Episode 86 (18 January 2024): “In space no one can hear you scream. But what if you’re deep in the backwoods, in an isolated cabin on a dead-end trail?” Karen set aside the book. A horror story was not ideal reading for the off-grid log cabin Peter had booked for their thirtieth wedding anniversary weekend, especially as she was alone in bed, listening to wind from a storm whistle through cracks in the doors and windows.
- The story must be set at a remote house or cabin
- Include three different three-word sentences in a row
- And the words SPACE, KNOCK, WHISTLE, and MYTH (or longer, retaining the original spelling).
SPACE gave me the opening line, a homage to the Alien movie: “In space no one can hear you scream”. And the KNOCK could only be at the front door in the middle of a stormy night. From there, I set about writing my first horror story.
I also wanted another thread to run through the story: Karen’s dissatisfaction with her marriage and Peter’s self-centredness. And for these to combine and leave the knock at the door unexplained and spooky!
Although the Writers’ Centre judges longlisted A Knock at the Door for November’s Furious Fiction, I wanted to change its ending from the moment I submitted the story. In the original version, Peter arrived the next day. There was no sign of Karen’s car (he assumed she’d parked around the side), and the storm had cleared. Feeling pleased with his remote getaway choice for their anniversary, Peter entered the cabin, and the story ended the same as in this version, with Karen missing and a knock at the door.
As I commented in a 2020 Tall And True blog post about my first Furious Fiction, A Song on the Radio, Episode 4 of the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, by its name and nature, the challenge doesn’t afford writers time to reflect on their writing. And returning to share my stories on Tall And True or to narrate them for Tall And True Short Reads, I’ve always done edits, generally tweaking a word here and there. But in addition to rewriting the ending, A Knock at the Door wins the prize for the most tweaks! (I’d like to thank Amanda from the Not Quite Write Podcast for suggesting one of the tweaks.)
It’s also the first story where I’ve had the chance to use an adjective I learned reading the fantasy writer Steven Donaldson’s trilogy, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, as a twenty-one-year-old in 1983, “preternatural”. Perfect for describing the dark, stormy night outside the log cabin’s front door!
I’m also proud of the three different, three-word sentences, the mantra Karen taught her adult children when they were young and woke from nightmares, none of which needed tweaking from the original version:
Take a breath. Let it out. Don’t be afraid.
You can read all my short stories, blog posts and other writings on Tall And True. You can also buy my short story collections, including my latest Tall And True Microfiction anthology, from the Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, and Kobo online bookstores.
The next episode of Tall And True Short Reads will be released shortly. In the meantime, please check your feed or the podcast website, TallAndTrueShortReads.com, for earlier episodes from all four seasons, and follow or subscribe to the podcast and rate and review it via your favourite app — doing so helps me share my storytelling.
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I hope you enjoy this spooky tale. You can listen to the episode on Acast (above), the Tall And True Short Reads website, or find it and four seasons of other podcast episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and all popular podcasting apps.
© 2024 Robert Fairhead
N.B. You might like to read my blog post introducing Tall And True Short Reads – Season Four.
Note: This post originally appeared on Tall And True.
Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of Robert Fairhead. A writer and editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please see Robert's profile for further details.