32 comments

Western

“Daddy, what does ‘fuck’ mean?”

The word hung in the air like a fart in a crowded elevator. The trip, originally intended as a pleasant getaway for Stan, his wife, and their two children, had become anything but. They quickly discovered the problem with public campgrounds is one is forced to share them with the public.

Although Stan worked long hours at the post office, there never seemed to be enough money for a vacation. Finally, in desperation, he marched into his bank and requested a loan. Stan had gone to high school with Bob, a loan officer at the bank.

”Are you doing some renovations?” Bob asked to pass the time while entering Stan’s income information into the computer.

“Nope, I’m taking the family on a much needed camping vacation.”

”I didn’t even know you were married,“ Bob responded. “Do you want to put your wife‘s information on the loan?”

"That’s alright,” Stan replied. “How much longer is this going to take?”

"We’re done,” Bob said with a smile and a handshake. “The money is already in your account. Enjoy the trip.”

Flush with cash and the desire to get away, Stan packed the car with family and the necessary accoutrements and headed north. For an overworked federal employee who desperately needed to escape the endless drudgery, camping seemed like the ideal activity.

Almost everything about their campsite seemed perfect. It was off the road, far enough that there were no sounds of passing cars. A quiet brook ran behind their lot, giving the would-be campers the ultimate water feature. The rustic cabin looked like it was lifted right off a picture postcard.

The only problem was the cabin next door was inhabited by four miscreants, who were sharing their colorful vocabulary with seven-year-old Kayleen.

“What did you say?” his wife said, horrified by the word.

“I got this, honey,” Stan assured her, placing his hand on his wife’s arm. “Baby, that’s an adult word,” he continued. He picked his daughter up, putting her gently on his knee. “Promise me you won’t say it again.”

“I promise, Daddy,” came the cherubic reply. “Pinky promise.”

“Pinky promise,” Stan replied. He intertwined his smallest finger with Kayleen’s.

“Now, go get your brother and tell him it’s almost time for dinner.”

“Ok, Daddy,” she responded enthusiastically, skipping across the old wooden floor of the cabin, so lightly the boards didn’t even squeak.

“You promised this would be a quiet getaway,” his wife said as soon as her daughter was out of earshot. “Those hooligans next door are ruining everything.” 

“It’s ok, mamma bear. I’m sure they are just kids having a good time,” Stan remarked, taking his bride in his arms and kissing her gently on the lips. “If it doesn’t quiet down by the morning, then we’ll pack up and find another campground down the road apiece.”

“'Down the road apiece,' really?” his wife said with a chuckle. “Who says that, grandpa?”

“I do, little lady,” Stan replied with a smile and a pat on his wife’s backside. “Now go relax for a while. I’ll make dinner.” Stan watched as his wife walked to the back bedroom, where she sat on the floor to play with the children.

Before Stan could start dinner an unexpected knock broke the silence. Peeking out the window Stan saw the campground manager standing at the door.

"Can I help you?" Stan asked, puzzled by the intrusion.

"Just checking in on our guests." the manager replied cheerfully. "I do it twice a day, once in the morning and, well, once about now."

"I'm fine," Stan responded. "The neighbors are a bit loud, but nothing I can't handle."

"Fantastic, enjoy your time with us and don't hesitate to swing by if you need anything. I'll see you in the morning on my rounds."

"Thanks," Stan said, as he closed the door and headed back to the kitchen.

Dinner, like the trip, should have been perfect. The cabin Stan had rented came with a kitchenette, and in no time, he placed four bowls of Dinty Moore Beef Stew on the table. Stan didn’t have to call his family to the table as the smell of simmering vegetables and meat did the job for him. His son, who just turned four, sat in his booster seat between his parents. Kayleen, the self-described “big girl,” sat across from her little brother.

Everyone seemed to love the stew. 

It should have been perfect, but it wasn’t.

Just as Stan was about to take the first bite, the quiet was once again disturbed by his unruly neighbors.

“You can run—but you can’t hide!” cried out a drunk ne’er-do-well as he chased a topless young woman right past the front picture window.

“That’s it,” Stan shouted, finally pushed past his limit. “I’m going to put a stop to this.” He stood up, heading for the front door.

“Stan, don’t,” his wife begged, knowing full well he would not listen.

The cabin’s front door slammed so violently that it could almost be heard above the loud music coming from the campsite next door. Stan stopped only long enough to pull a small satchel from the trunk of his car.

Soon, there was quiet. The music and the shouting stopped. There was no noise of any kind.

“I made a deal with them,” Stan said upon his return. “I said if they kept it down tonight, we’d leave in the morning. Then they can rabble-rouse to their heart’s content.”

There was no more ruckus for the rest of the night; however, Stan barely slept. The quiet had become loud; Stan strained to hear anything. The room and the cabin and the woods lay silent, save for the crickets whose erratic chirps played an eerie melody.

At first light, Stan, without saying a word, packed his car and prepared to depart as he had promised. He had been so happy to arrive at this secluded paradise, yet now all he wanted to do was leave. The campground manager must have already started his rounds and Stan wanted to be gone before he had to endure another awkward conversation.

Secured by a seat belt and mirrors adjusted, Stan reached down to shift his old car into drive, only stopping when the sound of sirens shattered the silence.

Police deputies, a state patrolman, and an entire SWAT team surrounded the car in what seemed like an instant. Just as quickly, Stan was pulled from the vehicle, thrown to the ground, and handcuffed. Only then did Stan see the bloody mess in front of the neighboring cabin—four lifeless bodies, laying neatly in a pile.

Overwhelmed by the violence and disoriented by his own disturbed mind, Stan closed his eyes and began to sob.

“Please help my family,” he pleaded to the officer who firmly guided him to a squad car.

“Your family?” the police officer asked, genuinely confused.

“They’re in the car! Please—my family, they are in the car!” Stan exclaimed, turning back to where his car stood empty. Just then, he felt a tiny tug on his shirt. He looked down into the tearful eyes of little Kayleen.

“Don’t be afraid, baby,” Stan replied, “It’s going to be ok.”

“Are you talking to me?” The officer paused, unnerved by Stan’s puzzling demeanor.

“No, no . . . I’m talking to—” Stan stopped mid-sentence, looking around in horror as he realized Kayleen was never actually there.

“Fuck.”

July 19, 2021 18:00

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32 comments

K. Antonio
12:50 Jul 21, 2021

I liked the story a lot, but the ending to me was a curve ball. I'll explain why. When he enters the car, it's stated that just he entered the car, no sign of family, no buckling up his daughter and fastening her seat belt, I knew at that moment that something was up. Then when the ending happened, I felt like the fact that he was alone was explained, but I didn't feel necessarily tricked. I think that if the family is there with him (even if they aren't) then they need to be integral and be participant up to the point of the reveal. That...

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Thom Brodkin
13:44 Jul 21, 2021

I can't thank you enough for giving such important feedback. I struggled with how much to reveal and how much to keep secret until the end. I thought by having the family slowly disappear from the story it would make the ending still be a shock but at least have it been foreshadowed. I am going to spend some time seeing if I can make some improvements to tighten it up. I enjoyed writing this story and I want people who read it to feel as if it was time well spent.

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Zilla Babbitt
22:26 Jul 23, 2021

This is one of my favorites of yours. When I first read it I thought the ending was too abrupt but you've since changed it and it's perfect now. Stories and essays only rarely capture or discuss loneliness well but I think yours truly did both. This is NOT a shameless attempt to get you to read my own (😉) but I have posted this morning if you are interested in new reading material.

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Thom Brodkin
22:34 Jul 23, 2021

Zilla I would be honored. I miss your stories. I wish you would post more often.

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Nina Chyll
18:08 Jul 22, 2021

Hi! I've read a few comments and I agree as to the ending, especially with what Antonio mentioned. We don't quite deserve the plot twist. I think you have many, many more words to play with here, so there's quite a lot of time to weave in some more clues and do some setup. I'd go into some of the earlier scenes and inject some dialogue, drop a couple of hints at the bank when applying for the loan, though nothing too obvious. Stuff like that would really lift this story. A few technicalities. 'The problem, they quickly discovered, with pub...

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Thom Brodkin
18:13 Jul 22, 2021

Nina, yay!! I’ve missed you. I adapted this story from one I wrote for another contest. The word count restriction on that one was 875 words so as impossible as it seems this is actually the longer version. I think you’re so very right though. I have so many more words to play with and areas where those words would make the story better. I’ll see what I can make happen. Thanks for your time. I’m glad to hear from you again.

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Nina Chyll
22:17 Jul 22, 2021

Ha, cheers, I didn't ever realise I'd be missed! 875 is madness, sheer madness. I do very much enjoy the premise (also sheer madness), so I think you've got lots of amazing foundations in here.

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Francis Daisy
03:30 Aug 05, 2021

Man, oh man! Thom! I had to go back and reread the story as I could not believe all that I had missed the first time around...the subtle clues! You are so clever! Well written story! I love stories with a twist! This one is super!

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Jonathan Blaauw
14:01 Jul 28, 2021

Thom, I was going back to look for an old one of yours but the first line here grabbed me and I couldn't resist reading! This is subject to change as I read your others but, as of right now, this is my favorite of yours hands down! The first thing I noticed was your technical improvements. The writing here is tighter and more polished than usual. Noticeably so. And it's not like you were a sloppy writer before, but this just feels so refined. The dialogue feels natural and effortless, the punchy paragraphs are perfectly timed, and the gener...

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Kristin Neubauer
20:47 Jul 26, 2021

Hi Thom - I'm late to this. I haven't logged onto Reedsy in two weeks because of school, work and a million other things. But I'm going to at least try to keep up with reading. This was wild - a psychological thriller! If you ever work on it again, I'd love to read a really extended version of it that would start giving us subtle hints of foreshadowing that something is off - although we don't know what it is. You did a great job with this. Poor Stan.....I hope he gets on some meds soon!

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Thom Brodkin
22:19 Jul 26, 2021

This may be my favorite comment ever. I’m trying to avoid writing a different version of the same story every week and get a little outside my comfort zone. This was definitely not boiler plate Thom. 😀😀

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Kristin Neubauer
10:58 Jul 27, 2021

It's certainly not boiler plate Thom and that is brilliant! I was leery about writing out of my comfort zone for awhile too. When a prompt came up last year for a zombie apocalypse story, I was like "There's no way I'm writing to that." But I couldn't help myself and I did. It wasn't a great story, but it was fun to go completely off the rails without any consequences .... and that opened me to writing in all sorts of genres. My default is to write those silly outrageous stories that I do every so often, but I try to stretch myself to d...

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Thom Brodkin
18:25 Jul 27, 2021

A new career? Paid assassin? Riverboat gambler? One of those Geico sign flippers? In all seriousness, I'm sure you will excel in whatever you do. As for your writing, you know I'm a huge fan and I will look forward to all the great stories to come.

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Kristin Neubauer
18:58 Jul 27, 2021

Hah! That all sounds much more exciting than my plan. I'm in graduate school for a Masters in social work - I want to become a psychotherapist and work with journalists, veterans, first responders, healthcare workers, law enforcement. I graduate in a year but the work has gotten pretty intense lately.

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Thom Brodkin
19:04 Jul 27, 2021

It just occurred to me that I knew that. You commented on my story about my friend Jason. I wrote at a time when I felt hopeless and you were a major encouragement. As a aside, he is doing great. He has been sober for 6 months, the first time that has happened since high school. He also knows he just one bad choice away from being back at the bottom. I know this might sound odd but I'm so proud of you. You are putting your time and life where your mouth is. Keep going strong, there are people you haven't met yet whose lives you are g...

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Charlie Murphy
16:45 Jul 26, 2021

Great story! The first and second lines were perfect! Did Stan's family abandon him?

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Thom Brodkin
16:59 Jul 26, 2021

Thanks, actually they were never really there. I was going for M. Night Shyamalan crazy. I may have been to vague on that.

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Charlie Murphy
17:25 Jul 26, 2021

Oh! Cool! Well, great job once again. Can you read my new story?

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Karen Kinley
01:15 Jul 23, 2021

Very interesting premise! I like this kind of story. As a lot of other reviewers have already said, there needs to be some fine-tuning with the details. Not sure if I've read the 1st or 5th draft...but it could use a little in terms of foreshadowing and leading up to the ending. I hope you will work on it as I'd love to read the final version. On a side note, Thom...I don't want you to think I'm stalking you but I did a little internet search and found a couple of sites where you've submitted stories and kinda stole your ideas. I hope you d...

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Thom Brodkin
01:30 Jul 23, 2021

My sites are your sites. I just want an invite to the awards show when you become famous. Seriously, your work needs to be read and read often. You are a gifted writer and a good friend. I am going to try to do some clean up on this story tomorrow. Trust me it’s way better than when I started and hopefully way worse than when I finish. 😀

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Karen Kinley
01:53 Jul 23, 2021

You are always SO unbelievably supportive! No wonder you are so popular on Reedsy! Thanks for the kind words. I should say the same about you! For someone who claims he only recently started writing....you have a GIFT, my friend! I will look for the rewrite of this story soon!

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Thom Brodkin
22:33 Jul 24, 2021

Hey I’ve been working on tightening up the story. Can you give me a second look. I’m trying to fix it without over fixing it.

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Karen Kinley
00:40 Jul 25, 2021

Definitely BETTER! I like the addition of the manager. I feel like there should be a little more just after he deals with the unruly neighbors...the paragraph where he cannot sleep. I cannot put my finger on it exactly, but it needs something. "Peaking" should be "Peeking."

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A.G. Scott
03:39 Jul 21, 2021

Yeah, I like the idea, but I think it's such a left turn that it feels unearned. I need something like Stan throwing a punch at his wife and inexplicably missing; something that shows he's violent and unhinged, and hints that the family's not there. The title could also be better, as the loan hardly feels relevant to the story.

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Thom Brodkin
07:06 Jul 21, 2021

I see your point. I do think for it to be a real shock it had to be abrupt. I also felt like the title was something that would only make sense in retrospect. The loan was a small part but being alone wasn’t.

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A.G. Scott
07:15 Jul 21, 2021

Ah my bad, missed a pun. That's embarassing

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H L Mc Quaid
14:07 Jul 20, 2021

Huzzah wuzzah? Wow, did not see that coming. 😂 The writing here is really tight, concrete, driving the action forward. I"m not sure about the ending, but it was a fun ride.

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Thom Brodkin
14:24 Jul 20, 2021

I'm not sure about the ending, and I wrote it. lol I wanted it to be a shock but something, if you went back and read again. you'd see the signs. It had to be abrupt to be a shock but I was afraid it made it seem rushed. I'm glad it kept you reading and you liked it somewhat. That's a plus. :-)

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H L Mc Quaid
14:29 Jul 20, 2021

Yeah, I think it's a personal preference on my part. I like more active, concrete sentences that pull the reader along, rather than a meandering story that's pleasant, but not particularly memorable. As for the ending, I think it was the abruptness that threw me off a bit. Maybe just a tad more foreshadowing at the end would help. Also, what's the relevance of the title to the story?

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Shea West
23:12 Jul 26, 2021

Thom I think you've got some good bones here! I like how matter of fact the interactions are in throughout the campaign scenes. Any story that starts and ends with a curse word is alright by me! As others mentioned here already I think you can add some more to this story to build that suspense. Is there something his wife does that just drives him mad? Can you nod to it, lead the reader to the breaking point? After he leaves the campsite....what thoughts could be going through his head? Are they pleasant? Is his head completely quiet for the...

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Beth Connor
16:43 Jul 21, 2021

Wow! I love seeing you write out of your comfort zone. As always, this was well written and kept me engaged the whole time. There were a couple parts that made me laugh out loud (like camping with young children being relaxing...) How did the cops know a murder had happened? Did one of the people in the other cabin was able to get a call out? Maybe you can begin giving the reader little clues when the police arrive, and add some dialog and action. "we are investigating a 911 hang up in the area with a woman voice. " and he could ask his ...

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