Tuesday, April 16

An the Winner of the Tone Contest is...

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

This was the toughest contest yet for me to judge. There were so many great entries, and some were really good snippets, even if they didn't quite hit the right tone. The ones that stood out were the ones that had a sense that something was about to go wrong (or go right in the case of the happy excited ones). Overall, I liked how pretty much everyone used the six words naturally in the text so they didn't feel awkward or shoved in.

Great job everyone!

Here are the finalists:

Jess whirled the plates out of the cupboard and into the basket. Ten minutes and he would be home. Ten minutes. She sang the words to herself as she sliced up the meat and cheese. Ben always put cheese on his sandwiches.

The dog sat up and begged. Laughing, she fed him a piece of ham. For today, they could break house rules. Ben was coming home.

Odds were he would be in uniform. He would walk in, tall, handsome, clean-cut, and he would tell her stories of his friends and the war, stories of blood and laughter. And she would laugh and gasp at all the right moments, and when he’d told all his stories, he’d lean in…

Picnic blanket! She dashed to the hall closet and tumbled out half the quilts in an effort to find the right blanket. No time to refold now; she stuffed them back in and forced the door shut. Something to hold the blanket…no, they could just grab a rock or two from the riverbed.

Cupcakes, twin bottles of Coke, at the last moment she remembered the paper napkins. And that was everything. Everything except Ben.

She opened the window and leaned out, gazing up. Even the sky cooperated today, for there were no clouds to be seen.

“Hello, lovely!”

She nearly overbalanced at the halloo. “Ben! Oh Ben!” He grinned at her and lifted a hand in greeting. In his other hand, he held a bouquet of flowers.
What I like about this one is that it's both happy and foreboding. Jess is clearly excited about Ben coming home, but there's also a sense that something bad might happen and he won't show up, or she'll get bad news (or maybe it's just my dark nature reading into it, lol) I also like the small details--breaking rules for the dog, making sure there's cheese because Ben likes cheese, laughing and gasping in all the right places. Not only is she excited, but it's influencing her actions.

Myka Reede
A wolf’s howl pierced the darkness, and Logan failed in his third attempt to calm his churning stomach. Hours earlier, the butchered mess at his feet could’ve passed as Mary’s twin. Then again, every blond haired lassie reminded him of his baby sister. He imagined the pair frolicking in a meadow full of wildflowers and laughter. Every little girl danced, right?

The naked waif strewn in the mud taunted back silent accusations that scalded his eardrums.

He coughed and grimaced at his fidgeting men. With a muttered curse, he forced himself to refocus on the blood-soaked body. Similar to the other victims, her eyes appeared as two milky clouds, staring into an eternal abyss. The mutation hid her eye coloring and concealed her final moments from his dauthi probing.

Had she seen the creature? Had she felt each slicing gash? Had she cried for help?

While the rest of his unit established a defensible perimeter, he staggered from the lantern-lit scene and collapsed against a nearby rock. Despite the night air freezing his nostrils, he wiped the sweat pouring from his brow. With his head bent, he whispered in his native tongue, “I promise you, Mary. I’ll slaughter the beast. I’ll avenge this innocent’s death … and yours too ... somehow. Just forgive me ... please.”
This one has a great scary tone, though it's not quite as foreboding as some other entries. If Mary wasn't already dead it actually would have been more so, because I loved the "could have been Mary" line at the start. That totally made me think she was a potential victim and gave it a great sense of unease. So does the terrific "every little girl danced, right?" line. There's a wonderful sense that this creature is going to continue killing and it will be a terrible thing.

Laughter and squeals assaulted his senses through shut windows. God, he hated those shrieks. Today, he would end them.

The spring brought them out. They were little pagans with their rituals. Girls pulling daisy petals – he loves me; he loves me not – while boys wrestled on the lawn crushing flowers as they competed for attention and dominance. On his left, two unsupervised girls licked a puppy’s face. You would think someone would intervene, but no.

The nannies around the perimeter paid scant attention. Afternoon wine and trite gossip occupied them. He would give them reason to talk.

He felt flushed for an instant as his childhood hatred of nannies surfaced. “Merciless nags when they get you alone,” he thought. “They’re useless divas in a pack. Before I’m finished they’ll be mush and begging.” He envisioned pools of blood soaking the daisy field.

He thought his planning was art. He stashed the gun-show Bushmaster behind the big rock in the corner of the park with his killing clothes and ammo. The fence segment he removed behind the boulder was practically invisible.

Now, smoke clouds in the near distance told him garbage fires were bustling in their pits. He could sling in his gear and be gone in an instant. A minute later, he would be just another jogger on the road.

In the empty apartment, he turned from the window savoring thoughts of fame and killing. “In an hour, I’ll hold the kiddie-kill record. I’ve found my calling.” He stepped outside.
What I like about this one is the sense of wrongness is all over it. Very bad things are coming. I also love the wording. Paying scant attention, sling his gear and be gone in an instant, give them reason to talk. These are things someone who plans to do something bad thinks. The contrast between the happy, sunny day and the darkness about to hit also makes this even more ominous.

While switching off the lights in the corner, I hear a creak. In the dimness, something shifts at the corner of my eye. I turn to see a woman staring at the book stacks.

“May I help you ?” I ask.

“I left my son here so I could find a book. He must’ve wandered off - I can’t find him.”

She gazes at something behind me. I turn around but nothing’s there.

“What’s his name?” She smells of old sweat like the homeless. Dried blood crusts a gash on her hand. I glance towards the door. We’re alone.

“Crane!” She marches towards the stacks. “Probably playing hide-and-seek. He does that sometimes!” Her laughter muffles as she digs into her bag. “He loves collecting things too.” On the floor, she lays down a rock, a flower and a robin.

It’s dead.

I swallow. Is she mental? Clouds smother the setting sun plunging us into shadow. The shrouded stacks conceal a listening silence. My heart pounds in my ears as I creep forward.

“Why hasn’t he answered?” she whispers.

Be reasonable - the boy might’ve left for food.

“What time did you leave him?”

“Five years ago.”

My chest freezes. “Pardon?”

“Five years ago. But he loves to play hide-and-seek. He must be hiding here.”

A light flickers.

“Perhaps we can get help from the front desk,” I say, my voice wavering.

Reluctantly, she follows me towards the exit. Before the door closes, a small voice cries out.

This one has a wonderfully creepy and foreboding tone, yet it's quiet and subtle. Just a mom looking for her lost son, but you just know it's oh-so-wrong. I almost want to cover my eyes and peek out to see what happens next. I really liked the subtle word choices here. The dead robin, smothering the sun, (a hint about smothering the "son" perhaps?), a gash on the hand that's never explained. You're almost holding your breath by the end.

And the winner is...


What pushed this one over the top for me was the anticipation of something bad on the wind that really captured the sense (and definition) of foreboding. There's an unknown here that made me worry what will happen next. I don't know things are bad, but I really feel that they must be. That uncertainty and sense of ill-ease nailed what foreboding is all about.

Eisen, just contact me at janice (@) janicehardy (dot) com for your critique.

Grats and fantastic job to everyone! This week's tension contest is going to be amazing, I can already tell from these entries.


  1. Eisen's entry has haunted me since I first read it. Amazing how scary "mommy" can be!

  2. Rachel, I know! That totally got me. Was *not* expecting an answer.

  3. This had to be a difficult one for you Janice. There were so many great submissions this time around. I was happy to see you chose a couple of my faves. Congrats to Eisen on a fantastic job. I would read that any day!

  4. I couldn't agree more! I really did get into that one! Awesome Eisen and others!

  5. Cool! Thanks so much :-) I really enjoyed reading all the entries - great job to everyone!!!

  6. Oooh, that is *awesomely* creepy! Congrats to Eisen!

  7. Eisen was definitely the right choice! I've just read it alone, in the dark and it genuinely creeped me out!