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No Prompt! Have Fun! · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Don't You Cry For Me
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#1 · 5
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
This is really really nice. There's a few minor blips: "went you’re your," "I had seen pictures the gas tank around back"

But this has a very assured and compelling voice. I was a little uncertain as to where you were building to, what the ending would turn out to be. But I think I'm pretty satisfied with that. This is a story that seemed to know just what to do exactly when, layering texture and experience to fill out the characters and narrative. I really don't know how I would improve this; I hope you see about publication somewhere.
#2 · 3
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
From my spot at the bottom, I couldn’t see the top of the hill. Just twisted brown branches and weathered granite slabs, stretching out forever. Getting some major Neil Gaiman vibes here. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the rest of this piece is nothing at all like The Graveyard Book… but this whole paragraph is just sooo up my alley that I think I’m already in love with this story.

The word seemed to strike her like a gust of wind. Had a bit of trouble interpreting what this was supposed to mean. Do you mean that she’s been taken by surprise? That she’s shocked, or perhaps hurt? Or indifferent?

“Maybe that counselor was right,” May said, face screwing up into a smirk. “Maybe you really are crazy.” There’s something about the way this information is delivered that feels off to me? I mean, I appreciate that you’ve taken the effort not to have Claire simply state in some boring info-dump that she’s been in therapy. Even so, I think this line still comes across somewhat… expositiony, I guess is the word. Like, it didn’t feel very natural to me.

I was way too old to be getting help from my sister, after all, and I still wanted to be mad at her. Having grown up with an older brother, this character detail rings incredibly true to me. Great job!

When I asked Mom, she said that they were baby corns—I didn’t even know that corn could have babies. Hah! Nice!

May affixed me with a wretched glare. “Shut the fuck up, Claire.” There’s part of me that wants to call this conversation melodramatic and over the top, but May here reminds me so much of what my older brother used to be like that it isn’t even funny. So again… yeah, this whole scene works for me. Each member of this little broken family feels distinct, vivid, and three-dimensional. I feel like I already know them intimately.

I knew deep down that all of this was my fault. It was up to me to fix things, and once again I had failed. Obviously, Claire’s not thinking rationally here... even so, I wish that you had spent more time showing us how she reaches this conclusion as opposed to the tiny paragraph that we end up getting. Why does she say that she’s always failing? So far, there hasn’t really been an awful lot in the text to suggest that she regularly feels this way.

In those days, but three months removed from the fire. I’d rephrase this a little. It sounds out of character – like, it feels a lot more formal to me than how she’s been narrating so far.

before Dad got that call in the middle of the night, before he grabbed his gear and ran out the door. Before the police came the next morning, hats over their hearts, beards twitching, and asked if Mom was home. Before May turned white, and before Mom ran out to throw up. I wonder if possibly this is a tad overboard? So far, the story has done a truly excellent job at giving us enough information to let us piece together what happened without making it seem saccharine or overdone and such, but this paragraph kinda ruins that a little. It’s really on the nose. It’s like I’m gone back in time 12 years and I’m stuck in the cinema again bored out of my skull watching friggin’ Ladder 49.

heaving mass of flesh on the bed opposite mine. Perhaps use a different description? This makes me think not of a teenage girl, but of a big pile of raw meat or something -_-

Also, Kurt Cobain was apparently “overrated trash.” Who knew? Yikes!! May, for goodness sake, ditch your friends and make new ones!

At least I didn’t have to see a counselor anymore. I would seriously suggest fleshing out the details of her counselling, since so far it feels totally ham-fisted and thrown in there – considering how subtle and effective this story has been so far, it really sticks out, and not in a good way. (EDIT: Having now read to the end, and having seen how much she fears that she might actually be crazy, I feel this point is more important than ever. I love your work, but this whole aspect of her character is poorly set up, and ends up hurting the story as a result).

I would fall asleep thinking of our old home, and the friends I had known since childhood. Seems a bit weird for a nine-year-old child to think about the friend she ‘had known since childhood’. Maybe say ‘known since kindergarten’ or something?

I hesitated for a moment. Then, as quiet as I could, I grabbed my coat, put on my gloves and boots, and headed out. The build-up to this is another moment which I wish had lasted longer – I think it would hugely benefit from showing us more of Claire’s hesitation. She’s only nine after all, and even the most fearless and foolhardy nine-year-old might think twice before sneaking into a creepy graveyard in the middle of the night. Is she scared? Does she stop to think that she’s just hallucinating? Or is she genuinely that confident that her father’s really returned, and that there’s nothing to be afraid of?

My nine-year-old mind ranted and raved, every instinct telling me to run and bury myself under my sheets. Ah, now this paragraph is more like it! Though I stand by what I said before.

“I was about to go out looking for you!” May hissed. “You know that? Mom ran in here screaming and crying. You wanna give her a heart attack or something? You wanna be a fucking orphan…” When I was younger, I did something very similar to what Claire does here, so I can say from first-hand experience that everyone’s reactions here are completely on point and relatable.

Even at that young age, I felt pathetic. I wouldn’t put ‘even at that young age’. You’ve just spent several thousand words showing us that you have a real grasp on the fact that children are perfectly capable of feeling and understanding deep emotional pain, but narration like this kind of undercuts that a little. Perhaps you could argue that it’s in character for the Claire of 2016 to come up with such a flippant remark? But if so, I still don’t think it’s worth the trade-off. This story isn’t about Claire-the-adult-narrator, but Claire-the-nine-year-old.

“I’m not a… a scizzo,” I said. The lights went off. “You are!” Yeah, you tell her, Claire :-P


Egh, this comment ended up being looooong >_<. And I didn’t even touch on the whole ending sequence, which was the best bit of all.

Obviously I can only speak for myself here and nobody else, but damn, this just worked for me on so many levels – pacing, plotting, characterization. It’s bittersweet without feeling saccharine; it ends on just the right note of magical realism. I would go so far as to say it’s one of my favourite things I’ve read in ages.

Thank you for writing it.
#3 · 3
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
I guess I know which story's going to win, now. It might need a little polish here and there, to prune some of the stuff the above commenter said about Claire's narration having stuff that wouldn't fit a nine-year-old child, but other than that, there's a pretty strong emotional throughline. The awful things that May and her mom do and say to each other and Claire put me on edge and made me wonder if reconciliation was actually possible or if Claire was going to grow up in a completely broken home.

I admit, I don't usually tend to seek stories like this out. I certainly don't write them, because the lure of a high-concept genre idea is so much more appealing to me in both cases. But I can also recognize that that can complicate things and obscure the core of a working story. You make being simple work well.

This story is excellent. (9/10)
Post by Oblomov , deleted
#5 ·
· · >>KwirkyJ
Sabas que, Cocino?!

Ang gulo mo?

Nani kore wa?!

O, eto russkiy.

Spanish: What did you say, bad boy?!
Tagalog: What do you mean?
Japanese: What is this?!
Russian: Oh it's Russian.
#6 · 1
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
There's been:

A lot of good stories this round!

The only suggestion I have here is something the story brings up but then doesn't address. May mentions the girl who killed herself when her mother died of cancer, so the question becomes: why didn't the magic that happens here happen to her? Why are the Sullivans special when every other family who suffers this sort of devastating loss isn't?

It might not be a question you want to--or can--answer, but maybe Claire could think about it at least.

#7 · 1
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
The characters and tone here is very, very effective, as others have noted. However, for all that the story is built around there being a spirit (or not), the vast tracts cut around it and the multiply-subverted reveal makes it sit oddly with me—it didn't quite connect, somehow, and alas I cannot put my finger on why. Rating this one will be difficult.

Sabas que, Cocino?!
Spanish: What did you say, bad boy?!

¿En cuál dialecto? No reconozco nada que usted presentó.
La mejor sería: ¿Que has dicho, (o qué dijo/dijiste) energúmeno?
#8 · 2
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
This story strikes uncomfortably close to home, all the more so because I was May in my version of the story, to my little sister's Claire.

So many notes here ring so very true: May, unable to abide interacting with her family; the mother, enforcing her will, perhaps her delusion, that they can be and are a happy family, and her inability to accept anything less than that, however contrived it may be; Claire, wanting nothing more than for things to go back to the way they were, as only childlike innocence can entertain.

The moment that struck me to my core:

Mom dragged a hand through her hair and stood up. “Lord above,” she whispered, pulling her bathrobe tighter around her. She glanced between her two daughters, looking at us for a moment like we were aliens invading her home. Then, shaking her head, she said, “Girls, please—it’s time for bed. Please.”

That awful, gut-wrenching moment when the mask slips, when the illusion is shattered and everyone sees each other for who they really are and how nobody is happy and everyone just... can't... anymore.

I know those feels. I suspect you do too, Writer. If this isn't at least partially based on personal experience, I'll be truly impressed with your ability to walk a mile in your characters' shoes. Either way, top marks for so thoroughly hitting the nail on the head.

Final Thought: I Only Just Now Got the Title
#9 · 4
· · >>Solitair >>Monokeras >>Dubs_Rewatcher
22 – Don't You Cry For Me

Author, I want you to be aware that this is what went down on Writeoff Chat just prior to me reading your story:

BRADEL – Well, let's see what happens if I add another to my slate. Somebody may be about to get happy.
BRADEL – "Don't You Cry for Me". I guess you're off the hook, Mono.
DUBS REWATCHER – @Brad Let's see if you think it's as good as everyone else is saying
OBLOMOV – inb4 Bradel destroys the story

With that in mind, let's see what happens when Bradel Tries to Take Down Everyone's Favorite Story. (No, really, I'll try to enjoy it just like I try to enjoy everything else, I promise.)

So, the hook. Missing word at the end of sentence two. I laughed at the idea of fresh air and less crime constituting an adventure. I feel like your intro could be a little smoother prose-wise, but I'm honestly pretty happy with it. It's giving me a lot of information and it's getting me curious enough about the characters to want to move forward. You can't ask for a whole lot more than that.

Yeah, this is a very solid start. Paragraph three is especially excellent. There's another missing word in paragraph four, though.

From the hiding-in-her-room bit, I was assuming May was the younger of the two, but based on the arrival dynamic, she's starting to look like the older. No real suggestions on this, but I think it's worth noting.

I may be a little neurotic, but I'm really disturbed that nobody cleaned up May's stir fry that was leaking on the floor.

The characterization on Claire is generally good, but every once in a while it goes a little wonky for me. For example, the backpack of stuffed animals and the stuffed animals on the bed are great to me, and I feel like the overall characterization here is of a little adult that's not fully equipped to deal with the world (which is generally a characterization I like on kids). Why do I mention the stuffed animals? Because when you move somewhere, you bring your life necessities, whatever those may be. Books, a television, a computer, cooking tools, etc. The two stuffed animals bits make me feel like Claire's stuffed animals are serving as something of her critical life tools, which is an attitude I can see a kid unconsciously having in her situation. (The situation itself is great, in that it creates a lot of conflict and tension immediately, and leaves me wanting to see what develops. I don't think you're necessarily doing a lot of heavy lifting to motivate my attention, but I'm frankly fine with that. If you've got a nice trick like a story premise that can do that heavy lifting for you, take advantage of it.)

Anyway, I was saying the characterization occasionally gets wonky for me. When Claire needs to explain to May that they live next to a graveyard, she definitely comes off as the more intellectually mature of the two (especially given my lack of clarity on ages through that section). Claire takes ripping her skirt very calmly, like it's just another thing to be taken in stride—which is in keeping with her characterization, but still feels kind of weird for a nine-year-old under considerable stress, to me. And she pays enough attention to the grunge friends' conversations to report back to the reader on Kurt Cobain, which just doesn't seem like the sort of thing a nine-year-old would care about enough to report—it feels like a clear fourth-wall break. Certain metaphors also feel strange coming from a nine-year-old. Metaphor is a hard tool to lose as a writer, but I just don't know how much I can buy a nine-year-old being able to consistently think with that level of abstraction.

This is another really minor thing, but every time you use the verb flew/fly to describe Claire's motions, it throws me a little. Obviously it's supposed to feel abrupt, but it's so at odds with the discursive narrative around it that it just feels off to me. (If I were in the business of suggesting, which I totally am, I'd suggest playing around with sentence lengths so the piece has more variable pacing based on the emotions you're trying to evoke in specific scenes and passages. If it's reflective, sure, use long and slow sentences. But when something's caught Claire's attention or gotten her stress level up (or is about to), maybe try moving to shorter and more direct sentences.)

Timing: I got really thrown off by the timeline of all this for a moment. I think the culprit is "It had been four months" (do a search on it), which in hindsight is supposed to refer to how long it's been since the fire, but I read as how long it's been since the move. When there's a later comment on Valentine's Day, I'd felt like the calendar had gone all screwy.

Well guys, that's the best I can do—some nitpicking on fairly limited or advanced stuff. This is just a plain old good, solid story. It's got an actual arc to it, including a climax where it pays off emotional tension it really does earn. I teared up for a fraction of a second at the end—even my cold, scarred, editorially excessive heart can be touched. It's just good.

This is recapitulating, but there are only two real weaknesses I see here: Claire coming off as a little too adult with no clear rationale (like a frame story where she's older and recounting this), and the generally monotone sentence pacing that leaves some of the more urgent moments a little flat. But those are some pretty high-level issues to me. This probably won't go to the top of my ballot, simply because I'm not that enamored with it as a story, for all its good execution. I think I'd like to see it shooting for a higher bar, like my current ballot leader. But this sort of solidity and execution definitely deserves some reward in my opinion. Good job, Author.

HORSE: Decline to rate
TIER: Top Contender (which I'm apparently giving out like candy this round)
#10 · 3
You're the best reviewer here. I wish you could grace every story with your insight.
#11 · 2
· · >>Bradel
BRADEL – Well, let's see what happens if I add another to my slate. Somebody may be about to get happy.
BRADEL – "Don't You Cry for Me". I guess you're off the hook, Mono.
DUBS REWATCHER – @Brad Let's see if you think it's as good as everyone else is saying
OBLOMOV – inb4 Bradel destroys the story

Did you deliberately omit my: “NOOOOOOOOO” between your two first lines and my ‘phew’ just after the second? 😜
#12 ·
· · >>Monokeras
Sorry, I did. I figured it'd be a long review. I didn't want to waste too much of my review space on chat logs...
#13 ·
How could I not forgive you? Good night! 😉
#14 · 1
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
I have to echo everyone else saying that this was quite good. Solid writing, solid characterization, solid depiction of a family falling apart because they’re not willing/capable of coping with things and are trying to get in arguments with each other… it even had the excellent “we’re going to get in an argument now” feeling that I see sometimes in real life when people are TRYING to get into an argument.

That said, your ending touched off a long argument on the Writeoff Skype about whether or not the ending actually works. The story is mostly mundane, and then the ending of the story more or less states that the ghost of Claire’s dad is hanging out in a graveyard in upstate New York.

I think the real question is whether or not it resolves the story correctly emotionally. I think it might have worked better if it was ambiguous as to whether or not she had really heard the ghost, because as-is, it seems like the ghost is there to give them emotional closure, but that is sort of a deus ex machina in an otherwise realistic story. If Claire’s behavior had given them a reason to all have a good cry/group hug/finally resolve things amongst them, I think that would have been enough without confirming that ghosts are real after all. It would have left it ambiguous as to whether or not Claire was just imagining things, or if it was real, or if she had been whistling to herself to cheer herself up, or whatever.
#15 · 4
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
Don’t You Cry For Me

Last story on my slate, and one that’s gotten quite a bit of positive comment. I’ll state right up front that this is easily on top of my ballot (though, notably, it’s not competing against some of the other stories being mentioned as top contenders yet).

The writing is uniformly excellent, minus that dratted missing word in the second sentence. The style of writing is beautifully professional. Understated. I could learn a lot from this. The interpersonal conflicts and choice of real, human characters with real, human problems is wonderful.

Okay, now the criticisms.

First, what happened to their father’s body? The story goes out of its way to say that, apparently, it’s still in the smoldering basement of the house fire that killed him. If I’m reading this correctly, that’s… well, it’s very unusual. Except in extraordinary circumstances, bodies are recovered from fires, especially house fires. Reading this was (as I put it in the chat) like reading a perfectly realistic story about a family that suddenly sits down and has raw milkweed pods for dinner. It’s just jarring.

Second, Claire seems unusually self-aware for a nine-year-old. I’m willing to overlook this because the narration is clearly in the past tense, meaning that future-Claire is relating this to us.

Finally, and critically, the ending. The sudden realization that yes, their father’s ghost found them in a graveyard in upstate New York is pretty sweeping. It dramatically changes the story, from a sad but normal look at a broken family struggling to heal, to an encounter with the supernatural. It is, as Bradel mentioned, a sudden deux ex machina, with a ghost showing up to solve the family’s feeling of brokenness.

TD hits these same points in his review, so I’ll just add another question.

What happens right after the ending? This family suddenly realized that their dead father is now haunting the graveyard by their house and luring their youngest daughter out at nights. Do they:

a) Celebrate because daddy is home
b)Call out his name in confusion and eventually convince themselves that they’re hallucinating
c)Run screaming back to the house, abandoning Claire to their ghost father, who raises her as the Forest Crone of Glenwood.

We don’t really know, but when you think about it, it’s a pretty critical question. Certainly more critical than the question of whether their father is a ghost (which, we all assumed until that final line, he wasn’t).

So, I dunno, author. You wrote a beautiful story, and then at the end you flipped the table over. It’s still tops on my slate, but I’m left wondering what it could have been.

Edit: Fridge Logic while I was out running. They never found the father's body because he didn't die. He followed them to upstate New York as part of an elaborate insurance fraud scheme.
#16 · 2
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
Not really reviewing finalists, but I'll leave a few lines on these as I rank them.

I dislike all your characters. That doesn't mean this is a bad story, but it makes it hard for me to enjoy it. Oh, sure, they've all got 'excuses', but this seems pathetic and tragic throughout, including the ending. I have a hard time believing it's a happy one. They haven't changed or solved any of their problems, and I can't see it getting better from here. Not really sure what to make of it.

Oh, and "For a moment I became one of Pavlov’s dogs," really made me wonder about the narrator's attitude to their father. It's one of the coldest and most impersonal comparisons I've read in a paragraph that's ostensibly describing affection.
#17 · 4
· · >>Not_A_Hat >>Dubs_Rewatcher
As Oblomov prodded me to do, I’m going to jot down a review written in French. Apologies, author.*

22. Don’t you cry for me

Pour commencer, je pense qu’évidemment tout le monde a dû s’imaginer qu’il s’agissait là de la fiction de Cold jusqu’à ce que lui-même se décide à écrire une critique. Tout le monde sait que Cold ne commente pas ses propres histoires, donc je pense que l’on peut l’exclure a priori de la liste des auteurs possibles, à moins qu’il n’ait voulu nous jouer un tour.

Il y a quelques petites erreurs d’étourderie çà et là, et c’est un peu étrange de les trouver dans un texte qui démontre une parfaite maîtrise de la langue. De l‘inattention sans doute, ou bien des lignes hâtivement changées dans la précipitation qui accompagne l’arrivée de l’échéance fatale. Pas de quoi casser trois pattes à un canard quand même. Quelqu’un d’autre s’est chargé de les relever à peu près in extenso.

Il gèle tard dans l’État de New-York il semble. Je ne m’attendais pas qu’en mars un étang pût être encore pris dans la glace. Mais soit.

En ce qui concerne l’histoire elle-même, il n’y a rien à dire sur le déroulement et le scénario. L’idée n’est certainement pas neuve, mais elle est habilement développée, si bien que l’on a pas cette impression de « déjà lu » que l’on pourrait avoir si l’écriture était moins fluide. En même temps, j’ai le sentiment que l’on passe beaucoup de temps sur des choses relativement peu importantes du point de vue de l’intrigue. Il est louable de nous montrer l’évolution de la mère et de la fille aînée, mais, finalement, qu’est-ce que cela apporte en fin de compte ? Pas grand chose. Disons que leur évolution ne change rien au dénouement. En comparaison, on peut se demander pourquoi la sœur cadette évolue si peu – du moins, rien n’indique dans le texte qu’elle change, comme si elle entrait dans une sorte de stase. Les conflits familiaux sont bien décrits, mais assez classiques : je ne dirais pas qu’on tombe dans le cliché, mais l’adolescente rebelle qui écoute son baladeur jusqu’à point d’heure, s’habille en gothique, etc. cela fait un peu déjà vu quand même.

La fin m’a laissé, pour ainsi dire, sur ma faim. D’abord, je ne comprends pas pourquoi l’aînée décide tout à coup de se rendre dans le cimetière. Qu’est-ce qui la pousse ? Ou bien j’ai involontairement sauté un paragraphe, ou bien je suis un peu idiot, mais je ne vois pas d’où provient cette impulsion subite. À propose de la conclusion, oui, disons que c’est un peu à l’eau de rose quand même. Je ne sais pas ce que j’aurais préféré, entre la solution qu’a choisi l’auteur et celle où il ne se passe rien. Sans doute cette dernière, qui m’aurait paru plus poignante : ce sont elles, et elles seules, qui trouvent l’énergie de résoudre leur problème, sans l’aide un peu artificielle de quelque chose qui n’est d’ailleurs jamais très bien décrit : est-ce autre chose qu’un simple sifflement du vent dans les branches des arbres ? Mystère.

Mais il n’en reste pas moins que cette histoire est, une nouvelle fois, très bien écrite, et mérite largement sa place en finale, rien que par la qualité et la beauté du style et de la langue.


* I have run the text through Google Translate. There are funny things coming out when I used idioms, but otherwise you should able to get the drift of it fairly easily.
#18 · 3
· · >>Monokeras

So, I put this into Google Translate, and here's what I got....

"For starters, I think obviously everyone had to imagine that this was fiction Cold until he himself decides to write a review. Everyone knows that Cold does not comment on his own stories, so I think we can exclude a priori from the list of possible perpetrators, unless we have wanted to play a trick.

There are a few careless mistakes here and there, and it's a bit strange to find in a text that demonstrates a mastery of the language. Inattention probably, or lines hastily changed in a rush that accompanies the arrival of the fatal date. Not enough to break a three-legged cat anyway. Someone else is responsible to raise almost verbatim.

It freezes later in the State of New York it seems. I did not expect that in March a pond could still be trapped in the ice. But either.

Regarding the story itself, there is nothing to say about the course and the scenario. The idea is certainly not new, but it is cleverly developed, so that was not the impression of "already read" that we could have if the writing was less fluid. At the same time, I feel that we spend much time on relatively few important things from the perspective of the plot. It is commendable to show us the evolution of the mother and the eldest daughter, but, ultimately, what it brings in the end? Not much. Let's say that their evolution does not change the outcome. In comparison, one may wonder why the younger sister changes so little - at least there is nothing in the text it changes, as if it came in a kind of stasis. Family conflicts are well described, but conventional enough: I would not say it falls into the cliché, but the rebellious teenager who listens to her Walkman point of time, dressed in Gothic, etc. this is a little seen anyway.

The ending left me, so to speak, on my hunger. First, I do not understand why the elder suddenly decides to go to the cemetery. What the shoot? Or I inadvertently skipped a paragraph, or I'm a little silly, but I do not see whence comes this sudden impulse. In proposing to the conclusion, yes, let's say it's a little rose water anyway. I do not know what I would have preferred, between the solution chosen by the author and the date it nothing happens. Probably the latter, which would have seemed more poignant: it is they, and they alone, who find the energy to solve their problem without using a bit artificial about something that is also never very well described: is this than a mere whistling of the wind in the trees? Mystery.

But the fact remains that this story is, again, very well written, and well worth his place in the final, only by the quality and beauty of style and language."

Seems fair enough. Except for the bit about breaking the three-legged cat. What's up with that?
#19 ·
It’s not a three-legged cat (I changed that afterwards, when I reread my review. You probably have captured the text somewhat in-between), it’s a three-legged duck.


It means just “ordinary, not standing out, minor”. So here, the sentence points out the errors are everyday and are not jarring.
#20 · 2
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
Well, we're winding down toward the end of finals and these threads are dead, but Dubs complained suggested in chat that we should get more reviews, and I guess I can do that. I've only reviewed 2 of 9 finalists, so I'll give some brief off-the-cuff thoughts on all the rest in an order determined by random.org.

Therefore, clearly this was written by Dubs, and this is an act of instant karma. :V

Congratulations, author: this is probably the first and only story that will ever get me to say that this has too much speculative fiction. Agreed with previous comments on that ending with the ghost; the sudden shift from zero to paranormal deflates the psychological climax this story was aiming for, and the "where was dad buried" ambiguity kind of unmoors the whole thing. This would have been a stronger story played straight (naturalist, or at least Quiet Boy And Moon Horse ambiguous) through the end. (Honestly, "not a single member missing" would have been much more powerful if it had meant "everyone accepts Dad's loss and each other" rather than "the ghost deux-ex-machina'ed the problems away".)

The good news is that (modulo the ending) this held my attention as a reader indifferent to literary fiction. May's teenage angst is kind of a one-note source of tension, but it's a sharp note, and the isolation and struggle to cope both are shown broadly well. There weren't any particularly eye-catching moments here -- perhaps the ghost angle, but it feels underplayed -- so this comes across as middle-slate generically solid.

Tier: (middle-slate generically) Solid
#21 · 2
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
22 – Don't You Cry For Me

Well then, right to the top of my slate you go. The emotional tone if effective if not complex. There's a well-handled tone of melancholy throughout, with subtle maybe-magic quietly intruding.

Criticisms? Of course.

At first, I thought the graveyard was a fantastic hook … except it turns out it is real. How disappointing. You might want to make that clear straight away.

Some of the arguments between Claire and May feel unconvincing and slightly formulaic. But maybe some sibling arguments really are like that, so I don't want to come down too hard on this bit.

The prose occasionally falls victim to that flaccid school of thought that all verbs must be exciting: “Pain jolted up my leg”; “My eyes flew open”. These are cliches put to no good use. More generally, the narration feels a bit too self-consciously literary. Given the subtlety of the piece otherwise, it might be worth toning it down a bit.

As for the ending … that's a tough one. I don't think you need to make this into a fully realist piece. Indeed, the notion that it was all in her head seems too obvious a place to go. And yet the current ending is just a bit too sentimental for me. You should do something different with it, but I'm not sure what. It's worth putting thought into, anyway.