One Hour Flash – Road to Ruin

Time for another installment of one-hour flash. For those new to these posts, these are 1,000-word stories I jammed out in an hour for a writing exercise. I go on to publish a lot of these, but the the ones that aren’t quite up to snuff for publication make excellent blog fodder.

Today’s story is a little horror tale called “Road to Ruin.”


Road to Ruin

“You ever been down this way?” Howard asked and tapped the battered metal sign with his war hammer. It hung from a sagging chain link fence and read “Road Closed.” Beyond, crumbling asphalt peeked through the overgrown weeds and stretched into the distance.

“Nope,” Raphael said. He was familiar with Paradise, officially known as Plague Sector Eight, but he’d only been hunting it a few years. The abandoned, walled city was five-hundred square miles of decaying houses and buildings, weed-choked roads, and hiding places for shamblers. “But we’re close to our quota, so it might be worth a look.”

They’d bagged two shamblers in a nearby shopping mall, but they needed one more to complete their contract. Then they could book it to the west gate, get out, and get paid. Three shamblers meant nine thousand bucks. That would keep them out of the plague sectors for a good month.

Howard nodded. “Pistols or close combat weapons?” He’d been a licensed headhunter only a three weeks, but the former beat cop had a hunter’s instincts, and his size and strength were definite assets when it came to busting shambler skulls.

“Close combat.” Raphael took his flanged mace from his belt. The medieval weapon presented an odd juxtaposition against his modern body armor and other equipment, but the ancient hand weapons were best suited for the work.

They stepped over the barricade and moved down the road, passing the rusted hulks of cars, and the skeletal remains of small houses, their roofs sunken, empty doors and windows promising darkness and death. They didn’t speak as they walked in the fading sunlight. Howard would occasionally point at one of the ruined houses, and Raphael would shake his head. Bigger was the unspoken reply. Houses were death traps, and most headhunters avoided them. Larger buildings, with room to move and swing a weapon were safer.

They walked another mile and a building appeared at the end of the road, a squat cinder-block rectangle more like a fortress than any civilian structure.

“What is that?” Howard asked, keeping his voice low.

“Looks like a barracks.” Raphael was a former Army Ranger, and he knew a military building when he saw one.

“Paradise have any military presence before the outbreak,” Howard asked.

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“What’s your call?”

Raphael studied the building. If it was a barracks, there would be plenty of room inside and not many places for shamblers to hide. The door to the building was a metal slab; mostly rust beneath peeling green paint. It looked sturdy, and they might have to force it open, which meant noise and potentially waking the dead within.

Raphael looked up at the sky and grimaced. They had maybe an hour of sunlight, enough time to make a quick kill. He didn’t want to spend the night in the plague sector.

“Let’s go,” Raphael said, making his decision. “I’ll take point.”

Howard nodded and they advanced. They reached the door, and it was held shut by a rusting padlock. Raphael considered his options, then turned to Howard. “See if you can break this thing. One blow.”

At 6’10” and 270 pounds, Howard was a mountainous human being and absurdly strong. He hefted his footman’s war hammer, a four-foot length of ash topped with a spiked head, and brought the weapon whistling down on the padlock. It shattered with a hollow clang and fell to the ground in two pieces.

Raphael pushed the door open, revealing darkness and an appalling animal stench. He recoiled and an unearthly howl rose from the inside of the barracks. His blood went cold. The sound had not come from an animal, and it sure as fuck wasn’t a sound any human could make.

“Shamblers don’t make noise,” Howard said, voicing what Raphael was thinking.

“Run,” Raphael managed to say just before the barracks door burst open and a dark shape came hurtling from the blackness.

Raphael threw himself to the ground and whatever it was passed overhead. He heard the meat and metal sound of Howard’s hammer making contact and then screaming.

Raphael rolled over and pulled his Sig P226, forgetting the mace. This was no time for stealth. Something lithe and bestial crouched on top of Howard. It had knocked him to the ground and raked at his belly like an animal. Howard screamed and tried to push the thing away.

Raphael rose to his feet and brought his pistol up. He pulled the trigger twice, and the gun’s discharge was shockingly loud. The bullets tore into the creature’s body but had little effect other than to draw its attention. Its head snapped around, a head that had maybe once been human, and sulfurous yellow eyes locked on Raphael.

He took a bead on the thing’s head, and then another gunshot sounded, this one deeper and more commanding. A geyser of blood jetted from the top of the creature’s head, and it rolled limply off Howard. The former police officer had managed to get to his Ruger Super Redhawk and there wasn’t much living or dead that could survive a .44 slug at point-blank.

Raphael hurried over to Howard who tried to get up. Loops of intestine hung from the man’s savaged belly, and Raphael pushed him back down. “Don’t; stay put.”

“Raph,” Howard said, blood running down his chin. “I’m fucked.”

Another piercing howl rose from the interior of the barracks, and Raphael shook his head and held his pistol up for Howard to see.

Howard nodded. “Do it. I don’t want to come back.”

Raphael took his friend’s hand, put the barrel of his Sig against Howard’s temple, and pulled the trigger. The gun went off, Howard jerked, then lay still.

A shape appeared in the barracks doorway.

Raphael ran.


So I kind of cheated with this one. Not that I took more than an hour to write it or that it didn’t fit the prompt. It’s just this story is based on a larger idea I’ve had for a while. I’d even outlined a novel on the basic concept and written the first couple of chapters before I back-burnered it for another project (the novel I’m working on now). These characters aren’t in the outline and the location is different, but it’s the same basic setting. Anyway, this is a vignette rather than a full story, but it might be worth fleshing out into something more substantial. (I know; I always say that, but I mean it this time!)

Want to read more of my one-hour scribbles? Check out these posts.

The Final Round Form Rejection

It’s been a while since I posted about a new type of rejection letter, mostly because I’ve already written about every type of rejection under the sun. Well, as it turns out, not quite. The rejection letter I want to talk about today is a subspecies of higher-tier form rejection that gives you a little more information about where your story ended up in the publisher’s decision process. Let’s call it the final round form rejection.

Example #1

Very sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but we just made our final decisions today. We are going to have to pass on the story, however. This is the hardest part of the job, having to decline stories that we enjoyed so much, simply because didn’t have the space to include them all. It was a real struggle choosing the final stories. I appreciate your patience, and hope to see submissions from you in the future.

This is one of those rejection you might think is a personal rejection at first blush, but on further review, I think it’s a form rejection. It’s a good form rejection, as all of these final round form rejections are.

Example #2

Thanks so much for letting us consider your story [story title]. While it made it to the final round of consideration, I’m afraid that we chose not to accept it. We had a lot of submissions and there were difficult decisions to be made. Best of luck placing it elsewhere.

This is very clearly a form rejection, but, like the others, the editor lets you know you got real, real close to publication.

Example #3

Thank you again for allowing us to consider your story, but it’s not a match for [anthology].

Your story made it to the final round. It was ranked among the best of the best. We had thousands of submissions from writers all over the world. Even some of our favorites, like your story, didn’t make it through.

Most of the time we don’t move forward with a story because it’s similar to another story in a different word slot. We’re striving for a diversity of sub-genres, writing styles and plot lines, in addition to stories of different lengths.

So that’s the bad news: Your story wasn’t selected for [anthology]. The good news is that there will be many more opportunities to submit to [publisher] in the future. Even though your work was not selected, you are a talented writer. We hope you will consider submitting to our future editions. 

So, I’ll admit, this one fooled me at first, and I thought it was a personal rejection. It isn’t; another writer pointed out that he had received the same rejection. Still, it is a final round form rejection.

Okay, you’ve seen the examples, now let’s talk about what makes these final round form rejections different than your typical higher tier form rejection.

  1. Further Consideration. Final round form rejections are usually preceded by a further consideration letter. Most publishers that use a multi-round decision process are good about letting you know your story has made it past the first round and they’re holding it until they make a decision. With anthologies, its usually a shortlist letter rather than a further consideration letter, but it amounts to the same thing.
  2. Longer wait. Because you’re dealing with a multi-round reading process, and often a ton of other submissions, the wait between the further consideration and the final decision can be longer than usual. In my examples, the first rejection came after 77 days against an average response time of 23 days for the publisher; the second rejection came after 81 days against and average of 10 days; and the final rejection came a 310 days against an average of 269 days.
  3. Closer than usual. With a standard higher-tier form rejection, it’s unclear how close your story made it to publication, and, honestly, with most markets you’d probably get a personal rejection if you got really close. That’s where the final round form rejection is a little different. Despite being a form rejection, you know your story almost made it to publication.
  4. Heart-Breaker. There’s no way around it. The final round form rejection is more disappointing than the typical rejection. It’s hard not to get your hopes up when you receive a further consideration letter and wait a long time for the final decision. Then, to find out you got this close to an acceptance but didn’t make the final cut, well, I won’t lie; that stings a bit. Still, it’s important to remember your story did make it to the final round and beat out hundreds, maybe thousands of other submissions. In other words, you probably have a marketable story on your hands. Case in point, two of the three stories in my examples here went on to acceptances.

Have any thoughts on the final round form rejection? Tell me about them in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 5/28/18 to 6/3/18

New month, new week, more writing and whatnot.

The Novel

I’m about 20,000 words into my first read-through of my horror novel, Late Risers. I let it sit for almost three weeks before I jumped in, and, as expected, my reactions range from “this is pretty good” to “this is objectively terrible.” That’s about par for the course, I think. It should be noted that what I’m doing in this read-through is fixing the problems that are so obvious they can be seen from space. The more nuanced issues, which I’m likely blind to at this point, will be left to skilled and gracious critique partners.

The question I ask myself a lot lately is did I write a good book? Here’s my honest answer. I think I wrote something that could become a good book after a liberal dose of literary elbow grease. I’m satisfied with that and more than willing to put in the work.

Short Stories

I finished a new flash piece this week, another one born of the one-hour flash challenge. It’s a horror/comedy mashup, and I really dig it. It’ll be going out for submission this week. I also had two short stories come back to me after a number of rejections. I really like both stories, and they received good feedback, but they’re not landing, so my writing group is giving them the once over before I send them out again.

A very, very slow week for submissions.

  • Submissions Sent: 0
  • Rejections: 2
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0

Yep, my first goose egg in the submissions sent column in a long time. That’s due to a combination of factors that include not having any new stories to send out and a greater focus on other projects (the novel, for example). That’ll change this week, as I have one new story and a couple of reinvigorated pieces ready for submission.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week. This week, I’m again aiming for three and some actual content beyond “Hey, look at all my submissions.”

5/30/18: A Week of Writing: 5/21/18 to 5/27/18

The usual weekly writing update.

6/1/18: Submission Statement: May 2018

My submission scorecard for the month of May.

Goals

The big goal is to continue my first read-through/revision on the novel. I’d like to get another 20,000 words or so.

Story Spotlight

This week it’s not a story, but an interview. Howard Andrew Jones, editor-in-chief of Tales from the Magician’s Skull and a very accomplished editor and writer to boot, interviewed me for his website in a series called Writer Chat. Check it out below.

Writer Chat: Aeryn Rudel


And that, friends, was my week. How was yours?

Submission Statement: May 2018

Well, May was certainly an active month, though not as successful as March and April. Here’s how I did.

May 2018 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 14
  • Rejections: 12
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 0
  • Other: 1

Fourteen submissions in May. That’s solid, and I’ve got sixty for the year. The acceptance gives me six total for 2018, which puts me at an even ten percent acceptance rate. Not bad, but I’d like to get somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen percent by the end of the year. I’ve got a few stories shortlisted I’m waiting to hear about, but those could go either way.

Rejections

I won’t lie; twelve rejections is kind of a lot, but it’s to be expected with the increased submission volume. Here’s how those rejections broke down.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 6
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 5
  • Personal Rejections: 1

Again, a fair amount of “good” rejections, but some of these stories just aren’t landing despite some encouraging notes. I’m gonna take a good hard look at them and see if I can’t put my finger on what might be missing. There’s really nothing new and exciting in these rejections, so instead of showing you yet another form rejection, I think an examination of how long these markets are taking to respond would be more useful.

Rejection Date Sent Date Received Days Out
Rejection 1 28-Feb-18 1-May-18 62
Rejection 2 26-Mar-18 1-May-18 36
Rejection 3 3-May-18 5-May-18 2
Rejection 4 1-May-18 9-May-18 8
Rejection 5 29-Mar-18 11-May-18 43
Rejection 6 6-May-18 13-May-18 7
Rejection 7 5-May-18 20-May-18 15
Rejection 8 11-May-18 21-May-18 10
Rejection 9 14-May-18 21-May-18 7
Rejection 10 30-Apr-18 22-May-18 22
Rejection 11 22-May-18 23-May-18 1
Rejection 12 23-May-18 24-May-18 1

Not too bad. The longest wait was 60 days, and that’s well within acceptable parameters. As you can see, there’s a fair number of single digit responses here, and that’s not uncommon for a lot of pro markets.

Other

The “other” this month was a withdrawal letter. I sent this withdrawal for what is, by far, the most common reason I’ve sent them in the last few years. The market went under and is now defunct. I sent this letter more as a professional courtesy than anything else.

Dear Editors,

I would like to withdraw my stories [story title] and [story title] from consideration at [publisher]. 

Thank you for your time.

Best,

Aeryn Rudel

Did I have to send this letter? Maybe not. The market basically disappeared, and this email bounced back with an “address not found” note. That said, I don’t know what happened on the other end of those submissions, and closing down a publication is obviously not something anyone wants to do. So it’s important to me to stay professional, wish the publisher well, and move on.

Acceptances

One acceptance this month, which broke a minor rejection streak I had going.

Acceptance: Sent 5/22/2018; Accepted 5/25/2018

Thank you for taking the time to submit your story [story title]. I’d be delighted to publish it on [publisher].

I’ve scheduled it for publication on 29 June, if this date changes I will let you know.

Thanks again for submitting your work.

This is my second publication with this particular market. The interesting thing here is that this is a form letter. Yep, form letters aren’t just for rejections. That said, you’ll often get a personal note after the initial form acceptance with requests for things like bios and author photos and/or info about the contract.


And that was my May. Tell me about yours.