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In Name Only · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Son the Father
Charlie was born a seemingly normal child.

He was born Charles Evelyn Peterson on August 6th, 1945, slightly overweight but in overall fine health. The lucky parents were Daniel and Rachael Peterson. Daniel was a salesman with poor eyesight and a receding hairline at twenty-six years old, and Rachael was a housewife with an all-consuming fear of germs.

When Charlie was born, nothing strange occurred at the hospital, in the wee warm hours of the morning. Later that day, news reached the American people that an obscure Japanese city had been destroyed with the world's first atomic bomb to be used in combat. Daniel and Rachael failed to understand the eerie synchronicity of their son's birth being accompanied by thousands of children in Japan dying simultaneously.

They would fail to understand a lot of things.

The year was 1949, and Daniel came home one evening from a somewhat successful sales trip. He came into the kitchen, tired, and asked Rachael, "Seen Charlie anywhere?"

"He's in the backyard," she said absentmindedly.

Daniel slid the back door open and gazed at Charlie, now four years old, as the boy was busy squatting by a row of rocks in the garden.

"Charlie?" said Daniel. "It's almost time for dinner."

The boy seemed intent on doing something, but his back was turned.

Daniel stepped into the backyard and looked down at his oblivious son. "Charlie," he said again. "Aren't you going to at least greet your father?"

The boy ignored him; he kept his hands on his knees, his eyes scanning the rocks.

"Son...?" Daniel felt annoyance creep into his voice.

Yet Charlie ignored him, as if Daniel was just another whisper of wind. The boy stared at a spider as it crawled out from under one of the rocks and made its way upward, until suddenly it stopped.

Or was stopped.

Daniel's eyes shifted between his son and the spider in puzzlement.

One by one the spider's legs were lifted off the rock by some invisible force, and Charlie's eyes pierced each of those legs, tearing them off one at a time as he raised the spider's body into the air without so much as lifting a finger. The spider made no sound as its limbs were torn off, and neither did Charlie.

Daniel wanted to do something, but he kept silently watching his son torture the animal.

Through all of it, Charlie appeared more bored than anything.

The year was 1953.

Charlie's condition, as one might call it, was never shown to a psychiatrist or doctor of any kind. Daniel and Rachael didn't know what to make of it; they were bewildered by their son's psychic power, but at the same time there was only so much they felt they could do about it.

Despite being a quiet child, and despite getting picked on at school regularly, Charlie didn't do so much either. True, he sometimes took to mutilating small animals—mainly bugs and rodents he found around the property—but aside from that he kept to himself. He had a few friends with whom he played on weekends and after school, and sometimes he would show them tricks he could do with his power.

Daniel didn't know if Charlie could torture a human like he would a mouse, and he didn't want to know either.

He never beat his son with a belt, or even spanked him when he might have deserved it.

Charlie was a good boy anyhow; he didn't need to be punished.

The year was 1962.

Daniel was no longer the head of the household. The money he made was decent, but Charlie had a part-time job now, and so was contributing to the household almost as much. The boy, now a young man, was lanky and aloof; he seemed frail, but he could dominate his father in a second if he needed to.

He could crush him like a bug...

But Charlie was still a good boy; he did and went as he pleased.

And so Daniel did nothing to stop him.

Instead he read the evening newspaper, catching up on the grizzly details of the latest crime reports. Apparently there had been three murders committed in a nearby town in the past month, all in a similar manner. The victims—two elderly men and a nine-year-old girl—had all been mangled and disemboweled, yet there was no trace of a weapon at any of the crime scenes.

To Daniel it must have seemed like a real mystery.
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#1 · 2
· · >>horizon >>Cassius >>Miller Minus
Alternate Title: X-Men Origins: Magneto

Boy, that Charlie sure loves to play around.

Horror minifics are really hard to get right, so I wasn't exactly looking forward to what I was getting into, once I realized what it was. It's the kind of story that fits snugly into the "evil child" sub-genre, which I'm not particularly thrilled about either. Hell, I haven't even seen "The Omen" yet, and that's supposed to be the king of "evil child" horror movies.

But I think what makes this work is in how little is actually shown. We only get to see what Charlie does with the spider, and from then on it's all implications and second-hand exposition. Surprisingly little is made of his telekinesis, which raises a few logical questions. How has this not made national news? Or at least made Charlie a top pick for a circus act. But then I guess those questions will always pop up with kid-gains-supernatural-powers stories.

The biggest problem I have here is with the prose, which strikes me as unpolished. Not because there are typos littered around, but because, for instance, there are a few too many sentences that start with "But" or "And" or the unholy "And so," which should be minimized with revision.

The mother/wife also seems underdeveloped, but then this is more about the father and the son.

I like how restrained this is as a horror story, though. By minific standards it's on the slow side, but it builds to a conclusion that hints at something truly terrible lurking just around the corner.

May or may not make the top 3 on my slate, but it's a contender.
#2 ·
· · >>Cassius >>No_Raisin
>>No_Raisin's spoiler text is pretty funny — because before even reading it that's exactly what I was thinking.

And this would, indeed, make fantastic backstory for a superhero villain. Unfortunately for my voting, I have to evaluate it as a standalone work of fiction, not the prelude to something greater. That's really the biggest fault here: it's effective prose, but doesn't feel to me like an effective minific. I mean, what's the point here? The main character is a serial killer? Uh, yeah, I got that from the text back with the pulling wings off of insects thing; why are we reading about it, though? What point is this making?

I think this does at least nod in that direction with the first scene's foreshadowing about the atomic bomb. But that foreshadowing explicitly sets up a theme that's then left dangling. I'm kind of getting subtext of the famous Oppenheimer quote, but if the story or the title ever meant to explicltly invoke that, I'm not seeing it. That's probably the core problem if you intended this as a standalone: your subtext is buried too deep for me. Compare and contrast with Ingènue, which builds all this lovely phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes metaphor and then actually tells us that, yes, that's what it's doing. That author made the explicit decision to play tour guide in the Writeoff museum instead of exhibit painter. In my case, at least, that felt like a much stronger choice.

But Charlie was still a good boy; he did and went as he pleased.

And so Daniel did nothing to stop him.

I can't follow this logic. Charlie doing his own thing instead of obeying his parents makes him a good boy? And Daniel chooses not to stop him because he's doing as he pleases?

Also, Daniel must be the densest dude in the lower 48 if he explicitly knows about Charlie's powers (and his frequent disappearances as he comes and goes as he pleases) but can't put two and two together with the newspaper article about the killings. To be honest, I could see that as a perfectly natural denial reaction, and I can also see how you're building up toward that, but I can't break my suspension of disbelief to accept it. It seems like the sort of thing where he'd have to stare at it with a sinking feeling in his gut and then explicitly tell himself "That can't be Charlie. He's a good boy." Framing it in the context of your opening scene's "They would fail to understand a lot of things" pushes that in the opposite direction.

Thanks for writing!
#3 ·
· · >>No_Raisin

Going to quickly answer horizon's questions to the best of my ability.

I mean, what's the point here?

The story is a metaphor for sociopathy. >>No_Raisin correctly had an intuitive sense about the relative unimportance of Charlie's supernatural ability; the point is that Charlie has a "condition" that his parents feel they are fearful of, but helpless to do anything about and refuse to address. The point of the supernatural ability is merely to create a literal manifestation of these issues inherent to raising a child suffering from sociopathy that can be illustrated to the reader. The real issue is predicated on the father's constant willingness to ignore his son's conduct and refusal to rein him in. Hence the title, "Son the Father" as Charlie is essentially his own parent.

The main character is a serial killer?

Charlie is not the main character. He is the character around which the plot focuses, but the main character is actually his father.

Why are we reading about it, though? What point is this making?

The thing that you're supposed to draw from those scenes is the consequences of Charlie's father's constant willful ignorance and refusal to rein in his son. You're seeing how Charlie develops and moves from merely ripping the legs off of spiders, to mutilating small animals, to finally the implication that he's killing people. Every time Charlie's father has the opportunity to intervene, he chooses not to.

I think this does at least nod in that direction with the first scene's foreshadowing about the atomic bomb

This confused me a bit too. I understood it at first as a "born under a bad omen" sort of statement, but I actually think it's meant to be read a bit deeper than that, in that Charlie's birth signals the death of others. Might be a bit too deep of a read, though.

So, this story is at the top of my slate. There are some clunky turns of phrase and this could have used probably another drafting process to make sure every line hit, but the prose is by and large punchy, effective, and respects the reader's intelligence by not spelling out every detail or becoming overindulgent in its own artistry. Which means it will get sixth place, and I'll be the only person who actually likes it. Tough break, author.

What is left to implication may leave some of the finer details a bit fuzzy, and I think there is a need for clarification in regards to what is meant when Daniel describes Charlie as a good boy. I conflate this to mean that he doesn't act out in a manner that is public or do things to earn the reprimand of others, but the phrase itself is too vague to understand what Daniel means contextually. I could also easily understand it to be an expression of denial (Charlie wouldn't do that, he's a good boy), or sort of a voice of approval (he goes out and does things, he's a good boy), and this evidently confused >>horizon.

The big theme that ties everything together is willful ignorance, which is a bit muddled by the recurrent phrase of "failing to understand things" which can be parsed to mean something significantly different. Daniel doesn't suspect Charlie because he deliberately goes out of his way to avoid knowing things that would lead him to suspect Charlie. It's not for failure of understanding (although it is a useful implication that the Petersons are below average intelligence), like the first paragraph seems to imply, and I tend to think that the phrase was crafted before the author really had a solidified idea of how the proceeding scenes would be constructed.

This is where my suspension of disbelief remains intact while >>horizon's falters: because Daniel has gone through such lengths to avoid learning any of Charlie's actual activities (whether his powers can affect humans, what he does in his spare time, or really anything meaningful about Charlie), it's apparent that Daniel doesn't poke his nose in things or question anything related to Charlie, and unless it's right in front of his own eyes, he's not going to acknowledge it. The story in the paper is so obvious to us, the reader, but Daniel has only a few instances over the course of 17 years; he's gone through lengths to ignore anything that happened to crop up and rationalize to himself that Charlie is a good boy. So it's no surprise that a suspicious killing in a nearby neighborhood (i.e. not his neighborhood) doesn't turn his sights to Charlie.

But anyways, I liked this, which is a death sentence for any story. Sorry.
#4 ·
· · >>No_Raisin
This entry is tough to rank on a slate, because while I like the story itself that is on display, I really dislike the manner in which it was told.

This story is mad tell-y. The two italicized sentences are the biggest offenders here, but it's kind of happening everywhere. The relationship between the father and son is described in plain English and I don't get to see anything change between these two. There's an inciting incident (the spider) that should create change, but instead of seeing the change we just get the timeskip, and the narrator tells us that the son is now the father. Cool.

In my uncalled-for opinion, I think the change should have been shown right after the spider's demise. After all, how did that scene end? The father was getting annoyed at his son for not paying attention to the dinner call. What does he do now? How quickly does he go from impatience to, "You know what forget I said anything dinner's whenever haha up to you haha."

I think the reason this bugged me so much is that tell-y narration does more damage to stories that are meant to be more emotionally evocative. And horror is one of the most evocative genres out there. I feel cheated out of the fear, the dread, the sadness that I was supposed to feel.

It's interesting that you've made this story this way, while simultaneously making the excellent decision to leave Charlie's "business" undescribed. Because as >>No_Raisin points out that's a great way to get us to impale ourselves on our own imaginations. I wish there was more of that in the father-son relationship.

That's all I got! Thanks for writing and best of luck to you!
#5 ·
· · >>Cassius >>Dubs_Rewatcher >>No_Raisin >>No_Raisin
I'm not sure why Cassius like that story so much.

This is pretty boring. You start from a fairly common premise, a boy with telekinetic powers, but you don't do much with it. You could have got inspired by this episode of Star Trek TOS.

Instead of exploring what possessing a superpower could do on the psyche of a boy, you tone it down, until you get a pretty tasteless result. First of all, you ruin about all suspense by explicitly telling us straight up the boy won't be normal and his parents are blockheads. We get that confirmed, and then… nothing happens. The boy is dull. His parents are dull. Their life is drab. Then it turns out the boy is a serial killer, but we’re not even certain, and we don’t even know why he gets like this.

It seems to me you were also pretty dejected when you wrote this, and you let that seep into your protagonists. This is not bad, but it’s pretty much a squandering of resources.
#6 ·
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher >>No_Raisin >>Pascoite

You could have got inspired by this episode of Star Trek TOS.

#7 ·
· · >>No_Raisin

If anything, I was thinking more Chronicle.
#8 ·

#9 ·
· · >>No_Raisin
This is... this is weird.

I, too, am of a mind of "Charlie X" here, and I have to think the name is more than a coincidence. Except that the adults here aren't cowed by him; they don't even contemplate a confrontation.

The delivery method feels like a documentary or an article. More the former in tone, as the latter would aim to state a conclusion. That's probably the part that engages with me the least: his father never considers disciplining him. It feels more out of apathy than fear. We never see the mother's side of it, but then the title kind of leaves her out of it, too.

I just find the framing device or delivery method or whatever it is really strange. That hack >>Cassius mentions The Twilight Zone, and... yeah. That kind of voice-over thing suits how this feels to me. The whole "I'm going to introduce a topic and show you a narrative about it, then at the end, I'm going to close by telling you what you learned." To be honest, this feels very heavy-handed for the most part. Only a few of Daniel's actions seem like you trust the reader to figure anything out.

Then there's the unfortunate grizzly/grisly mix-up.

I just bounced off this one pretty hard, because I don't see anything here that isn't also in the many similar stories out there.
#10 ·
· · >>No_Raisin
The atomic bomb line really oversells things, I think, so far as mood setters go. And similarly I think the italics at the end is out of place. Actually, I guess that is kind of the problem in general is that I feel a lot of it is a bit overplayed. I thought what you were going for was just that his dad understood what a monster Charlie was and refused to act out of fear... but the frame at the beginning and end seems to indicate it might be ACTUAL ignorance as opposed to willful ignorance, which I think is less impactful. But I might be wrong there.

I think you really want to tighten up Daniel's story and make it clearly about the nature of his ignorance.

Prompt relevance... father in name only. That's pretty good. Hits the story theme quite cleanly. Thumbs up.