Archive | October 26, 2008

Reebdoog’s Halloween Horror

 This story was written for Horizons, an online video game I have played for several years. I entered it in the Fall Festival scary story contest and it was chosen for publication in the game. Reebdoog’s Tale is told every year now by a character at the festival grounds.

REEBDOOG’S TALE

“I’ve a tale to tell will set your blood cold just to hear it!” The inebriated dwarf tipped back in his chair, puffing a foul smelling cigar. “Tain’t your run o’ the mill tale neither, but one as will chill ye to the bone!” He leaned in blowing acrid smoke in my direction. “It’s true! I seen it with me own two eyes, I have!

“Just a mite of a lad I were then, an’ no taller than yer knee. Da had been teaching me the finer points of brewing.” He nodded solemnly. “Ma, she’d been after me to learn me letters, but I’d a far better head for brewing than I had for reading. How some ever… Da sent me to town to chat up the human folk there, for twas rumored as there were a secret recipe for brewing rye to make a fine, smooth whiskey.

“Well! I got there and spoke first to that feller who buys and sells. He told me many things, but bid me caution. ‘Mind now,’ says he, ‘ you don’t go poking into the basement under the house with the glowing runes. There be a secret door there under the stairs. Takes ye places as ye don’t want to be going.’

“Well, I laughed my bony arse off at the man, scoffing and making rude noises as I went. I wandered the town a wee bit, stopping to have a sip or two of Da’s best brew, and fell in with bad companions. They told me as they knew where the secret brew were kept. As they’d took a liking to me, they’d show it.”

He gestured to the barmaid to refill his mug. Satisfied, he tipped back again, taking a long pull on his pint. He wiped the foam from his bristling, red mustache and continued.

“Well, I were in sad and sorry shape by then. The peddler done told me not to go to the house with the glowing runes, but where do you suppose we ended up? Aye, ye guessed it! They dragged me inside, past the kitchen, to the stairs. There in the corner, they opened a secret door.

“Slowly, slowly I walked in and the door swung shut behind me with an echoing thump. Took a moment for my eyes to fix on what I were seeing. Twas at that moment I saw the worst sight of my life! I shudder now remembering! It were lined floor to rafters with kegs. They was stark empty and scrubbed clean! Why must have been dozens of them! And there in the midst of it all, a crew of humans whistling, singing and hosing them out! They took soap to ’em! Perfectly innocent kegs, they were, and these folk scraping around in them like they was mucking out stables!

“The pain! The perfidy! Crying out in horror, I yelled at them. ‘Why are you torturing me so? Have ye no mercy?’

“I ran hell bent to the nearest tavern with the ghosts of a thousand empty kegs haunting my steps! I flung myself on a stool and ordered a pint. You know what they give me? A clean mug and watered down ale! Just goes to show, you can’t trust humans!”

Write it Right or Yes, Viriginia, Mechanics Count

When I was a child, I couldn’t spell. I’m still spelling impaired and love spell check above any of the other features of my word processing program. I am, however, glad I have a good background in punctuation, because word processors are woefully inadequate there. Rule of thumb, if Word corrects your punctuation, it is probably wrong. Second rule of thumb: If you rely on Word to correct your punctuation, you need a lot of help.

I can remember saying to my mother, “But they know what I mean! Why is it wrong?” Because it is, genius. It simply is. There are rules and conventions in spelling and punctuation that we have come to expect. When they aren’t there, they interfere with the message we are trying to convey. I don’t remember my mother’s exact words, but that is the essence of what she told me.

As a high school A.P. English teacher, I got a lot of that same attitude. My students could not see the importance of spelling, neatness and punctuation until their essays came back covered in so much red ink they looked like they’d been slaughtered by Attila the Hun. I couldn’t seem to stress enough, mechanics matter!

Spelling is one of the most ignored conventions in writing. Of course, with the onset of massive text messaging, we ignore spelling completely and go to how it sounds. Abbreviations, typing it in quickly, getting the message to the other party fast – all this becomes more important than saying it right. If you send me a text message, I’m likely to send back the reply “???” Sorry, I don’t speak gibberish. Look it up. Dictionary.com is free.

The second most ignored convention is comma placement. Commas crop up in all the wrong places, but get left out of all the spots they belong in. Certain commas are expected. When using direct address, use a comma. “Brad, look at that!” Or “Look at that, Brad!” The comma is there to let the reader know that the comment is addressed to Brad. The speaker is not saying “Look at that brad.” He or she wants Brad to look at something.

Another anticipated and neglected comma is the one used to separate items in a list. “The big, black, ugly, smelly, dirty, nasty dog ran over and jumped on me.” While on occasion, one may dispense with commas to separate, it’s not considered a good idea. If the list is very long, as in the sample sentence, the commas have to be there. They just have to, that’s why!

Commas before the word ‘and’, can be debated until the cows come home. Many will tell you that comma is a must. Others will tell you that it’s completely unnecessary and redundant. Choose a method, side with one team or the other and be consistent.

I realize that sometimes the creative juices flow and the urge to get something down now is very compelling. We all go through manic writing phases . We hammer away at the keys and stay up half the night to get the story down. I understand this well. However, putting aside mechanics for speed is not a good idea. Figuring that you can go back later and neaten it up is fine in theory, but not in practice. It is impossible to read through and get all the errors on your own.

Sometimes you can bribe a friend or two to look over something you’ve written. I guarantee if it’s too terrible, they will get tired of it and quit. So, pay attention to the mechanics as you go. It makes less of a mess later and won’t take so long to neaten up. Finishing isn’t as important as getting it right as you go along.

What’s the point of this article? Am I trying to make people feel bad or insult their intelligence?

No. I am pointing out that each error we make as writers damages our credibility. Make your work as easy to comprehend as possible. Don’t interfere with your message by carelessness.