Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Secret Agent #17


In the elevator at the Georgia State Mental Hospital with a dead body, and the walls feel like they're closing in. I can't see what's in the shadows, and I imagine all kinds of horrible creatures with fangs and
claws, ready to attack.


Did the dead man just call out my name?

A cold chill takes over my body as the elevator descends. It smells like wet dog in here, and the elevator's so old, who knows if I’ll even make it to the basement? I clutch the railing and hold on. Mid-December and the night wind's howling up the elevator shaft like a pack of angry wolves. Somethin' bad's gonna happen. I can feel it in my bones. Just like the last time I worked after school.

I'm sweating like crazy under the armpits of my nurses' aide uniform, but my hands feel like ice cubes. Afraid to look under the sheet, I picture the dead guy sitting up, still alive, reaching out to strangle
me. I jump back and push the button to stop the elevator, but it keeps going.

Hand over my mouth to stifle a scream, I stare at the body on the gurney. I wonder how he died. Then I figure I'd rather not know, 'cause if I did, I'd care about him, and that wouldn't do any good. Why do patients only die when I'm on duty?

The elevator whines and jolts to a stop in the basement.


  1. The line, "Why do patients only die when I'm on duty?" has me intrigued.

    Great description. I can feel her fear. I think most people would feel the same way she does with all that going on. I know I'd be freaked out escorting a dead bodied. Too many horror movies will do that.

    Your first paragraph is awkward. The first sentence threw me out of the story. Who's the subject of the sentence? I almost stopped reading right there.

    YA isn't a genre. It's an age group. YA paranormal is a genre. YA contemporary is a genre. YA horror is a genre. Make sure you're specific in your query. I would have loved to know which one it was when reading this.

    Good luck!

  2. I agree with Anja in regards to the opening sentence. I had to re-read it a couple of times to see if I missed the subject. Later on we learn it's Samantha who's talking, but I think at least saying "I'm in the elevator...," would fix the problem.

    Other than that, I'm curious who she heard her name from. You bring it up, assuming it's from the dead guy, then it's not mentioned again. At least not in the first 250 words.

  3. To me, the first paragraph you have doesn't read as strongly as what you have beneath it. The creatures with claws and teeth seem to add a bit of a comical touch that you're not going for.

    I almost wonder if the last two sentences should become your first two--get the impact and feel for the story right from the start:

    The elevator whines and jolts to a stop in the basement. Why do patients only die when I'm on duty?

    Those two sentences grip the reader immediately, and when combined with the rest of what's around her, I think the reader will feel what it's like to be in the elevator, even more.

    I'm intrigued!

  4. @theReallyrealcuriouscrow

    I like the idea of making the last lines the first. It's a good hook.

  5. I agree with the others in that the first sentence is not actually a complete sentence, but other than that, I really liked this one. I thought after the opening lines, it read smoothly and I could definitely feel her fear. I would read on.

    The only other thing that grabbed me has nothing to do with the writing. I'm a nurse and used to volunteer when I was a kid. I was the lucky person who got to take the bodies to the morgue. However, I was never allowed to take them alone. Since this is YA, I'm assuming Samantha's a minor and in anyplace I've ever worked, her accompanying a body to the morgue alone simply wouldn't fly. It's a nitpicky detail but it stood out to me. Policies might be different where you are, but it's something to consider if you are going for realism.

  6. Hooked me, and I liked the opening line even though it's not actually a sentence. It set the scene and grabbed me.
    All the thoughts and feelings the character is having felt real and I was left wanting to know what will happen next (and if the body really said her name).
    The only thing I would nitpick is that you have the one sentence with the phonetic spelling of informal speech (somethin' and gonna), but that's it, which seemed inconsistent. ?? But that's minor. I think your first 250 words really work.

  7. I really liked the way you build the horror - not easy with 250 words. It builds really well.

    The first line/s needs to be punchier. In the middle of the book - no issue, but as a first line, you want to sell your strong voice well.

    Good stuff.

  8. I really like the mental image I get from this scene. Especially in the end, when she arrives in the basement with a dead body. That in itself is very unsettling. The only problem I have with this are the two sentences I had to reread several times. The first sentence and this one, "Mid-December and the night wind's howling up the elevator shaft like a pack of angry wolves."

  9. You start out with an incomplete sentence which immediately took me out of the story because I had to figure out what you were saying. Perhaps make it a complete sentence. You don't want to lose people before you even start.

    Then she hears someone call her name and thinks it might be the dead man, but she doesn't worry about it or think about it, she just blows it off. Perhaps spend a bit more time there.

    If she's workng after school, why is she feeling the night wind?

    I also wonder why she's scared if this is her normal job. Nothing scary is happening except for hearing the voice, which she barely acknowledges. And then, if she is scared, why would she stop the elevator and be stuck inside it with a dead body that might be talking to her? I don't get why she did that.

    And then she's stifling a scream (what is making her want to scream) and then she doesn't scream so she can stare at the body. (that is making her as scared as she is?)

    Perhaps spend some time on the logic of it all. I also agree that starting with your last line and following it with "Why do patients only die when I'm on duty?" is a much better place to start. It would make a great opening parg.

  10. This opens with such an immediate level of tension that it makes me a bit numb to the moments later on that SHOULD be giving me goosebumps...can it work up to the creepiness a bit more gradually? Otherwise we're a bit desensitized, I'm afraid!