She Came From The Hill
by Janice Sperry
Nothing thrived at the far end of the park. Even laughter died at the first stunted tree. Clay could have skipped the shortcut had Alex, who had the communication skills of a bad WIFI connection, called an hour earlier. Proper packing takes time. In five months he’d get his license and could drive around the park. Five months never felt so far away.
Clay tightened the straps on his heavy overnight pack and pedaled up the dead forest path. His tires kicked up dirt, making the air thick with dust. The place felt off, like shadows were waiting to jump at him from behind the brittle trees. It was completely irrational. He pedaled faster anyway, his feet moving with the rhythm of his pounding heart.
The creepiness clung to his skin like cobwebs, even after he left the park in his dust. It was time to give up Ghost Watch. The show was making him paranoid. He coasted down the road and skidded to a stop in Alex’s driveway. His friends were scattered around the yard, none of them in uniform. Clay straightened his scout shirt. They needed to take scouting more seriously.
Alex aimed a small camcorder at him and pushed a button. Light flashed in Clay’s eyes, blinding him.
Clay shaded his eyes with his hands. “Alex!”
“The enhanced light works!” Alex turned it off, leaving Clay seeing spots.
“What’s the camera for?” Clay got off his bike and dropped his pack at his feet.
Alex shut the tiny screen, leaned forward, and whispered, “The camera sees what we can’t.”
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
The first paragraph of this sample starts off strong and then gets a bit disjointed at the end. The opening two sentences create an eerie, desolate tone. Then, Clay observes that he wouldn’t have had to rush if Alex had called earlier. The narrative shifts momentarily to the present tense to tell us that “proper packing takes time” before reverting to the past. Keep the verb tense consistent, and consider whether or not Clay’s musings about his future license provide a strong enough hook for the reader. There needs to be more at stake from the outset than Clay’s inability to drive.
The next few paragraphs read a lot more smoothly. They tell us that Clay is a scout of some sort and that the boys are engaging in some sort of ghost hunting activity. I really liked the matched momentum of Clay’s pounding heart and his bike pedaling.
I’m a bit confused on a few points, though. The story tells us that Clay ends up in Alex’s driveway. Alex does a quick demo of the camcorder’s enhanced light function and suggests that the equipment can see what the naked eye can’t. Clay asks for clarification, and then we’re left with a confusing sentence about Mr. Walters, who remains unidentified and hasn’t been mentioned previously, and the campground. Are the boys about to go on a scout camping trip? (Clay’s backpack, mentioned in the second paragraph, hints at this, but we don’t know for sure.) Is Mr. Walters their scout leader? If so, the narrative needs to make this clearer. Otherwise, the last sentence feels out of place, as it doesn’t link up at all to the dialogue that precedes it.
A few syntax-level notes: I would change “skills” to “abilities” in the third sentence; otherwise, it’s a somewhat awkward analogy. A WiFi connection wouldn’t have skills. Also, change “could” to “be able” in the second-to-last sentence of the first paragraph.
As you proceed, think about the story you plan to tell. Why is this Clay’s story? What’s at stake for him personally? Ultimately, make sure that Clay stands out in his own story. Alex, a secondary character, left a stronger impression with me. Otherwise, the pacing, setting, and dialogue are quite good!