attention of others, making the crowd grow, it would feel more natural than having an angry crowd walk up at a surprisingly convenient moment.

I have rambled quite a bit, so let me sum it up in a more concise manner. This script shows quite an imaginative world, full of curious creatures and quirky characters. On the other hand, their quirks while there, sometimes feel drowned by the others since your characters often have similar vibes to their expression. If they reacted to each other in a bit more sensitive manner, showing different intensity, their strongest characteristics could shine more. Still, it is a strong groundwork, and with a little bit of tuning, it could be a strong finished work as well. Keep it up.
Review by Rustika
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
I admit it's not an easy task to try and give some constructive thoughts on a chapter that might be near the middle or even the end of a novel I haven't gotten the chance to read yet. Still, I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to figure out who was who and what kind of relationships everyone had. The dialogue that bounced like a tennis ball in a good match made it all the easier.

It seems like the relationship between Gwen and Jane is the most complex (though, admittedly, I'm mostly curious about Tommy's absence (is Jane adopted? She did say he was a real brother) and Terry's hot 'n cold approach). They seemed so close and warm, and yet, a single unfavourable situation let to such a row... On the other hand, Gwen seems like an impulsive young woman who relies on her instincts and emotions more than a clear head. I doubt she'd listen unless she had the truth right in front of her, without a chance to make excuses. Well, maybe it's good that she hasn't been sent to the Air Force? She'd have a hard time out there with such a personality.

I think I stopped once to think about Jane and her parents. While her father wasn't mentioned (if you don't count the wishful daydream), and I don't know how they'd react to each other, but I could hardly believe that my parents greeted me with affection and I responded in kind Jane's mother was anything but affectionate from the very first line she uttered. It would be nice to learn what is a facade and what is truthful since that line about the greeting isn't convincing me at all. It's a war out there!

Personally, I think I'd have loved to read a bit more about how Jane felt in these situations. For instance, when she was ignored by Gwen or kissed so forcefully. Her instincts and mind are sharp. And when addressing the latter incident, Jane does say, “He had annoyed me.” But in-the-moment emotion sometimes feels a bit neglected. How does it feel while it happens? Does she feel his hands, sticky with sweat or the mouth more? Is her initial reaction confusion or disgust? While actions and reactions are on point, a little bit of that emotion/mental reveal (rather than naming the feeling as a general annoyance or hurt), I think, would be a nice added flavour text.

One thing that I can talk without feeling like I'm just showing how little do I know about the context and previous events of your work is the presentation. Overall, I have a strong positive impression on your writing skills. Your writing is clear, detailed and vivid. It shows your understanding of the space, the characters, the mood you can convey. There were a couple of personal niggles I would like to share, though. Feel free to disagree and just skip my rambles if it feels like they'd hinder your style more than enhance it.

For me, one of the parts that felt worth some more attention while editing was the flow/pacing. Often, despite being consistent in the topic, the thoughts you had presented seemed like they were jumping around. While it wasn't anything prominent, the focus on when the scene/thought/emotion takes place tended to have odd time lapses. Let me try and explain this point of view with some examples:

I strolled out of Bedford railway station and caught a bus to the end of my street. I walked proudly along the green in my number one uniform, swinging my suitcase slightly as I went. ─ while reading the first sentence, I was preparing myself to learn about the ride on the bus. Yet, the following sentence sweeps us to the street that Jane is walking (we might even ask if it's an elaboration of the walk to the stop or a continuation of the travel after the ride). It doesn't take long to adjust to the new setting, but the jump feels abrupt enough to leave us with a sense of unnecessary confusion.

My parents greeted me with affection and I responded in kind, but because of the way they had treated me, I felt I could never truly love them as my parents again. I also often thought of my baby. ─ Similarly, in this situation, we're getting thrown from 'at this point of time' (while they were greeting each other) to 'at a general point of time' (thought about something often) which doesn't connect to the situation well. If the thought about the baby would come when Jane saw her parents, perhaps 'even stronger that every night when I kept missing his smile' etc. (as a hint that it's a constant thought) it would ground your character's narration to “The Now” better. Jumping between the scene and general feelings can make us wonder about which of the two is the actual focus/purpose of the scene. It's natural for a person's mind to wander, suddenly recollect the past, just the transition, unlike how it happens in real life, is the best when it's smooth.

Besides this, there was only one habit of yours that felt a bit distracting – odd time to choose -ing form. With it, some of your sentences had redundant or excessive information or showed contradictory actions, given the situation:

I walked proudly along the green in my number one uniform, swinging my suitcase slightly as I went. ─ in this situation, “I walked, swinging my suitcase” already shows that the actions were simultaneous. Hence, “as I went” is a repeated, already established information that Jane is walking.

If we agree that sentences such as began marching around, saluting me as they passed establish that marching and saluting happened at the same time (they can't pass Jane without walking), actions like the following one end up rather impossible:

The street door opened before I was halfway along the garden path and I put my case down as Gwen dashed across to greet me, hugging me with genuine sisterly affection. ─ dashing and hugging at the same time becomes a rather difficult task.

In general, what I want to convey with this ramble is a warning to keep your eye out on when you use -ing form so that it wouldn't burden your writing with weak or mangled expressions. The sequence (or simultaneity) of each gesture and line can bring out different emotions, different emphasis and so on. Use it like you use every other tool in your writing toolbox.

Overall, it seems like you've been drafting quite an interesting drama out there. I might have discovered it at an odd starting point, but so far, I'm intrigued about the start, the middle and the end... I'm actually torn between taking a look at the chapter number 16 and rolling back to the very first one! Good job!
Review of Soul Cleaver  
Review by Rustika
Rated: 13+ | (4.5)
To tell the truth, I think this is my favourite story from you so far. I love the very first sentence – the oddity was just that intriguing. And well, I love stories that give you insights about different cultures, curious topics (just like that little botany lesson in Parlor Tricks) or have interesting trivia in general.

Given that I've shared some nitpicks on writing itself with you before, my overall feedback might end up shorter than usual. I still have thoughts to share though, so get ready, my dear friend. Regarding the plot, there are some spoilers ahead. So, a curious reader passing by, continue with some caution.

I think two things stood out the most for me (besides the intriguing custom. I'm acting like a broken record, but covering the mirrors was such an interesting thing!):

We have talked about the high mortality rates in our stories just the other day, so when I got to the midpoint of this story, I got a little bit worried. You managed to make me attached to these characters enough not to want to see them dead... or was it the disturbing idea that Frema's father would be residing in her fiance's body? Perhaps it was both, but I ended up with a strong wish that this story was an exception and ended up happily. Did it...? Somewhat. But the aftermath, the lingering thoughts were even better than the plausible destruction ending. Unease is a powerful tool, after all.

Also, it seems like you have grasped onto a curious topic with this story. I was losing my sense of identity, forgetting where I ended and he began.─ The whole merging of two minds and losing yourself without knowing which thought is yours which action is yours – that's worth a story of its own! I honestly think that you could go a bit deeper with this confusion. After all, saying “I was losing my sense of identity” felt more like a skim on the topic rather than an emphasis on it. The struggle between both spirits if described more might hit with a deeper impact. I squirmed in his grasp, worming my way back in control. But the demon refuse[d] to relinquish control. ─ I'd like to learn how that control you mention often feels like as well, after all. How does that struggle show outside? Does he manage to squeeze out some words that belong to him? Or does the perspective of vision change? You have so much room to release even more of your creativity into.

I did say that I love stories about interesting traditions, but there's one trap that's easy to get into (well, besides the lack of research in some cases) – foreign languages or terms. There have been many debates how it's best to present then: to just mention that something is said in a different language but translate it; to add footnote translations; to have characters themselves translate the meaning; to leave it as it is... you get as many opinions as there are readers. But in general, your aim is not to make your reader skip the words – what's the point in having them if it's such the case? Your story ended up as a mixed bag. Dybbuk or shiva, for instance, were well-presented and easy to memorise. But the full sentences or random phrases thrown as the flavour text felt excessive since all I could do was skim over them without getting all they could offer. In general, I simply felt that the story had such words added too densely. In the end, they served more as distractions (especially when they stoked the curiosity without satisfying it. But each explanation would make it a work about vocabulary) than enhancements.

That being said, this is a story that has the potential to still grow a lot while already offering a great experience. The topic and your attention to details were amazing. While I believe that the focus could be shifted here and there to different aspects, that what I got has left me truly grateful that you have sent “Soul Cleaver” for me to read.
Review of Drones  
Review by Rustika
Rated: 18+ | (3.5)
I admit, I'm a little intimidated by this story – it seems like you've done something amazing, and the recognition this work has been given shows that. Still, besides the usual idiom, they do say that the devil's in the details, and I have one sitting on my shoulder (keyboard?) as I type this. While I do have some high praises, there were quite a few nitpicks to point out as well. After all, it seems like “Drones” is a work that is too big for 1,283 words constrain. Well, that's the setback of daily challenges – we often get to touch upon the idea within a strict time limit and don't always return and explore it to a full extent.

Still, these are just my impressions, and they might not align with your intentions/focus or other readers' experiences. So, as always, feel free to read the review, take from it what you think is worth taking and cast the rest aside.

I think my biggest positive impression about this short story comes from the way you have addressed the given prompt. The line inspires an idea of monsters – or to be more precise, something organic – acting as the main threat towards the characters. Well... this one has huge teeth as well, but the military weapon stands as the base of the drone's design. I certainly don't think they were talking about bees... or were they? The obscurity of these creatures adds a lot to the tension.

It's interesting to see how downplaying a warning worked when setting up the anticipation. Perhaps I've gotten used to reading your stories where everything is bound to go south eventually, and that has added to the feeling... But I was quick to mutter, “You fool” while reading the introductory part of the story. We know that the General's decisions will come to bite him, and the wait makes the reader pay close attention to every detail, even when you ease into the action with a rather relaxed evening. No wonder they always warn you not to underestimate your opponent, even if you are almost certain they're weaker than yourself.

Yet, while I can't help but praise the idea and the approach to it, I can't say I was too fond of the presentation. I will be harsh this time – I have high expectations for you, and the higher they are, the less forgiving I am. Some bits are based purely on personal preference, of course, while some might be a bit more objective. Get that trash bin where you dump the nagging comments in and a small box of possibly worthy advice. You've some sorting to do now.

• The first bit of the story, to me personally, felt lackluster. It has one purpose – foreshadowing. But with the focus purely only on that, we end up with a dialogue suspended in the void. Nothing helps the reader imagine (and consequently get invested in) the General or even the setting. We mostly hear the dialogue without any visuals of the outer world or presentation of the inner one. You have set a great opportunity to introduce your character and make his further experiences more personal, however, we get the bare facts [enemy has a new weapon. It doesn't seem dangerous so there's some bombing], not circumstances or motivations.

In addition, asked General Azazel. // said the General, [annoyance creeping into his tone.] // said the General, [incredulous].” ─ the rather repetitive way of illustrating the man's speech didn't add a lot to it. Instead of truly experiencing the story, your reader finds idle emotion “labels” that feel more like parentheses than a natural interaction with the deputy director or the surroundings.

• Now, I'd like to move on to the way you introduce the scene of the family relaxing by the TV. Here, too, I felt the lack of visuals that would help set the tone. See, you write, His wife, Ilene, smiled at the playful banter between her husband and daughter. but what we have seen is:
“Okay, kiddo, it’s time to go to sleep!”
“Do I have to…?”
“Yes, you do. That’s an order!”
“Awww… okay...”

To me, that sounds like the man is shouting orders at his daughter in a harsh tone (would it be surprising from a man who was happy with 'only' six civilian casualties?). The girl answers with reluctance and the lack of confidence, hence the use of the ellipsis. There's nothing in their body language or other details to debunk the impression. And once it's set, we are given the correction that it should be playful. In consequence, I end up backtracking and rewiring the whole scene in my head.

• I'll have to move on to something more technical as well. There's one habit you're close to getting that I'd like to warn you about: George’s eyes looked to his daughter as she made a catching motion and grinned. There are expressions such as “his legs carried him...” that can be added to the story while showing certain emotional state. It creates the impression that the character is unreceptive and is walking by 'autopilot'. But let's turn to the other uses such as “his yes looked to”. You create an impression of sentient eyes. It's not the ears that listen or the nose that smells but the person that does such actions.

• It seems like you're still working on limiting the pronoun-focused sentences. "Uneasy, he followed his wife and child to his daughter’s room, where she was about to go to sleep. He turned off the hallway light as he entered the bedroom, again hearing that faint rustling sound, though it was louder this time. He placed both hands on the door frame and stuck his head into the hallway once more. He turned in each direction, eyes scanning the hall, but he saw nothing but blackness." ─ don't forget that not everything has to be emphasized as your character's experience. "Again, that faint rustling sound drifted from behind..." etc. could add more variation to the way you present the events.

• There are a couple of lines that made me feel the narrative distance as well. I can't fully explain... perhaps it is because you introduce a certain circumstance that gets pushed aside a bit too abruptly. I read the fact, but the impact it has left feels close to nonexistent. Let me pinpoint a couple of such instances:

[abbreviated:] ...a pitch black shape suddenly grabbed her from the side. A half dozen other shadows, some large, some small, pounced on the rest of her body, tearing chunks of flesh and bone apart in less than a second until there was nothing left of her. The General’s knees gave out, and he plopped to the bed, wide-eyed, horrified. His daughter shot upright and screamed. Immediately as his backside hit the bed, the General hustled back to his feet. He needed to protect what was left of his family! ─ that's a quick dismissal of the wife... There's nothing left, true, but... is it his military experience that helps him go through this without much of an emotional impact? There's not a seed of thought lingering later on.

But it wasn’t the shadow that was knocked backward--it was him! // His eyes grew wide in disbelief as he watched blood squirting out of the stump. His hand! It was gone! ─ I think I'm just not fond of exclamation marks... they create a slightly comical tone somehow. I wish I could see what kind of physical impact these attacks have rather than this. The general later acts while ignoring the pain in his arm and foot to give her a comforting smile. and even jumped backward toward the candle at his daughter’s bedside. And so besides the shock value, I can't see the impact the attacks leave to the characters. The pain is mentioned as the general screamed in pain and then ignored, the movements don't seem to be hindered, his daughter doesn't seem to acknowledge his missing limbs or her mother's death (besides the initial scream) either...

And so, the events that take place feel presented only to shock the reader but not to affect the characters in the world you have created.

This isn't the case all the time. The beloved candle that has been burned so many times that it's about to go out, the recollection of the people the General allowed to die – there were nice callbacks that connected in satisfying ways. So I know – you can polish this work to perfection if you get more time after meeting the contest deadlines. The story holds promise, but it's still a diamond in the rough.
Review by Rustika
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
Happy holidays!
It's not much of a gift, but hopefully this little review for “A Reaper's Grim Death” will find its place in the celebrations.

I remember once watching a short animation about an old lady that was quite ready to pass on and meet her husband in the afterlife, but a certain doctor kept snatching her back to the life... the lady wasn't happy. Not. At. All. I can imagine how the patients in this hospital would struggle with the extreme policy just like her. What a torture 'immortality' can be, after all...

That's quite a touchy subject you've decided to tackle this time – debates about the balance between life quality and life itself have been around for a long while and will continue being relevant for years to come. I won't dwell on my personal stance on this, but there is one thing that I keep wondering even after reading this story – what are the boundaries in this particular case? Is the Reaper lamenting this choice to keep people trapped in their own helpless bodies or cases such as curing a sickness/injury as well? Both of the ways seem plausible, and unable to perceive the clear stance I feel a bit lost on what I should think about the premise.

In a way, “A Reaper's Grim Death” holds an interesting duality. It's a horror story for the people who would have to experience the consequences of this legislation – the promise of that is chilling! And if you look from a different perspective, it's a horror story meant for only one persona – the Reaper himself. It's the climax and the end of his harrowing experience... and I sincerely love this dual nature of a work. Though if I'm allowed to nag, I can't agree with the ending no matter how poetic it is. Natural disasters, accidents, acute illnesses – there are times when death is too sudden to prevent. The Reaper was too quick to give up. I can imagine how 'accidental' deaths might skyrocket in numbers if people learn they're about to be admitted to a hospital. He'd be as busy as ever... Wouldn't that be an ironic twist, eh?

The presentation of this particular work has its ups and downs like any story that a person with personal preferences might read. The highlights this time for me were “Such was his habit when upset or disturbed, and Reaper was clearly both on this day.” and “Poor, decaying shells they would be, gleeful in gruesome unlife.” that rolled off the tongue quite smoothly. These lines livened up the paragraphs with subject-verb focused sentences (perhaps even more variation sprinkled here and there would have been nice) and gave the whole story some poetic ring. As for a down... well, it's not exactly an issue with this story per se. After reading quite a few works of yours though, I couldn't help but notice the way you begin some (most?) of them:

The Grim Reaper sat down in the hospital waiting room, slid back his hood... (A Reaper's Grim Death)
I sat in the cemetery, back to a frigid tombstone... (Murphy's Moment)
She sat in the cold snow, an unwelcome visitor in the frigid night. (White Picket)
Sara stood at the prow of the ferry as it crossed Puget Sound on its way to Kingston. (Footprints)
Lana picked up the brochure on her way out of the saloon in Tombstone, Arizona. (The Murderer's Map)

The nature of the action (usually sitting or standing) aside, you seem to prefer the same approach when beginning your works – one direct action that would establish the place of action. It's not a bad approach by all means – the general consensus is that active sentences tend to grab more attention – however, for your long-time readers, the pattern might become a bit redundant.

You've presented yet another curious tale, HikerAngel, and I can only applaud you for your creativity. Even with some slight doubts regarding the topic itself, for me who marvels personal horror stories among the more common society or a group of people-affecting ones (which I do love as well), this was a pleasant treat. Perhaps a bit more diversity and clarity when it comes to execution might be a welcome addition, but overall, it was a nice tale of horror to hound one's mind.
Review by Rustika
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
Haunted houses, ghost towns, spooky lore of rural areas – these are the things that draw me towards the story without any more questions asked. Thus once I read the description of “The Murderer's Map,” I knew I had to read it before going any deeper into your portfolio.

Somehow Old West wasn't the theme I expected, and so, I was taken by a pleasant surprise. The setting added a lot to the mood of the story, but I'll get to that sense of abandonment a bit later.

I had to focus quite a bit to gather what the old man (and the note) meant to share – perhaps even more so because of my stuffed-nose-headache – but I can imagine Lana was facing a similar struggle, and it felt just right to have it there. I quite liked the old man's character, actually. While he didn't look pleasant at all, the way you portrayed him was just too intriguing. His voice and the fondness of chewing tobacco stood out as great examples how to make someone memorable without diving into depths of backstories or lengthy descriptive paragraphs.

If any of the potential readers of this story are skimming this review, I'd suggest skipping this paragraph – it holds some spoilers, but I can't just go without mentioning them. There were two things that stuck with me after finishing the story. They're small, but usually, that's what tends to stay in the memory, isn't it? First of all, I loved – loved – the ending sentence. Lana's tragedy has ended, yet something remains. The room is empty, without a trace of what had happened, and there's still that lingering sense that something did, in fact, happen. Another murder might happen again (who knows where the shadow hides), but it'll be a new, separate story... And secondly, I can't help but think what if. What would have happened if there had been more people on the tour – would there be a mass murder or would the possessed person be restrained with that shadow taking over them forever or would the shadow hop into someone else? There are so many possible branching scenarios that the reader can't help but still ponder about the story afterwards.

Nevertheless, I do have some notes about what I'd suggest keeping in mind while editing. Though, as always, take such things with a grain of salt – these are opinions of just one person and they might clash with your idea of how the story should be.

I'll start with one line: “Lana leaned over the back of the wagon and threw up, vomitus splashing on the dusty dirt below.” which made me question some of the choices of your characters. Neither Lana nor the man seemed to acknowledge the situation – she didn't consider asking to turn back (without a refund?) simply because she was feeling ill (perhaps suspecting that she had caught the same thing as Trish) nor did he at least turn to see if she was alright. It seemed more like a prompt to turn around than a flavour text, so it felt odd not having it negated or addressed in some other way.

In general, I wasn't one hundred per cent convinced by the old man's actions. He seemed off, but not only because of Lana's paranoia. It was perhaps the straightforwardness of him being out of place – not only did he take her to the town without any consideration (even if pretended one) for her well-being, but he also oddly purposefully directed her to the house and followed with a strange stare. In my opinion, when they stepped inside, an attempt to create an illusion of a tour by narrating some of the history or describing how the town might have looked all the years back while showing hints of something being wrong or ill-willed (like that stare) could be more natural. It often feels creepier to notice hints of wrongness in the usual than seeing something wrong directly. Just a bit of mix and match here might add more of that subtlety if you wished for it.

On an entirely different topic, I'm torn by your descriptions. On one side, they are amazing. Such little things like rusty hinges, the crumbling slats and the dust – they all created a strong sense of dilapidation and neglect. The details were the mood-makers so to speak. On the other hand, I felt the lack of a bigger picture. While we learn about wind chimes or broken doors, we can't quite imagine the townscape. It's difficult to place those chimes in the setting – they feel like things that float in a blurry space rather than things that form the world. We still can't sense if the street is wide and eerily void or cramped, with the houses looming over Lana. Even if it's just one sentence that establishes the whole thing before going for tiny stand-alone elements, it can still make the reader feel more grounded in the scene.

I also have some usual nitpicky mentions. But just like the little scruples above, they're not about something being wrong or right, but rather my personal impressions about certain choices of words.

Her friend, Trish, wasn't feeling well on their vacation today and had decided to rest in their motel room. – generally, while writing a story in the past tense, some words transform just like the verbs do. 'Today' tends to become 'that day', 'tomorrow' – 'the next day', etc. I don't always follow that rule since sometimes 'now' and not 'then' is what we need to ground the character in a certain moment, so I can't suggest for you to always go with it as well. But in this particular sentence, 'today' felt rather out of place (out of time?) since it was meant only to establish the setting.

As she went to tell him she was canceling... – this bit felt a bit like a jump of thought or a blind spot in the setting. We were reading an exchange between Lana and the man, we have a short explanatory paragraph, and then we learn that the girl needs to go to him once more. If the characters move without a notable transition or a hint that they have indeed changed their spot in the scene, it can make the reader feel lost in either the time or the place.
Review of White Picket  
Review by Rustika
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
After hearing my friend compliment your writing, I thought I'd like to give some of your works a go as well. “White Picket” popped out as your chosen favourite work, and so here I am with some thoughts about it. Hopefully, they will serve as a source of inspiration (however small) and a push to keep going and getting better with each story you write or edit.

It's not surprising that you're fond of this story – it's packed with a lot of emotion and the gradual reveal of events after we have seen a glimpse of the aftermath made it flow in an intriguing way – the reader will keep on reading just to learn about all the details of this peculiar situation.

I sincerely liked the way how the woman whose whole world was crumbling down managed to ground herself with the repeated image of the fence – a representation of a beautiful facade that acted more like confinement within rather than a protection from outside. Though I have to admit, the number of times you chose repetition as the creative tool made the impact drop quite a bit (A home with a man from whom she'd escaped. A home with a man... // She could have gone, could have... // She had wanted to save him so badly, so badly. // She should have been more beautiful, more patient, more kind. She should have... // Murder. Murder was with her forever. // they were her cage--a cage of her making // She should have been more... ). It's a good way to put emphasis on something or to show how one's mind tends to wander in circles, adding more and more until the same thought contorts into a new one. But if it's overdone, the reader will miss other ways you have expressed your character and feel that this single thing is all that you can offer.

Which is not the case at all. Honestly, this is a very subjective preference, but I love works that show your and your characters' interests and knowledge through some real-life references: historical events, literature, visual arts, music... Not only do we get a new depth and more vivid understanding of surroundings, mood, emotion, but we also understand how these people who make comparisons perceive the world. I now know that our unnamed heroine was not only strong in her own away, focusing on the discipline she mentions relying upon (though still manipulated into not taking action for a long time until she just couldn't take it anymore), but she also was a bright person with interest in paintings and literature. On the other hand, I'm a little bit confused about the sentence “Silent sobs bobbed her hunched back as her face contorted in a Van Gogh scream.” Are you referencing some story about Van Gogh? In his self-portraits, the man always looked quite stoic. Though when you wrote 'scream', my mind instantly called back to Edvard Much's painting The Scream... and if it's the misconception about the artist, it would be a good idea to fix it soon.

I did suggest to make the reference clearer, but personally, I'd choose to reference a different style instead of expressionism altogether. A better callback to Macbeth would be Rembrandt's works, perhaps Lucretia (both this baroque painting and Macbeth were created in the same period). In the painting, the woman is shown while in the act of stabbing herself to death. The story behind it also talks about a wife('s tragedy) which might be compatible topic-vice as well. Symbolism isn't based on visual similarities, after all. The meanings are the core of this subject, and if it's used as a decoration, this approach can fall flat upon the reader/observer, leaving them more distanced than immersed.

It's similar to writing itself, where each word has a reason to be there. As nitpicky as I risk to sound, while your creativity did shine through most descriptions (an unwelcome visitor in the frigid night // The fence was suburban perfection, the appearance of normal, the shell of her marriage, while the core of it melted, infected with violence. were especially memorable), some of your word choices didn't manage to come across as clear or meaningful (at least to this reader). “skin pickled with frost” for instance, while sounding interesting, doesn't create a clear image. Even if I guess you want to draw attention to how the body gets 'preserved', your reader is still more likely to think about fermentation and not the flow of time being stalled.

All in all, this was an intriguing short story that reveals some of the darker corners of a person's mind. Self-blame, regret, loss, punishment we inflict upon ourselves, the thoughts that keep swirling in our heads until they take over and become close to absolute; obsessions, so to speak... all these pieces fell into one vivid jigsaw puzzle. However, you, as an author, shouldn't limit yourself with the same writing tools if you want to keep this complexity intact. Your word choices matter, your presentation matters so don't focus on the style to just appear more colourful, but rather use it to enhance the content of your work. Simple words or sentences sometimes pack a much stronger punch – it all depends on what weight they carry.
Review by Rustika
Rated: 18+ | (4.5)
Told so many times to read some of your works, I finally dared to stumble into this impressive portfolio and take a look at the stories. I remembered bookmarking “The Photograph of Carolina Stump” a long time ago, but something prevented me from reading it. At least now, I was able to kick back and immerse myself in the story.

To tell the truth, I was torn between loving it and hating it. We all have our little triggers, and mine popped up as well. And yet, I had to read it all, find out what had happened in the end. You marvellously crafted the events, giving just enough details to imagine everything as if the reader was seeing everything as the narrator did.

I was slightly reminded of a theater play I had seen last year, based on novels by Thomas Mann. One of the characters there talked about his wish of going past any boundaries. What stood out in that monologue was the talk about his childhood home and the way it was consumed by a huge fire. The mood of the households felt similar enough to paint Carolina's with an additional layer of flames. I can't say it didn't fit.

“The Photograph of Carolina Stump” was indeed an impressive work, packed with tragedies that somehow didn't cross the too much line. Though one might expect it, given how many things have been packed in one person's miserable life (half of it could break anyone's mind). Human nature remains as the true horror and reason for it all. A slightly different mindset of one person and it all could have ended in an entirely different way. Yet, now, even the gruesome revenge feels somewhat satisfactory after all the torture and pain Caroline had to suffer through.

Even so, I did have a couple of nitpicks to share. Though please take them with a grain of salt since they are entirely subjective.

• I did mention that this story is incredibly immersive, and a big reason for it is the way you have described the surroundings. But while the descriptions are vivid and flow well, in one instance, when I tried to merge all you've written, the narrative felt encumbered. In the beginning, the house you described was “slumped down like a tired old man,” sagging and, at the same time, “seemed to squat upon its foundation like a hungry ogre patiently hiding in the bushes and waiting to be fed.

The two comparisons just didn't seem to mesh. Even a hungry ogre feels full of strength, ready to tear at its prey. But the tired old man shows age, dilapidation, lack of that strength. If so, the comparisons end up negating each other and forcing the house into a bipolar image. Unless you intended to show that it feels different from different angles (in such a case, it would be a good idea to mention where you have to be to get an impression of an old man), perhaps a different mix of similes would be better?

• This is more of an inquiry rather than anything else. Carolina was a child that had been raised in confinement, as you've written. She was locked up, beaten, underfed. Constant isolation and abuse would have left her at least somewhat wary of strangers if not terrified of them. And yet, when Martha and Colin came knocking, Carolina did the thing I least expected her to do – she didn't hide as she would when someone of her household was looking for her – she opened the door, presumably, right away. Was she not afraid she'd be blamed for her father's death just as unreasonably as the housekeeper's? Or at least scared of new people altogether? Her motives to do as she did seemed a bit obscure.

The nitpicks aside, this is an impactful work that leaves a strong aftertaste once the reader's through with it. I still feel unsettled because of some scenes! Though amidst it all, the biggest question remains this: who took Carolina's photograph when even her father kept her hidden away? And for what purpose if everyone tried so hard to erase her existence from their minds?
Review of Dryads and Dogs  
Review by Rustika
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
Moral of "Dryads and Dogs": Iron swords are low-level weapons!

Now, on a more serious note, this entry of the series so far is the most intriguing in my opinion. The first one revealed a bit about Mikros, the second one about his parents, but didn't have a lot of things happening. So far, I've had the chance to read a short 'illustration' (given that it was just a short glimpse into a couple of minutes) and a 'history given through a bedtime story'. This work, on the other hand, gives a bit more insights through actual interactions. I enjoyed reading about the games Mikros passed the time with. The silly song is probably everyone has engaged in, and it's nice to see some roleplaying all the children love doing.

I did have a small issue with the scene when Mikros encountered the dryad, though. Balanos' reaction seemed... slightly off. The dryad was pleased by Mikros beating the tree to the point that the stick broke. Play-pretend or not, the boy was doing damage. And given that the role he was playing wasn't actively narrated (“I'm a knight, this tree is a dragon” hardly is said when kids are playing alone). So the dryad saw a kid shouting things like 'gyah, prepare to fall!' to its vessel and swinging around a stick... how is that amusing...? I would ask for an explanation if not scold the brat out of annoyance...

Following this, Mikros loses his energy and is taken care of by the dryad who says, “I shall tell the trees of your deeds today, Mikros.” and I end up with questions that I would prefer not having once again. The boy played and then cried... can't say either is a 'deed' or that it would require so much energy that he'd end up close to fainting. What caused that lack of energy? Hearing the creature sounds like a passive ability, and crying... from my experience, children recover from that in seconds (it's actually scary). And so the events don't seem to support themselves, rather forming some tiny but bothersome plot... gaps, as I can't call them plot holes per se.

Afterwards, though, the story has recovered in my eyes. Mikro's ignorance of the concept of death finally shines through in all its innocence. The people who showed him kindness just couldn't understand that he was trying to show kindness in return, that poor boy... But I was pretty happy to see how Fyla's warnings finally started gaining some tangible reasoning, even if not yet quite comprehensible (to Mikros, that is). Hopefully, the harsh lessons will slowly build the child's character into a more mindful one, otherwise, I fear for his well-being just like his caretaker does. He's too trusting for his own good!

On the other hand, the nightmare week-old corpse is not something anyone could stomach, no matter how well-meaning you are. That's a horrible sight! Especially if just recently you had a warm memory of the same companion being decent, if not good-looking. Yikes!

On the more technical matters, I'd like to remind you about the importance of good formatting. You seem to have mashed different people's lines into the same paragraphs or separated dialogue lines from the accompanying actions. I almost thought that "Harm him if you dare. There are fates worse than death." was from Mikros and started wondering how a boy who doesn't understand death could name it as a 'bad' outcome to begin with. Be careful not to fall into the trap of creating confusion about the active characters!

I think I nitpicked quite a bit on this story, but I still found it pretty fulfilling. I'm not all too fond of masked info-dumps or obvious characterization (“this character is kind. Got it?”), and in this story, you've shown a lot, nimbly avoiding telling the reader anything outright. That takes a lot of skill. Don't forget that you can implement it when trying to portray emotions as well and make the characters' expressions of feelings more unique than just 'being sad'. Continue honing your craft – you certainly have a talent for storytelling. All that's left is to raise it to the very top.
Review of Bo Dockett  
Review by Rustika
Rated: E | (4.5)
You know, it's amazing how relatable can one be in some extraordinary situations... Bo Dockett, or rather, his philosophy reflects the subtle regrets that I'm certain almost everyone has. I often remember these lines in a video game I once played for hours and hours: “People fear, not death, but having life taken from them. Many waste the life given to them, occupying themselves with things that do not matter. When the end comes, they say they did not have time enough to spend with loved ones, to fulfill dreams, to go on adventures they only talked about... But why should you fear death if you are happy with the life you have led, if you can look back on everything and say, 'Yes, I am content. It is enough.'” The sentiment reverberates in this story, as well.

From the very first sentence, I felt an urge to learn more; at first, about the 'sorry individual,' later about the odd situation that he got tangled in. You have created quite a mystery when it comes to something as dreary as taxes! I kept trying to draw some plausible scenarios while someone was busy getting drunk. I admit, my initial theory was that someone had been hiding the money in a random commoner's account for unknown illegal purposes; that Bo was an accidental victim because he once happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or that perhaps that the Auditor was involved – he was enjoying having 'caught' Bo (or is it just my dislike for the fellow?)!

But here comes a little issue I have with this story. See, rather than Bo Dockett, we have “The Curious Incident of Bo Docket.” It's not the first time I've told you this (and it's more often than not because you keep making me want to learn more about your characters), but the story could be expanded a bit more. This time, to have Bo as a more proactive character. He hardly did anything besides learning about the issue and then learning about the solution, in between dealing with the stress (his panic attack, on the other hand, is something quite familiar, and it does stop you from taking any action save for the attempts to calm down). It would have felt more fulfilling even if he had some glimpses of telling his troubles to his wife or attempting to solve the issue by ____ and not just reacting. Even if at the cost of 'was it just a dream?' situation, where even I as the reader started doubting whether his issue was real or dreamed up. After all, if he remains a mere (albeit distressed) spectator, is the shake-up enough for him to gain the resolve to do that 'one thing' – a thought that keeps lingering in the subconscious mind rather than active thoughts? To me, personally, it didn't feel quite enough.

I also have a tiny nitpick and a tiny praise:

she paused while grimacing, then shielded her eyes against sickening sounds gushing from the bathroom.” – The whole story is Bo's limited point of view. If he's in the bathroom, he can't know that Lorain is grimacing. And if it's a shift to her point of view, it's too brief and abrupt to be an enhancing addition to the narration.

In jail, I'll be someone's 'Best Girl,' and what will happen to Lorain? Will she divorce me and remarry? Sure, she will. Probably some prick like that auditor who wants to send me to jail.” – I loved this part; mostly because I was so immersed, I noticed that Bo was talking aloud probably only one syllable sooner than he did. It was so surprising, it felt like I was the one who started mumbling instead of him.

To wrap it up and sum it up, you can be confident that this is a fantastic story. It holds a mystery. It has a philosophy that's worth pondering. It has a relatable main character. My only wish is that you expanded the work a bit more to have Bo Dockett make things happen more than have things happening around him. The idea doesn't suffer too much from the lack of activeness (I did mention that 'sorry' felt like a double meaning), but it would feel a little more satisfying when thinking about the poor man, is all.

Keep on writing because this reader finds a lot of joy in reading what you come up with.
Review by Rustika
Rated: 13+ | (5.0)
I remember a long, long time ago reading a story about a man who got a book with instructions on how to summon a devil. No one had seen the man ever since. All that remained was his diary. While I can recall it all, the feeling (or the warning?) remained somewhere in my memory... and then I picked “And The Answer Is...

The warning resurfaced twice as strong.

Sometimes, it's wiser not to let the curiosity get better of you. But then my thoughts remain stuck on one question. Did he regret it? Did this poor man really regret giving the ol' Ouija Board a go? In a way, I don't think so. Perhaps to him, the price for being freed from such an obsession was still acceptable. Surely, he did say that he didn't want to be in that predicament, but his resolve remained unwavering, even knowing the risk. On the other hand, even with such a tempting last line, I'm not to keen to learn what he did. Better stay in the blissful (and safe) obliviousness!

The haunting you described was brilliant. I think my favourite part was 'an old rusty nail slowly being pulled out of a board.' What can I say? Then things you can't quite understand or describe are always the ones that fire the imagination up the best.

It's great to see some humor added to the pot. Perhaps those ghosts did see the same movies indeed; that with them hogging the remote and switching the channels as they please.

This is one amazing little story, Angus! It was a great treat after a long day.
Review of Parlor Tricks  
Review by Rustika
Rated: 13+ | (3.5)
Just like the title suggests, “Parlor Tricks” is a tricky short story. I loved the idea of this work to bits. The way you added a vast knowledge of botany... or your unique creations (I admit, I lack the knowledge to determine if all the plants you wrote about were real) was so impressive! No wonder Delphinia works in the Environmental Protection Agency. She knows her ropes. The twist at the end with our smallest character was an unexpected and pretty disturbing discovery as well. Great job there!

Of course, the ride isn't without its bumps and stops. Personally, I found the tea-sipping scene a bit dragging. While it's interesting to read about the little test our lady detective performs (ingenious!), the pace after Delphinia arrives slows down because of some filler dialogue that leads up to the test. Here, no one is trying to win some extra time, but the focus on aimless actions makes the reader expect something that never happens. Hence

"Oh don't mind Hunter, he's a crabby-patty today. Would you like some tea? Or would you prefer coffee?"
"I'm Gladys, by the way!"
"Oh that's a lovely name!"
"Please, make yourself comfortable."

makes the plot stall. Some answers end up as a summary in narration, some are spoken aloud, though none are more important than others. The whole exchange up until the tea time could be sped up with a nice and concise summary with key observations being highlighted in it.

Talking about dialogue, in real life, Dalphinia most likely would have introduced her name along with her occupation at the door – the whole procedure doesn't start and end with telling that you're from the investigation bureau. Hence, the introduction could become more compact by addressing this part alone.

You've mentioned a concern about writing realistic female protagonists. In this regard, my biggest advice will always remain this: write your character as a person first, only then think about their gender. After all, people are so diverse, stereotypes that genders create won't always be the best (or most interesting) foundation.

In this particular work, plot and the idea are the main forces. Delphinia's personality never becomes a driving factor, hence we don't dig all too deep in her motivations or quirks. I learned about her as a bystander. The most intimate thing revealed about her is the origin of her name. Of course, I also get to discover that she's a careful sort of a person and methodical in her work – a professional. While hot-headed, she knows how to hold her temper as well. For a plot-driven story, she's a good protagonist. Perhaps not one I'll remember years later, but she plays her role well.

Lastly, when it comes to the plot, I do have a slight qualm with your hints that something's not right. You try to make them innocent, but at the same time, that effort makes them evident. The ride you described was a lazy one, and the first time you mentioned any kind of discomfort caused by it was with 'She rubbed her eyes, feeling a bit tired from the long drive.' The abruptness of this state was enough to make the tea suspicious. Why now? Why do we have to note her tiredness while she's in the greenhouse? Knowing that something's wrong isn't a bad thing – it adds to the anticipation – but it would be nice if the hints were a bit more organic.

Now... I'm reluctant to dwell too much on the execution – it often sounds a bit patronizing. But I think I've read enough of your works to know some of your habits that could use a little bit of polishing. Of course, remember that you have a unique style so take my advice with a grain of salt. Your choices are what makes the story uniquely yours.

For me personally, filler words and phrases in this story made the reading experience less enjoyable. A lot of that is related to two issues writers often tend to overlook.

Dialogue tags

Present Participle

I feel like I'm coming a bit forcefully onto you, but knowing your abilities, I felt slightly disappointed with the issues I found within this work. The premise was great, the twist (Hunter's side especially) was intriguing, the attention to details – the focus on the specific theme – showed how much you've worked on this story. But the execution is in a dire need of polishing. Pacing issues or hint placement are subjective – feel free to ignore my points if you feel that they'd mar your idea. But brushing up your grammar would enhance the experience for everyone.
Review of The Deathless Boy  
Review by Rustika
Rated: E | (4.5)
I think I'm glad that I didn't read “The Deathless Boy” first since my current knowledge of your project gives me a bit more room for speculations. After all, it's so satisfying to recall that Micros' fondness of animals comes from his mother. And the fact that undead animals are fond of him... well, that draws a pleasant connection to Micros' heritage.

I'm growing curious why Fyla keeps forbidding the boy to use his magic. The surrounding darkness must be a part of the reason, doesn't it? Perhaps he doesn't yet know how to fully control his power or perhaps there's something that senses his magic and tries to draw close? Seeing how he's in the forest (is it Dimurgia?) lonely but not seeking company outside of it, I feel like he's in hiding.

Micros cheering for and later hugging the little bird was so bittersweet... Somehow, that cheer felt like he was watching a chick hatch. And there's so much innocence in such an act, despite the necromancy being at play. But with the bird struggling, I'm left wondering – does magic work only partway? Does your own will play any part in this 'rebirth'? Or did that struggle exist because of Micros' inexperience?

Now this is entirely subjective – I have mentioned before that I'm not fond of prologues at that might hinder my viewpoint – but this little entry feels a bit more like a teaser than a stand-alone story. After all, “The Deathless Boy” revealed a similar subtext to the second part of the series. In both stories, Micros' loneliness and attempts to subdue it are portrayed similarly. I didn't get a lot of new information in his circumstances so if your aim with this story is more than grabbing interested (which you did, by the way. As I've mentioned many times before, your ability to create a vivid image in one's mind is amazing), perhaps merging both works into one wouldn't do a lot of harm either.

On the technical side, there was a minor detail I wanted to bring up as well:

Wandering the dense woods where he lived, the boy came across the carcass of a songbird. […] The dead bird began to writhe in spasms, shedding larvae and feathers as it thrashed. ─ carcass usually hints that there are no more meat bits left. Hence feathers, larvae and such were a bit surprising to discover. Perhaps 'remains' or 'corpse' would fit better...?

I think I'll end these musings here. To sum it all up, this little story was a bittersweet one, and I enjoyed reading it a lot. The sadness, innocence and darkness mixed into one intriguing scene. My only suggestion for you is not to forget that the whole project would become more impactful if, as a part of the series, each entry brought something new to the table. And this part, at the moment, doesn't feel like if not included, would make you miss something incredibly important.
Review by Rustika
Rated: E | (4.0)
The Necromancer and the Witch” is an intriguing, even if simple little story within a story that played in front of my eyes like a puppet show. The visuals you have created formed vivid imagery. I'll probably have to say that your way of making the reader see and experience instead of just think is one of your strongest points. The cave was so easy to picture with all its dark nooks and shadows cast by the low fire. Good job!

As I read this work, I couldn't help but wonder if the myth of Hades and Persephone was your inspiration. A god of death and a witch (or a goddess) of nature fell in love and spent some of their lives together in the world of the (un-)dead, with the lady slipping away now and then... The recollection of this myth made the work feel a bit like a retelling.

Of course, some events end up pushing it to a different, darker course. It made me curious about what happened to Mikros as well. What happened after the story ended and the current events began? Why did he end up in a cave, and not among people? The possibilities and questions you manage to bring add to the intrigue and create a foundation for a far bigger tale.

Though, personally, I wasn't entirely convinced with the idea of Thanatos swearing revenge on the entire humanity because of the bandit attack. The ones responsible for Crysiphone's death met their end. So a stronger motive to wage a war against the entire race felt needed. For instance, if she had been hurt before in one of many random attacks (which would be a good reason for Thanatos to ask her to bring guards along all the time) which led Thanatos to believe that all humans were mindless and violent... or if that had been a break-in by superstitious group, the scale of Thanatos' rage would have been more believable. He'd have more people to blame, after all. So here's a bit that didn't leave me entirely sold.

As for the execution of the story, the idea of making it a story within a story was a sweet one – it let you manipulate time seamlessly.

Perhaps, if you end up returning to this work and editing it, I would put some focus on the images Fyla created. Lines such as 'waving listlessly as skeletons tended to his every wish' or 'Holding his dying love, the necromancer wept tears of bitter blood as Crysiphone sang her swan song' don't quite fit the mysterious shadow theatre.

If you think how it is envisioned, facial expressions and movements wouldn't necessarily show that someone is listless or entranced. Body movements should speak a bit more than adjectives or adverbs here, I believe. After all, what does 'tending to every wish' makes a person see? Or how do we know she's singing her swan song? Images were created from shadows and smoke on stone walls. It's what we see that we can interpret, and not the other way around. Hence, at the moment, the images feel more like fragments of narration rather than a picture book come alive or a puppet theater. Strengthening this idea with a bit more fitting images would bring it into yet another level, I believe. Of course, how you want these pictures to appear in the reader's mind is all up to you.

I'll finish this bout of feedback with one more line (it feels fitting to bring it last) – the last paragraph was great! I believe Fyla is like a shadow of Crysiphone? Or a fragment of her soul? Since Thanatos didn't manage to bring her back, it must have been the remains of the magic he tried to work, wasn't it...?

By the way, why didn't he succeed? Did she become a soulless doll? It would be good to explain some ways this magic works, I think. Since if it's just manipulation of the matter, I'm curious how it was possible to create Fyla. If it's not just that, why did bringing the white witch back to life failed? Perhaps a full explanation of it wouldn't fit the work, but a hint somewhere would be a nice addition.

Thank you for letting me read your works once more. You have a distinct style that enhances your stories and makes the whole experience a real pleasure. Keep on writing and improving! I'll be looking forward to our renewed discussions.
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