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Under the Surface · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
Dies Iræ
Soft knocks at the door. I snatch the remote and shut the TV off, then kill the light. I freeze in my recliner. If I could stop breathing, I would.

But I can’t.

So I breathe as little as possible, and wait. Hopefully, the pounding of my heart makes no sound. I close my eyes. Go away!, I think. Go to hell were you belong. Leave me alone!

Knocks. Again. Louder.

It’s him, like every evening. He mustn’t know I’m home. If I could retreat in the darkest corner of the room, become a roach and sneak through one of the cracks in the ceiling, or even a bacteria, a virus creeping on the floor, I would.

But I can’t.

So I just remain stock-still, not daring to move a muscle. In the ponderous silence, the ticking of the clock sounds like the beating of a drum playing a military march. How many times do I hear its rhythmic click before a muffled sound of receding steps finally creeps under the door. Is it my imagination, or do I also hear a faint scoffing laugh?

How long will I be able to take that? I cast a glance at the cabinet. The gun is inside, waiting.

No. I can’t give him that pleasure. Not now. Not so easily.

And yet.

I’ve never been a sucker for alumni parties. Frankly, they’ve always kind of bored me. I’m not really the gregarious type. Worse, I’m most probably the epitome of the loser. Brilliant student, Ph.D in theoretical physics, now eking out a living as an ordinary bank clerk. Nothing to really brag about. I’m not even sure the bouncer would let me in to such shindigs. Sorry bloke, failures are not admitted, go back home to swig your booze and watch your favourite TV show.

But that night was different. That night, I had seen on the invitation, Ben would deliver a short speech. Ben, my former roommate. If my path could be described as a parabola doggedly pointing towards rock-bottom, his was the exact opposite. Since he’d left school, his career had skyrocketed. First laboratory head at Dupont, soon CTO. After a couple of years he had resigned and started his own company. Now he was CEO of a big Li-ion battery manufacturer whose clients included Samsung, Tesla, Apple and many others. Millions of dollars turnover, plants all over the world. In a few years, starting from scratch, he had built an empire and now, I imagined, he slept on a mattress padded with grands. Add to that three chaotic weddings and his reputation for being a ruthless poker shark, and you’ll understand why he was regularly featured in both economical and gossip magazines.

Needless to say, I’d lost all contact with him. Why would he have bothered about his former roommate, that pathetic goofball who wasn’t even able to get a remotely decent job? But tonight maybe we could touch base? I fiddled with the knot of my specially-bought-for-that-occasion tie. And maybe, who knew, he could offer me a job? Why not? I gazed at my face. Hair well groomed, clean shaven. Bright eyed and bushy tailed. Perfect.

A quick glance at my watch told me it was already 8:00 PM. The cab I’d called must’ve been waiting for me down in the street already. I grabbed my coat from the stand, shoved my keys in a pocket and plunged down the flight of stairs, slamming the door to my flat behind me.

Well, it was sort of a miracle, but I got in. And there he was, delivering a lecture on the current trends in battery technology, standing on the rostrum behind the lectern, impeccably decked up. Opposite him a room full of people who lapped up his words like they were chunks of a rare dainty. And when the brief speech was over, everyone applauded, stood up and, at the speaker’s signal, made their way to the buffet served at the far side of the room.

It was difficult to reach him. People stuck around him like flies around vinegar. It was unnerving. Standing at the opposite side of the long trestle table, I killed the time tapping some emails on my phone and drinking juice over juice, hoping somehow for a respite, a short lapse during which I could approach him and talk to him face to face.

One hour later, after countless glasses and useless messages, as the assistance began to thin, the opportunity arose. There was no one around him anymore and he was helping himself to a glass of wine. His back was turned to me as I padded to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey buddy!” I said

He spun around and looked at me. At first, I read only surprise on his face and for a flitting moment I feared he wouldn’t recognise me. But suddenly his face brightened and a large smile popped up. “Gary!” he shouted and grasped my shoulders with his large, powerful hands that could’ve befitted a rugbyman. “Old buddy. Where have you been all these years?”

“Well, I guess not very far. I wasn’t nearly as successful as you!”

“Oh come on!” he answered. “You were the most able student in the class.” He sipped from his glass. “Einstein reborn!”

I couldn’t tell if he was being ironic or not. “Maybe too much,” I ventured. I picked up one of the last piece of toast that was left and bit into it. “But if you wonder, I’ve been rotting away. I’m a humble bank clerk, you know. And—”

His eyes widened in surprise. “You’re kidding me, ain’t ya?” he blurted.

“No. Unfortunately, no.”

Suddenly he burst into loud laughter. Everyone around us stopped talking and looked at us, wondering what was happening. Seeing that nothing was wrong, they averted their gazes and resumed their conversations. “Look,” he said once he had regained a semblance of composure, “I really don’t have time tonight” – he shot a glance at his watch and then fished a business card out of his pocket – “but there’s my cellphone number on this. Call me any day, we’ll arrange a lunch and discuss it. Right?”

“Wow!” I said. “Thanks! I mean, don’t feel obliged—”

“Shut up, you goofy meathead!” he replied as he put on another of his bright smiles. “I’d be a dickhead if I didn’t help you after all you’ve done for me back then!”

He placed his glass back on the table. “Okay, I must really haul arse. You call me, right?” He gently slapped my cheek twice and winked. “See you soon Gary!” he said. He strode trough the room towards the vestibule.

Suddenly something came back to my mind and I ran after him. “Hey, Ben!” I shouted out.

He stopped and turned around. “Yeah?” he asked. “What? You forgot to tell me you’re the father of eight?” He smiled.

I chuckled. “No. I mean, could you just give me the address of your tailor? Your jacket is perfect. I want the same.”

I couldn’t really tell what happened inside his head at this moment. His smile was snuffed out, almost as if a shadow had passed over his face. “Well,” he finally said, “he’s a very peculiar guy. An old ornery codger, you know. I’m not sure he’d accept to work for you.”

I was intrigued now. “Come on!” I replied. “I understand you want to keep his name close to the vest, but don’t play it solo. Share the dope with an old friend!”

He gazed at me intently. “Alright,” he whispered after a while, “his name is Di Grazia. Salvatore Di Grazia. Gimme the card I just handed to you. Hurry!”

While I was retrieving his business card from my pocket, he drew a pen out of his. I handed the card over to him. He flipped it, pinned it against the wall and scrawled an address and a phone number. “Here,” he said to me when he was done, handing the card back to me. “Call him first. He owns no public shop. He works in his den, so you’ll have to get an appointment. Tell him I gave you his number, right?”

“I will. Thanks!” I put the card back into my pocket. “Take care!”

“So do you!” he answered. He smiled again, a strange, almost forced smile that looked to me more like a grimace, then turned around and vanished through the doorway.

The tailor was exactly like Ben had described him: a small, cranky old codger with a slight hunch back and a sickly greenish skin. But however worn-out he looked, behind his squinted eyes his pupils still seemed to burn with living fire. “Huh,” he said to me with a strong Italian accent after I’d introduced myself, “so is Ben who gave you the my address. How strange of him.”

“Well, we were roommates in college. We know each other well. But, if you don’t want to—”

“Is okay. Is okay,” he cut in. “Please come inside. What you want from me?”

I took a few steps inside and looked all around at the room. It was gloomy, barely lit by two or three shrunken high-perched windows. All the walls were lined with shelves on which thousands of fabric rolls were carefully stowed. I whistled to myself. There must’ve been one roll for every combination of material and colour. It was a genuine treasure trove. “You remember the jacket you made for Ben? I want the same, but in darker grey.”

“Hmmm.” He shuffled to a ladder, lugged it a few feet aside and, much to my surprise, deftly climbed up to a high rung. From there he fetched a couple of heavy rolls that he dropped on to the ground where they landed with a dull thump. Then he climbed down as easily as he’d climbed up, picked the rolls up and put them on a workbench, unrolling them slightly. “Which like you best?” he asked in his broken English.

I settled for a dark grey fabric with a nice satiny appearance. With the help of a stool and a tape measure, he took whatever sizes he needs. “Perfetto,” he said. “I am done. Your jacket will be delivered to your house in two weeks. Is good for you?”

“Any deposit?”

“No,” he replied. “First you try the jacket when it will be made. Then we will discuss price.”

“Very well, then.” I wondered why the guy trusted me. After all, I could just take the jacket and disappear.

I reached out and he shook my hand in a feeble, almost slimy shake. “Arrivederci!” he said and broke into a smarmy smile.

“Good bye!” I replied as he saw me out.

“Arrivederci signore,” he repeated behind me as I walked down the corridor. I stopped and turned around to watch his weird face set into the door crack, then rushed down the stairs to the entrance door.

Two weeks later, the jacket had arrived. The tailor had delivered it personally to the janitor, who had given it to me when I’d come back from work. I unwrapped it and held it at arm’s length. It looked perfect. I walked to the mirror and put the jacket on.

It fitted my shoulders perfectly, and hung nicely down. It wasn’t too large, but it wasn’t too narrow either. Nor was it too short or too long. I was amazed by the craftsmanship. I spun round and strained my neck to examine me from all points of view. Not a single flaw. This literally was a masterpiece of sartorial work.

Suddenly I came back to Earth. This was going to cost me an arm and a leg. Fearing the worst, I reluctantly walked back to the table where the leftovers of the wrapping still lay. I sifted through the pieces of paper and plastic, searching for a note or an envelope, but didn’t find anything.

I was a bit baffled. Maybe I should call him? But then another idea popped into my mind: maybe he had left a note in one of the jacket’s pockets? Without much conviction, I slid a hand into the right pocket. Empty. I tried the left one.

Uh. There was something inside, and it felt like a chit of paper. I pulled it out.

It was a fifty-pound note.

Oh shit!, I thought. The tailor had probably forgotten it inside, or it had fallen into the pocket unbeknownst to him. What should I do? I dithered for a moment. Fifty pounds was no small sum, and I often barely made ends meet. No. I couldn’t do that. The guy was old, and he probably needed this bill as badly as me. I fetched an envelope from a drawer, slid the bill inside, sealed it and wrote the tailor’s name on it. That was settled. I’d go to see the guy tomorrow during lunch break and give his money back. At the same time, I could bargain over the price of the jacket.

It was 12:00 PM. I said goodbye to the last client, then closed my station.

“Lunch at the tacos joint?” Jeff, who ran the station next to mine, asked.

“No,” I answered, “I have a short errand to run downtown. Shouldn’t be long but it’s urgent, so I’ll skip lunch today.” I put my new jacket on and plunged my hand into the left pocket where I’d left my car keys four hours before.

I must’ve nearly fainted because the next thing I knew I was sat in my chair and Jeff looked worryingly at me. “How do you feel?” he asked me.

“I don’t know,” I replied. My head was reeling. “What has happened?”

“You’ve turned as pale as a ghost and began to sway. I grasped your arm in the nick of time before you’d crumple to the floor and managed to have you sit. You don’t remember?”

I shook my head. “Not at all.”

“Hold on,” Jeff said. “Don’t move! I’m gonna get you some water.”

Jeff rushed to the toilets and came back with a glass of water which he handed to me. I drank it to the last drop. I felt a bit better.

“Are you feeling okay?” Jeff asked again.

“Yeah,” I answered. “I think I’ll go home, rest for a while and see a GP. Tell Judy I’ll take this afternoon off.”

“No worries, mate. With what I’ve just witnessed, she would’ve surely sent you home anyway. Do you feel like driving? Want me to give you a lift?”

“’s fine,” I said as I stood up. “I’ll manage. Thanks a bunch!”

“Think nothing of it!”

I ambled to the door and exited. The crisp air outside slapped me in the face. I focused back on reality. There was no time to lose. I strode to my car, and peeled off the parking lot. As I pulled onto the main street, I shove my left hand once into the left pocket.

There was another note in it.

How many hours did I spend with that jacket that day? I’d lost all sense of time. Of course the first thing I had done when I’d got home had been to extract the note from the pocket, only to find there was a second one waiting when I put my hand back into it. And a third. A forth. And so on. Ad libitum? It seemed so.

I was sitting in front of my table, a table covered with tens of thousands of fifty-pound notes. I felt giddy. How much money was hoarded there I had no idea. Probably more than I had ever earned. I was stumped. How had all that cash come into that pocket for me to harvest? But, to be honest, under the surface bewilderment, I didn’t care that much: as long as those notes were real and genuine, that was fine with me. And they were. They were crisp and when I crumpled them they gave out that characteristic smell of both paper and ink that only freshly printed banknotes possess.

But for now I was fried. I went to bed and set the alarm clock to go off the next morning at six.

I could hardly fall asleep that night. My brain refused to let go and rest. What would I do will all that money? Buy a decent house? A brand new car? Travel? Everything eddied and twirled in my mind, and when I finally fell asleep, it was to be caught in uneasy dreams I kept no memories of.

The next day I collected all the money, divided it into ten heaps and, after calling in sick, drove to every town around, stopping at each bank branch. Ten towns, ten different banks, ten different accounts. Just to avoid attracting attention.

Back home, I scribbled a letter to my employer explaining I had been diagnosed with a very rare and malign form of disease that could not be treated here. I had to travel to abroad for an unknown period of time, and so I requested to be put on extended, open-ended leave.

I went out to the post office to send the letter and, on my way back, swung by the supermarket to buy some upscale food and grab the daily edition of the local newspaper. Back home, my attention was immediately drawn to the headline: in the neighbouring city, a wild fire had raged all night, devastating a building owned by a major insurance company. Everything, including the safes that held thousands of pounds, had been engulfed by the blaze. Two fire fighters had died while battling against the flames. The investigation would be tricky, given that nothing was left of the building.

How unfortunate! I thought, filling my glass from a bottle of Lagavulin special reserve I just had bought. Then I leafed through the business pages, wondering if I couldn’t buy shares rather than let my newly acquired money dormant on my accounts. Once I had drunk up my scotch, I turned to my jacket, and began to fish new, freshly printed notes from it. Five hours later, I was done. Twenty thousand new notes, or one hundred thousand pounds, methodically extracted one after the other. I went to bed, and, for the first time in my life, double-locked the door.

The next day, after depositing my money in safe places, I halted for lunch at one of the swankiest restaurants of the area, ordering a wonderful émincé de poulet à la crème d’échalote braisée accompanied by a Bordeaux 1996 grand cru.

I was relaxing in my chair after the dessert, waiting for coffee to be served, half-listening to the radio station softly aired through invisible loudspeakers in the ceiling, when the voice of the news anchorman began relating the aftermath of a violent fight which had opposed two rival gangs over the control of drugs dealing in a London suburb. Five people had been shot dead and four left in critical condition, while a wallet carrying one hundred thousand pounds had disappeared during the incident.

One hundred thousand pounds? the sum rung a bell in my head. What a strange coincidence, I thought. Then, mainly unconcerned, I relapsed into my post-lunch apathy.

Except that I couldn’t fall asleep the next night. My mind was seething. As I rolled and rolled under my sheets I couldn’t help pondering. What if that was more than a simple coincidence? What if…? No, I said to myself, you’re a scientist. There was no possible relation between a gangster fight and the money I’d drawn out of the jacket. It was preposterous. It was just a stupid coincidence, nothing more. I should stop torturing myself.

And yet… I thought about the two hundred thousand pounds I’d managed to grab tonight. What would happen? Nothing, the logical part in me claimed. But the other half was unconvinced. I spent the night squirming and when morning came at last, I slipped into my clothes and dashed, with red eyes and disheveled hair, to the nearest newsstand to buy the first edition of the Times.

There, before my eyes, printed in page one was the picture of a smashed cash-in-transit vehicle. I anxiously jumped to the article. It said that last night, in Southampton, an armoured cash-in-transit vehicle had been attacked by thugs equipped with a bazooka. The vehicle had not resisted the impact and both the driver and his assistant had been killed. Apparently, the gangsters had only been able to steal two hundred thousand pounds from the boot before before a police patrol car had shown up. In the shooting that had taken place, one gangster had been killed and a policeman badly hurt. The other hoodlums had fled away, but their car had apparently slid in a bend. Tumbling over the road, it had then crashed against a roadside tree, before catching fire. All passengers had been burnt alive. The money had not been recovered.

Two hundred thousand pounds. There was no doubt now. Or was there? Each time I fetched money from my jacket, something bad happened somewhere in the world: a crime, an incident, a robbery, a burglary. But on the other hand the rational part of me denied that conclusion. It was clearly impossible, it said to my other half. It was just a series of bizarre coincidences, but only coincidences.

I stayed all day long in front of the jacket wondering what I should do. At the end, I decided to toss a coin. Head, I would continue. Tail, I would quit.

The coin landed head up.

From that day on, I decided to shut myself from the external world. No more newspapers, no more radio, no more TV. Nothing would reach me anymore. With the money I extracted so easily from my jacket, I acquired several manors and mansions all over the world. I bought a yacht, a private jet, and several luxury cars too. I morphed into a lazy sybarite, a voluptuous drifter. A month in Africa, another one in South America, another one on a cruise in the tropical seas. I started dating amazing women I could only have dreamt of in my former life. Sometimes I would spend entire semesters in ritzy hotels, wallowing in lush couches, cherry-picking from scrumptious dishes, and at night indulging in wild orgies where booze flowed galore and statuesque girls were low-hanging fruits for me to pick. I gained weight, became pot-bellied. I developed a cocaine addiction. I evolved into a sort of modern Nero, whose only interests were pigging on food, snorting coke and praying on women. Only food, drugs and sex grabbed my attention anymore. And, much to my surprise, never did anyone inquire about my wealth, not even the revenue services of the various countries I had opened accounts in. I glided through the whole Panama papers scandal as if nothing had happen. No one bothered me. I lived in my bubble, alone on cloud nine. I didn’t even bat an eye the day I heard that Ben, my former roommate who had given me the tailor’s address, had committed suicide. Too bad for him, I thought, before dismissing his name from my mind.

I kept freewheeling through life, year after year. I orbited over the world, indifferent to its mishaps and disasters in which, I knew, I indirectly took part, but to such little extent that I could easily whitewash my guilt.

Until that fateful day.

Oh, I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was spending the summer at the old Scottish castle I had renovated, set in the middle of the Highlands. That day, I woke up under a beautiful sun and, for once, instead of waiting for my breakfast to be served in my bedroom, I stood up and decided to help myself in the kitchen. What a silly idea!

Just after entering the kitchen, my eyes fell on the local newspaper, probably left there by the chef or one of his assistants. Once again, the headlines related a terrible event. But I didn’t read them. Because right under, spread over the page, I recognised the pictures of two of my former colleagues, back when I used to work at the bank, back when I didn’t own my precious jacket. Suddenly shuddering from head to toe, I grabbed the newspaper and began to read. There had been a hold-up in my old bank. Two clerks, those on the pictures, had been killed. The robbers had bushwhacked their way to the safes and seized the contents of two of them before being forced to escape by incoming cops. During the hot pursuit that had followed, their car had run over a child, who had died, and crashed into a wall. All had died. The money had inexplicably disappeared (needless to say, it had finally landed on to my own safe yesterday night). A thorough shakedown was currently in progress to recover it.

Enough! Enough! I thought. This cannot go on. I can’t stand it anymore. I must get rid of that wicked jacket at once.

I didn’t even have breakfast. Instead, I slipped into whatever clothes I found at hand, shoved the jacket into a plastic bag together with a tank of petrol, took one of my Jaguars and floored it along the country road to the remotest place possible. There I pulled over, and rushed along a small path that led in the middle of nowhere. After an hour, I came to a place where, between a hedge of boulders, a merry burn flowed and gurgled. There, alone in the wild, I drew the jacket out the bag, doused it with petrol and, after taking a few steps backwards, set it ablaze with a match.

I felt deep relief in contemplating that fucking thing burn up. All the guilt that had built up inside me during these years was suddenly released. I didn’t need it any more. I was rich. I had money enough to carry on living as I was until my death, and far beyond, if I’d been able to. Besides habit, there was no reason for me to continue wringing that jacket for fresh notes. The world would be happier without it.

But as the last flame was about to die out, I heard a voice behind me. “Too late!” it said. “Too late!” in an unmistakable accent, followed by a soft maniacal laugh. I whirled around, but no one was there. Suddenly overwhelmed with fear, I frantically ran up the path, looking high and low for someone or footprints on the soft ground. But there was none. Was it a figment of my imagination? After a quarter of an hour I abandoned the chase and decided to go back home.

When I reached the place where I had parked the car, it had disappeared. Shit, I thought. In my hurry I probably have left the keys on the dashboard. Someone has come and stolen the car. No big deal. I can always buy another one.

The purr of an oncoming car snatched me out of my reverie. I waved to it and it skidded to a halt next to me. The driver lowered the window and inquired what had happened to me. I answered that I had got lost, and asked if he could give me a lift home, or at least to some place nearer to it.

“Where do you live?” he said.

“At the Red castle,” I answered.

He looked at me as if I was a madman. “The Red castle?” He broke into laughter. “But… But it’s been abandoned for decades. You’re not a ghost, are you?” He giggled.


”Sure, there’s no one living there since… the fifties I think? Get in. I’ll show you, it’s on my way.”

I got into the car and let him drive me home. But the guy was right. Instead of the brand new castle I owned, an old, ruined estate with crumbling walls eaten up by moss and ivy. The entrance gate was rusted and shaky. It was closed by a makeshift chain attached to a padlock. No one had been living here for years.

The guy dropped me at the nearest town. There, I ran to the ATM to get some money, but my credit card wouldn’t work. I phoned my banks: all my accounts had been inexplicably emptied. Nothing was left, not even a penny. My stocks and shares? Sold out. My gold ingots? Vaporised. My safes? Void. My properties? Vacant lots or dilapidated, ramshackle buildings. My private jet? A wreck. I didn’t even check on my yacht or my other cars.

And now?

Now I have returned to my old station, and resumed my work as a clerk. All my former colleagues were amazed when I showed up out of the blue. They wanted to know what the mysterious illness I had caught was, and if I had been finally healed. For all answer, I muttered a made-up story about hospitals and care homes. And when I first sat again behind the counter, my heart skipped a beat as I saw, displayed on the wall, the portrait of the two employees who had died in that appalling hold-up.

Who had died because of me.

Of course, I could’ve told them that it was all my fault, but who would’ve believed me anyway? So I kept silent. I took to living with the remorse and the pain.

But since last week, each evening at 8 PM, someone climbs up the stairs to my flat and knocks at my door. Oh, I don’t need to open to know who it is. Each time, I try and pretend I’m not home, and after a few minutes he goes away, only to come back the day after. Maybe I could run away, move to a remote hideout in the middle of the jungle, or on a deserted island. But I know that, sooner or later, he would find me, even if I was able to flee as far as the other end of the universe. There is no escape from him.

One day, I know I will have had it. That day, I will stand up, trudge to the door and open. He will be there, standing on the threshold, with his squinted eyes and his bent smile. And, without a word, he will hand me the final bill for all the evil I did.

That accursed tailor.
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#1 · 1
· · >>Monokeras
Review written from a phone, so excuse the brevity.

Overall I would describe this story as "fine." It is a classic Twilight Zone premise, reasonably competently executed, and that did make it fun to read. But we get very little characterization of the main character, it is hard to empathize with his struggles, and the story doesn't really put much detail on it or add anything to the twist beyond what becomes obvious by the middle of the story.

Basically, while I don't have much bad to say about this story, I don't have much good to say about it either. It would really have benefited from a bigger insight the characters mental state during these events, so we can have a better idea of what drives him to these actions.
#2 ·
· · >>Monokeras
Writer, one of my main sticking points with this story is the protagonist. Gary isn't just dense as a brick (although he certainly is that), he's shallow. He seems to buy a yacht and half a dozen manor houses not because he wants them, but because that's what rich people do, right? He acquires all this stuff just to have it, so it's hard to sympathize when he loses it all as quickly as he obtained it. The fact that these acquisitions are summarized into a list creates the impression that not only do these things mean nothing to him, they shouldn't matter to us, either.

Doubtless this was partially your intention, but you've done such a good job of demonstrating how much of a pillock Gary is that he's entirely unsympathetic once it comes time for him to pay the piper. You have an excellent level of tension in your intro, but it's dispelled by the time it comes full circle at the end.

Also, that final line is unnecessary. It's plenty obvious who's come a'knocking, and the preceding paragraph would would have been an excellent way to end the story.
#3 ·
· · >>Monokeras
I'm a fan of this story, although I'm not sure how exactly the prompt connects to it. Perhaps someone can help me understand.

But regardless, I like it. It's well written, only needs a bit of editing, and is paced well.

Overall, the issues with the protagonist mentioned above make probably the largest barrier. I was okay with him being deplorable because I think that works for this kind of story, but I had a hard time believing his actions. The "you're a scientist" line felt particularly lame, because he should already know that real world laws don't apply to him anymore what with the money wellspring in his pocket. And for a prodigy scientist, he seems really keen to avoid seeking out the truth. Actually, on that note, why have you made him an all-star scientist (academically, anyways)? Why not have him be a drop-out who doesn't accept blame for his own mistakes? One who sneaks into his old buddy Ben's class reunion to sneer at him, only to be taken by how successful and charming the guy's become and decide, "hey, I'm gonna be successful like him, and I'll start with getting me one of those swank-ass jacket, damn son."

I think this story would benefit from better-established rules surrounding the jacket, too. Neither Ben nor the tailor even hint at what it does, and there isn't a, "be careful what you wish for", line or the like that can slowly dawn on the main character. Perhaps he could get a taste of the jacket and go back to the tailor again to find out more, and then maybe the tailor can drop a line about the "true cost" of the jacket when Gary asks about pricing. After all, the tailor said they would discuss price after he tried it on, not several yachts down the line!
#4 ·
· · >>Monokeras
You're tipping your hand too soon with the opening; by introducing the mood from the end of the story at the start, you loose a lot of progression. I already knew how this would end after the fainting incident, so I really found it hard to engage with this.

Also, Ben. Ben seems like he's going to be a big part of the story after he gives the MC the tailor's address, but then he just vanishes? That's no good.

The last part has a lot more summary, and feels a lot faster-paced than the opening. Right after he draws a conclusion between the crimes and the jacket, the story just kinda zips along to the ending, without really pausing or slowing down.

Other than that... this is a pretty straightforwards story. I'd like to see more structure surrounding the purchase of the jacket, a few more hints and foreshadowing, maybe some sort of vague deal the MC agrees to hesitantly, so it seems like he knows what he's getting into a bit more? This sort of tragedy is often predicated on the idea that MC's own flaws have brought about his downfall. Here, instead, it's mostly ignorance, which isn't very satisfying.

Still, I enjoyed this for the most part. Good work, even if the concept is an old one.

Still, I did enjoy this.
#5 ·
· · >>Monokeras
This is the kind of introduction where something shocking and exciting happens! ...... later on. Then we rewind to the beginning and we'll catch up to the opening scene at the end.

I've seen this a lot, especially in TV shows, but also some books and movies (both versions of Fight Club begin the same way). I don't even know the name for this (can you tell I don't browse TV Tropes?) but I've seen it used both well and poorly. The great ones can use it to twist your expectations, you're constantly thinking about that mystery, yet when it finally comes full circle it's not quite what you assumed it would be. The crappy stories just seem to use it as a desperate teaser, like pleeeease audience, we promise this will be fun later! Don't change the channel!!! and then you have to put up with the real beginning of the story which turns out to be extremely dull.

Anyway, the point here is that I can't tell if this is justified, here in this fic, without reading the whole story. Which I said I wouldn't do. So without knowing the full context, I guess I'll admit it's pretty good. Both the scary suspense teaser, and the guy who knows the rich CEO, they're both interesting enough to stand on their own. Maybe it's a cheap shot to do it this way, but it does work as a hook, and that's all I said I would focus on.
#6 · 2
· · >>Monokeras
tl;dr: A very classic Twilight Zone style tale that loses a chunk of its impact by not starting or ending in the right place.

While the opening to this story is relatively exciting and does an excellent job of working as a hook, I think this story misses out on some really killer impact by positioning its big emotions around the repayment to the suit maker. This is a rather human tale of callous greed. The protagonist doesn't really learn anything and his karmic punishment... isn't really that karmic. The devil collecting his dues and all, but the dues come long after he's had great happiness despite the horrible things he's done. It ends up not being overly satisfying.

I feel you'd get a little more impact out of ending on one of the hammers. Let him finish by grappling with the horror of what he's done when he discovers the cost of his money, or let him live his life in terror after he loses the jacket, never knowing if it'll be his life that's claimed for cash next. And really lean into the vileness of this guy. I think the story kinda downplays what a monster he is. Lean into that, show us what a fall really looks like. Make us hate this guy, because he deserves it.
#7 · 1
Good luck to the finalists, and thanks to all for the feedback!

>>Miller Minus

Dies Iræ

This was inspired by a Dino Buzzati’s short story called La giacca stregata, the bewitched jacket, which I expanded quite a lot.

It’s always difficult for me to get all my ducks in a row for a long story because I can hardly enjoy writing stretches longer than half an hour during week-ends, due to family chores and stuff. So it makes for a rather disjointed process of writing, which leads to somewhat unsatisfactory results.

But I’m glad it outwitted Andrew’s guessing and that most of you loved it. Thanks guys! ❤️

See you in 6 weeks!