short story serialization – The Last Stop (conclusion)

Today brings us to the conclusion of my unpublished short story The Last Stop, which I wrote in 2009. This post is a bit longer than the others because there’s no good place to break it up. I figure if you made it this far, you’re OK with a slightly longer bit.

part one

part two

part three

part four

part five

part six

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Last Stop

(part 7 AKA The End)

© 2009 by Eric John Baker

At the table, Sophia asked for a Diet Coke, and he reminded her he wasn’t a co-worker who needed impressing. She laughed and changed the order to a beer.

“So what’s the dirt I need to hear?” she said, and Riley told her how to manipulate Patrick, and he told her who was a suck-up and who was fake-nice but would stab you in the back. She was free to contact him for advice, he said. Everyone needs an ally.

When the pints came, he said, “Go ahead and ask me what you’ve been wanting to ask me.”

For a moment she demurred but then said, “Ok. I have two questions. Why are you getting fired, and why are you being so nice to the person replacing you?”

Riley watched her porcelain doll hand on the glass and wondered how anyone could feel anything other than craving for her. “I’m getting fired because I’ve barely shown up for work in the past few weeks. I just can’t do it anymore.”

“That bad, huh?”

“No, it’s as good a place as any. I have other things going on. I suppose they told you about Madeline?”

“Who’s that, your dog ?”

“My wife. I haven’t seen her since February.”

She almost spit beer. “I’m sorry. You guys separated?”

“I mean she’s missing. Like milk-carton missing.”

She gripped his arm. “And you worked all this time? Your poor thing. You must be a wreck.”

He slid his chair closer and, in a quieter voice, said, “That’s the thing. I haven’t felt anything lately. Like she never existed.”

Sophia leaned in, her dark eyes electrified. “It’s got to be some kind of psychological reaction, like delayed shock.”

“That’s why I can’t work right now. Something’s changed for me and I just can’t concentrate on the banality of an office job anymore.”

He looked down and noticed her hand was still gripping his arm. She let go. “Wow.”

“To answer your other question… I’m not hostile to you because—don’t take it the wrong way—I sort of feel like I know you.”

“How’s that?”

“I used to see you on the bus stop every day, across from my building. Your building now, I guess. I kind of looked forward to seeing you there. That’s why I acted funny when I met you today.”

Sophia smiled. “That’s kind of sweet, actually. I was temping in the city, but the contract ended. My recruiter hooked me up with Patrick when she knew he was… well, looking to get rid of you.” Her pout said she was both sorry and embarrassed.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, heat coursing through him. She was so real, like in his dreams. “Is that why I stopped seeing you on the bus stop? Your contract ended?”

She laughed. “No. I bought a car. Riding the bus sucks.”

Riley stared into his pint and laughed at his insane, emotional, destroy-your-life obsession turning out to have such a stupidly mundane explanation.

“What’s so funny?”

“Your redheaded friend told me you looked upset the day before you vanished. We thought something happened to you.”

Sophia leaned back like she just found out she was the butt of a joke. “You know her?”

“No. I pulled over one morning when I saw her. She said you were upset. I was worried.”

“It’s no one’s business, but if you must know, the reason I was… upset, as you put it… was my bank screwed up the car loan.”

Riley laid his hand on her wrist. “I’ve been looking for you all over.”

She pulled her chair away. “Wait a minute. Did you put up a bunch of missing-persons fliers? Somebody showed me one and said it looked like me.”

Riley did not understand. How could she be mad? “I thought you were in danger. I tried to save you!”

She stood, withdrew a five from her purse, and tossed it on the table. “I’m sorry, that’s fucking weird.”

Why would she say that? Was she a taker, no different from Madeline?

“Wait,” he said. “I don’t want hostility between us.”

“Riley, you’re a nice guy, but obsessing isn’t the way to impress a woman. Anyway, you’re married. I’m sorry.”

Riley hated himself. He hated himself because she was just like Madeline with her superiority, but he had to say it. “I love you, Sophia.”

Far worse than anger, she showed pity. “My name is Eleanor.” Like he was stupid.

Damn her for making him feel like a scolded child. “Sophia’s the name I made up for you.”

She rubbed her wrist clean where he had touched it. “Look. I’m not a psychologist, but you’ve got problems. Guilt or whatever. Maybe you feel like you didn’t do enough when your wife left. I don’t know, but it has nothing to do me. Do you understand?”

Her eyes were no longer letting him in. “Please go get some closure,” she said. “Do the right thing. And absolutely do not follow me.”

Riley gazed upon her. She was so perfect, but he knew the women he loved would always treat him this way. He didn’t want it his love for Sophia to end the way it had with Maddie. So he showed it the purest way possible.

He let her go.

 

11

Riley caught the bus at the bottom of the hill. Not into the city, but the other way. A few rush-hour stragglers entered or alighted at various stops, but he had a seat to himself. Maybe the other passengers sensed he was on the most important ride of his life.

He stared, his forehead against the glass, watching the storefronts and bars. He saw a few of his fliers attached to telephone poles, tattered and dirty. At some point, he realized the bus was idling.

“Last stop,” the bus driver said, impatient.

Riley peered out the opposite window. So it was.

On the street, he stepped through the choke of exhaust, crossed to the other side, and entered the building. This time he shuffled, unnoticed, to the window, and asked for Detective Spinelli. Spinelli was always working.

He sat on a bench in the hall, still as a dead man, and waited. Spinelli came out.

“What’s up, Riley? News on the missing girl?”

Riley stood. “I found her. She’s fine. She will be fine.”

Spinelli gave a curious glance. “That’s good news. Thanks for updating me.”

“That’s not why I’m here.”

Spinelli stepped closer, like a smart cop does. “I’m listening.”

Riley said, “I’m ready to tell you where I hid Madeline’s body.”

The detective placed a fatherly hand on Riley’s back. “Why don’t we sit at my desk.”

Riley allowed Spinelli to guide him to the door. Before passing through, the old cop patted him down and read him his rights. “I didn’t intend to kill her. I’m not like that.”

“I know,” said Spinelli, his voice caring. He was an all right guy, Riley thought. Trustworthy.

“I’m doing this for Sophia,” Riley said. “I love her.”

“Of course you do,” said the detective, leading Riley into a chair by his desk. “Tell me about it over coffee. Cream and sugar?”

 ♥

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57 responses to “short story serialization – The Last Stop (conclusion)

  • thecontentedcrafter

    You dropped a hint at the beginning of this chapter and I suspected I knew where it was going and it did. Up until then I had no clue! You are right, he is a bit off, a little creepy, but you do end up feeling some empathy for him……… Have you considered expanding it into a novel?

    • ericjbaker

      That was my goal with this story… taking on the challenge of an unlikable MC (I hesitate to call him a protagonist) and still generating sympathy for him on some level.

      I’m flattered that you even asked the question about expanding the story, because, as I implied at the beginning, I recognize that this story isn’t going to work for every reader. I wouldn’t expand it for a few reasons, the main one being that I don’t think Riley is someone readers could tolerate for an entire novel. I’d have to turn him into a serial killer and throw some murders in for payoff and marketability (and padding), and I’m just not interested in brutality that doesn’t legitimately serve the story (unless it’s fantastic horror/sci-fi spectacle violence, which is a different realm). The other reason is that this story doesn’t have a genre, really. It would be hard enough to promote as a short story much less a full novel. I want to write characters who ultimately uplift readers through heroism or sacrifice. Riley makes a sacrifice and turns himself in because he knows he will keep pursuing Eleanor until he does something bad to her, but that’s not very heroic. It’s just a little bit less selfish.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read my story.

      • thecontentedcrafter

        I suspect you are right about a whole novel not being able to sustain sympathy/empathy for Riley. I found him quite believable in so many facets – I’ve come across a number of people with screwy motives and an inability to relate to reality in my work. I disagree a little with you on his final act though [Great Scott, I know I shouldn’t he is your character after all and I couldn’t write any kind of short story!] but I thought he was quite heroic for most people would not admit that hurting someone else was their fault, it would always be the fault of the victim – blame is endemic in unhappy lives.

        Anyway – I thought it was a refreshing read featuring an unsympathetic MC and kept me guessing most of the way through.

        • ericjbaker

          Thanks again! I’m pretty postmodern in my view: Your experience and interpretation of the story is as valid as mine.

          It is fun to write the nutty ones, isn’t it? Sometimes I see writers complain that their own characters are too nice and goody two shoes and end up being dull. We all have our flaws as writers, but I don’t think that’s one of mine!

        • thecontentedcrafter

          True! 🙂 I shall look forward to reading more of your work.

  • jdhoward

    I was so eager to know what happened I had to slow myself down reading this. I was way off with my prediction. I thought his insanity was more deep-seated than his infatuation with Sophia. But judging from his actions (giving up so easily and just turning himself in) it seems a lot was riding on Sophia reciprocating the love he had for her. He just gave up on everything, ultimately his freedom.

    • jdhoward

      Backing up, I take that back. Taking your story on a level you may not have intended – he got so emotionally charged for days with thoughts of her missing and someone having done harm to her, followed by immense relief she was actually alive, that he couldn’t go forward and create that effect himself . . . despite the urging of her dismissive attitude.
      I guess if you ask Riley himself, this is a love story.

      • ericjbaker

        I love your final comment! So true.

        I believe it is the right of readers to make their own interpretations and form their own understandings of a story, especially one with a sedate and (I hope) thoughtful conclusion. My take on it is this: By reacting the way she did, Eleanor help a big mirror up to Riley that forced him, for just a moment, into lucidity. h’s not a serial killer. It’s not like he would have stabbed her in the parking lot that night. It took him years of hurt and of feeling inferior to kill his wife. It was planned and meticulously executed. I feel like he saw that he would eventually hurt Eleanor. Still selfish: If he kills her he can’t enjoy her existence. His world becomes empty again.

        Thanks for your insights. I’ll bet your stories have some depth.

  • Yolanda M.

    great ending to a gripping and clever story. You did a marvellous job with Riley. Yes he is creepy but I found it impossible as I pointed out in an earlier comment to dislike him outright. This story works. So well in fact that I’m curious to know more about the events leading to Madeline’s murder (was it just her superior attitude? the fact she was ‘taker”) – he did not intend to kill her – and I for one believe him. I’m left wondering about that psychological break ie. the day he snapped. And isn’t that a sign of a great story? when the characters live on in the reader’s mind?

    • ericjbaker

      Thank you for the kinds words and insightful observations. I am a total “pantser.” I didn’t even know Riley’s name until I started typing, much less his back story. I believe that Riley has some qualities that attracted Madeline. He’s a bit boyish but handsome in a soft-featured way. She was probably strong willed and he was probably on the meek side, so it worked for her. Maybe she got a charge out of humiliating him (flirting with men in front of him and so on). She didn’t know that he was building up resentment to the degree that he was plotting to kill her, and I don’t think he intended to go through with it… except that he did. I think he repressed it (the best double agent is one that doesn’t know he’s a double agent, just like the best killer is the one who doesn’t know he’s a killer), but Eleanor being a strong personality jarred him into seeing the truth just long enough.

  • nrhatch

    Wonderful closure, Eric! You tied up all the loose ends . . . and proved that Riley’s NOT wrapped too tight. In fact, he’s come undone.

  • Eric Tonningsen

    Enjoyed riding along, Eric. Substantive word choices throughout with lots of catchy phrasing. Just enough, as I suspect is required for a short story. Perhaps it’s my intuition that often spoils outcomes for me. I sensed early on that Riley was just a tad too delusional and paranoid. Despite a gut feeling for him and the ending, I was engaged the entire read. Thanks for sharing.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks for reading and for the comments. I’m with you on your point. One of my concerns about this piece that there were really only two outcomes: He was going to murder “Sophia” (or die trying) or what actually happened. I will use violence in a story if it is superficial (a horror story for example, that tends to paint shallower characterizations or in which the violence is cartoony and over the top), or if it truly serves the themes and development of a character. But to have Riley kill this poor woman for the sake of a splashy ending would border on misogyny. It was a good experiment (trying to build sympathy for an unsympathetic person).

      • Eric Tonningsen

        I realize you originally crafted this story in 2009. Yet, I can’t help but feel that your writing is well beyond an experimental stage. Further to this thought, your use of the word “concern” you had/have about this piece. Perhaps it’s common for good writers to endlessly assess their work. Not a writer, I can only speculate on this.

        Your ‘stuff’ is very good, Eric, and I’ve read only an iceberg’s tip. Even the manner in which you comment on other blogs, attests to your communication talent. To echo another, shop this around, again. My gut senses you are hard on yourself as a writer, when your expanse of work likely speaks deservedly well of your storytelling prowess.

        Unsolicited….

  • skywalkerstoryteller

    Well, you actually made him almost likeable. He really did love Sophia 🙂 Good story. Post some more.

  • uju

    I feel so sad for Riley 😦 He’s creepy alright, but you did make him somewhat likeable.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks. He’s creepy now, but I imagine some things happened in his past to shape him that way, and he seems kind of manic, perhaps due to an untreated mental health issue. As I said in a recent comment during this series, this story has no overt theme or moral, but it does reflect my view that people should have better access to mental health care and not have to be stigmatized by it. I’ve encountered some depressed people who avoid getting help because they are worried about being labeled.

  • Arkenaten

    I’m normally good at spotting endings but this I missed. Even though I realised Riley was a bit of a nutter, I didn’t think he had bumped off his missus.
    Well done.
    Good one!

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks. He didn’t think he did, either, until Eleanor held a mirror up to his face, so to speak. How better to get away with murder than to not know you are a murderer?

  • Roy McCarthy

    Good work Eric – I didn’t guess where it was going. I gasped a way back with the mother whose daughter was murdered, but you didn’t take that road.
    Like other commentators I think the Riley character worked well.

    • ericjbaker

      Thank you. That bit about the daughter murdered in 1985 is a crossover with a horror story I wrote that takes place that year. There actually is a character named Judy in that story who, I realized after the fact, had the same hairstyle as “Sophia”/ Eleanor. I wanted to have that false alarm moment, so I thought, why not base it off an event in one of my own stories? Funny thing is, that story is over-the-top supernatural. I amuse myself!

  • Jill Weatherholt

    Well done, Eric. There were so many questions, but in the end you did a fantastic job tying up all of the loose ends. I’m happy Sophie walked away from Riley, otherwise she could have ended up like Madeline. Despite a few brief moments where I felt sorry for Riley, overall, I thought he was a creep. You do creep very well, Eric! Like Pauline, I wondered if you’ve thought about expanding this into a novel?

    • ericjbaker

      I was about to jokingly promise that I didn’t do any immersive research into creepy behavior, but then I remembered this story’s seed came from reality (about 1% of it). Still, it is weird how well I understood Riley’s thought process. It was very close to first person. For all I know, Riley wrote this in prison but developed an annoying habit of speaking about himself in the third person. Hahaha. Can I laugh at that?

      I’ll give you a shorter version of why I wouldn’t do a novel: 300 pages of Riley is too much, and I’d have to add murders for marketability and story sustainability. This story is already kind of dark as it is. I’ve moved (back) into a fantastical realm with my writing the past two years, and I want to write characters that people love and worry about.

      There’s no way I would have let him kill Sophia/Eleanor. That would leave me queasy and it would have been cheap. Non-villain character deaths should be critical for growth of the MC or heroic. Otherwise it’s misanthropy.

      Thank you thank you thank you for reading!

  • rogerdcolby

    Eric, you have built this story well. I loved how you fed us just enough to guess and then hit us with the boom-stick at the end. You should send this thing to some mags.

  • Richard Leonard

    Very well done, Eric. Didn’t pick the ending despite Riley not showing much empathy for his wife. This story has legs! Years ago, twice, in fact, about 10 years apart, were two series in Australia called Twisted Tales. A bunch of independent short stories told in half hour episodes. I could see this fitting easily into something like that. Creep Show also comes to mind.
    However, if I may be picky, I felt that her reaction to what he told her was more believable than the fact that he actually told her. I somehow think even a nutter would not reveal that information so he could continue the stalking. Unless he had a compelling reason to cease, which for me was lacking. He apparently decided he was ready to stop with Sophia/Eleanor and confess to the cops about his wife, but I didn’t pick up on what made him decide to do that.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks for reading and for the insights. One of my concerns with this story was exactly what you said about his confession. It’s always a battle between how much to reveal and how much to suggest or to let the reader determine (I’m all for the idea that readers are free to fill in whatever blanks they want and to make choices about what happens before and after the story’s time frame)

      In my view, Eleanor was a lot stronger of a personality than he expected. He painted her in his mind as almost this magical dionysian nymph, and her real personality is a college-educated woman who is friendly and professionally courteous but plenty assertive when she has to be. Metaphorically, she shoved a mirror in his face and he got a look at himself and what he might do to her. I believe that he regrets killing his wife and realized he would rather have “Sophia” around to think about. A reason to exist. He understood in that lucid moment what was the right thing to do.

      As for his explanation, I don’t think he had any clue he was doing anything wrong. He couldn’t understand why she didn’t view his actions as a sign of love and devotion. He’s like a cat leaving a dead mouse on your step as a gift and then baffled as to why you didn’t thank him. 😉

      Those character motivations run pretty far between the lines, and I can totally see why they come across as too vague. One of the problematic aspects of writing an unstable MC is how to convey all those things without spelling them out in a clunky way.

      Anyway, I appreciate your opinions about what works and what didn’t.

      • nrhatch

        Your dead mouse analogy is spot on . . . I felt that Riley expected kudos for his care and concern, not scorn. So he “came clean.”

        When Eleanor reacted with horror, he had a motion of lucidity.

      • Richard Leonard

        Yes, the balancing act is always a delicate thing. I struggle with the same thing. I agree with everything else you say regarding the characters traits.

  • Dave

    Great story, Eric. Nice and creepy, with an ending I didn’t see coming until this part. Got to admit that I actually felt bad for Riley, and I almost wanted him to get the girl. A good thing, except for the fact that he’s an obsessive psychotic 🙂 Glad you posted this story, and did it in serial fashion. Made it easier to read and enjoy part by part. Hope you post more of your work …

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks, Dave. I appreciate you reading it and commenting. I have probably two other stories that fit my bill of being both “problem children” (aka too long/too obscure/ not commercial enough to bother submitting anywhere) while still being content appropriate for my blog. I probably have to clean them up a bit with minor revision.

  • Janna G. Noelle

    Good job, I think this story has a lot of potential. The ending didn’t really work for me, though. I found Eleanor’s reaction to Riley’s revelation far too calm. Riley’s various actions in trying to find her (particularly the missing person posters and “Sophia’s the name I made up for you.”) were very damn disturbing. Being stalked is not something most women take lightly, even if we’re only experiencing Riley’s POV of what occurred.

    Also, it wasn’t clear to me what motivated Riley to give in so easily when Eleanor brushed him off. After all he did to find her, I’d have expected that same obsessiveness to go toward trying to keep her. As a result of this, the confession that he was indeed the killer also had an unclear motivation IMO. Why confess now as opposed to finding yet another girl to obsesses over given that such seems to be his pattern?

    Even though you mentioned this last section was long, I think it needs a bit more fleshing out to better understand this crucial change that has occurred in Riley. But as I said, I think the story has potential, and I did enjoy reading it even though I didn’t really like taking on Riley’s perspective.

    • ericjbaker

      Think about situations that offended or insulted you in real life, though. Did you react big in the moment, or did it build up and eat at you? I tend to be more pissed or disturbed a couple of hours later, not always realizing how upset I am at first. I think that’s what happened to Eleanor, if we had followed her story instead of Riley’s. She was just freaked out and wanted to bail. She called her friend that night and told her what happened, her friend encouraged her to call the police, she didn’t want to make waves because she just got a new job and they know Riley. etc. It was a complicated situation for her to navigate.

      Alluding to your other comments, part of my concern with the story is that it ends on a sedate note and that it might not be clear why Riley turned himself in. If I flesh it out, it could end up being clunky and obvious, and there are pacing issues to consider. Hence, it’s a problem child of a story.

      Richard (commenter above) had some of your same concerns, so I shall paste my partial response instead of retyping. in the meantime, thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to type out your critique.

      “In my view, Eleanor was a lot stronger of a personality than he expected. He painted her in his mind as almost this magical dionysian nymph, and her real personality is a college-educated woman who is friendly and professionally courteous but plenty assertive when she has to be. Metaphorically, she shoved a mirror in his face and he got a look at himself and what he might do to her. I believe that he regrets killing his wife and realized he would rather have “Sophia” around to think about. A reason to exist. He understood in that lucid moment what was the right thing to do.

      As for his explanation, I don’t think he had any clue he was doing anything wrong. He couldn’t understand why she didn’t view his actions as a sign of love and devotion. He’s like a cat leaving a dead mouse on your step as a gift and then baffled as to why you didn’t thank him.”

      • Janna G. Noelle

        I totally agree that in real life the reaction in the moment isn’t a big one. However stories are absolutely not real life, and are as much about what people believe is true (e.g. “If I’d been there, I would have XYZ!”) as what’s actually true.

        They’re also about what’s true within the story itself: I can accept that Eleanor is stronger than Riley expected, but it’s definitely clear that he viewed her as some delicate flower. Since he’s our only guide through the story, it’s not unexpected that we go along with his perception of things. I’d have liked to see more hints of Eleanor’s strength throughout as filtered through Riley’s POV, like how he observed that her lipstick was too dark. Learning more about her might have helped clarify the change that came over him upon finally meeting and unburdening himself to her – the change that ultimately led him to confess to killing his wife.

        That said, I still think more of Eleanor’s discomfort with Riley’s revelation would have shown, though, for his actions were way more than just weird, and that Riley – as invested in her as he was – would have picked up on it, however his twisted mind and narration would have chosen to interpret it.

        • ericjbaker

          I’m going to pause here and point how how cool it is to me that we are debating a character point in a story I wrote, and that you took the time and effort to type all that out.

          5 years ago I sat in the dark with my laptop on my lap, typing this story out over 3 days. I let it sit for a year or two then took another pass. Every once in a blue I’d open it and tweak a few things, and then, of course, I went over it again before I posted it to make sure the prose had beat and rhythm. Not a single soul on Earth ever saw these words before last Thursday or whatever day I started posting the installments. No beta reader, no editor, nobody.

          And now we are talking about the characters as if they are real people. Writing is alchemy!

  • tracycembor

    This is really well done. Riley’s a combination of all those weird, creepy people you’ve run across. You wouldn’t want to be alone at night with them. But at the end, when he is broken, you can’t help but feel pity for him.

    I would like to see the scene with Eleanor expanded. I think that Riley would do something totally embarrassing and inappropriate, possibly with a sinister edge, before she gives him the final brush-off.

    I also enjoyed the police officer. He is a fully-formed character. I like how he placed a “fatherly hand” on Riley’s back at the end. It is funny how you can build a relationship with someone, even if you are adversaries.

    Overall, very enjoyable in terms of writing as well as in story development. I hope that some of the readers comments will encourage you to offer it as a short story / novella somewhere.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks for the feedback! Janna (commenter above) thought the same thing… the tavern scene needed a bit lengthier of a transition. I’m sure you are both correct about that, but then I create a new problem for myself, which is pacing. There’s no big payoff with action as it is, so I can already hear an editor saying I have to trim that scene of whatever I add.

      Storytelling is a tricky business, isn’t it? So many layers and elements required, and they have to all come together.

      • tracycembor

        Agreed. It is tough to get the pace just right in a short story… which is why I am so bad at them. I should probably practice more. Maybe when I find that extra time everyone keeps talking about. 😉

  • 1WriteWay

    Great story, Eric. I’ve just scanned the other comments, and I agree that it would be hard to pull off a character like Riley in a novel. But it works very well in a short story. I’m hoping you’ll consider working on it a bit more and sending it out. The way you handle Riley is masterful. True, he’s no hero, and yet when he manages to do the right thing at the end, his confession is almost inspiring. He realizes that the only way to save Sophia/Eleanor is to give up himself.

    I’ve met my share of sociopaths/psychopaths in my time and they are not all textbook cases. The ones who interest me are those who have some sliver of humanity in them. That sliver complicates their behavior and makes them far more interesting than the textbook version that is so popular in our culture. I would go so far as to say that you’ve drawn a character that many of us could relate to, although we might not want to admit it.

    And I am inspired by you sharing this story with us. I’ve been casting about for how to continue my blog without just writing crap for the sake of a post. I have a lot of stories that I know I’ll never even try to publish, but they might be good enough to put on my blog. We’ll see 😉

    • ericjbaker

      I would love to read your stories! Do it.

      I figure with Riley that, despite his issues, he did manage to function in society (until he killed his wife). Only after Eleanor “disappeared” did his psychotic break happen, and even then he got himself dressed every day, interacted with people, ate meals, sold his car for cash, and did things that “normal” people do. I’m sure this story has flaws (are there any that don’t?), but I believe Riley works as a character and that his actions are plausible and justified – from a storytelling standpoint – knowing what we know about him.

      I’m not going to rework it any more than I have. I can already anticipate the reasons this story will be rejected (excessive length, lack of defined genre, the sedate conclusion, the unlikable protagonist). My effort in recent years (maybe the last 2 or 3) is to define myself as a writer of speculative fiction… horror, sci-fi, supernatural, future shock, etc. Prior to that, I had written two genre spanning novels that no one wanted to touch. The fact is, no matter one’s skill level, if the material isn’t commercially viable (i.e., it doesn’t fit into a specific genre), no one in the business will touch it. Sad reality.

      Anyway, thank you for reading and for providing your comments. I look forward to seeing some of your material soon (are you already sorry you mentioned it?)

      :mrgreen:

  • L. Marie

    I also felt empathy for Riley, though he gave off a creepy vibe. How sad that he lived so much of his life in a fantasy world. How ironic that Eleanor ended up where she did. (Though I could have sworn Riley showed Patrick the flyer with “Sophia’s picture,” which meant that he knew where “Sophia”/Eleanor was all along and didn’t tell Riley. I’d need to go back to other installments and verify. Thanks for serializing this!

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks for reading. I don’t think he ever showed Patrick because he was hiding his endeavor from him, but I should check it over to make sure. Good thought! That’s why we always need a second pair of eyes/a different brain.

  • livelytwist

    Oh Riley, I was beginning to care for you!

    Great job Eric. I won’t talk about technique because it’s late and I’m tired. But it’s a huge plus that I didn’t ‘notice’ your writing, but got lost in the story. That’s masterful writing there!

  • Uzoma

    This wasn’t the ending I’d imagined. Kudos, you did a wonderful job leading me to an even better one. The lead character, Riley, was somewhat delusional but you made me care so much about him that I still had to continue reading. He really loved Sophia :). I wish this narrative could continue 😉

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