By Joe Moore
As we continue with our annual springtime first-page critiques, here’s an anonymous submission called THE LATERAL LINE. My comments follow.
Gabriel knew this day would come. It had taken fourteen years and more warnings than he thought necessary but fate had caught up to them. The danger he saw years ago had come to meet them head on. The alarms sounded shrilly over head and the sprinkler system made it rain indoors. An eerie red glow from the emergency generators made navigating tricky, but Gabriel knew where he was going. All he had to do was follow the trail of bodies.
His feet slapped the puddles on the floor as he ran, his breath come in gulps. He had one chance to finish this, to do what should have been done years ago. Fear made his hands shake but he knew he couldn’t fail this time. A side hallway brought him out ahead of the boys he followed and as he rounded the corner he saw he judged correctly. Gabriel stood at one end of the long hallway and watched as his sons walked toward him.
They were silhouetted against the flashing emergency lights and dripped with water, but they walked confidently forward obviously not concerned that their father waited. Half-way up the hallway, they stopped. It was close enough for Gabriel to see the cocky grin on Cross’s face. That only served to convince Gabriel this needed to be done. He brought the gun up and leveled it with Cross’s head. His brother stepped forward, concern etched into his features.
“Just let us walk out of here, Dad. No one else has to get hurt,” Kale said. Cross just glared and kept quiet. Gabriel never took his eyes off the boy.
“I can’t let that happen, Kale. You know that.” Gabriel’s head buzzed with the intrusion he felt from Kale. The psychic push he understood his son was capable of. Gabriel knew if he wavered now, he would end up like the men and women he passed in the hallway. He was the only thing that stood between a terrible mistake and a messy death.
“This ends now,” Gabriel said and pulled the trigger.
I think this is a terrific first draft. It has all the right stuff: conflict, tension, suspense, action, mystery, and more. There’s no doubt that something really bad happened here as Gabriel navigates a “trail of bodies”. And the fact that a father is faced with possibly having to kill his sons is about as tragic as it gets. I assume the two boys are responsible for the multiple deaths, and judging from Gabriel’s determination to stop them, this is not the first time they have killed.
I get the feeling from the statement “The psychic push he understood his son was capable of”, that we’re dealing with the supernatural or horror genre. Just need to get rid of the dangling preposition.
Thankfully, there’s no backstory or flashbacks to slow us down. The author tosses us right into the “middle of things”. Within a few paragraphs, he/she has cut to the chase and we’re whisked along for the ride. There’s a strong sense of place and a threat of immediate danger.
I think the only thing needed is a surgical pass through this sample with a sharp editor’s knife. Despite a need to tighten and clean up, this submission shows great promise and I would definitely read on.
How about you? Would you keep turning the pages to find out what happened?