“Return to Madness” Judges’ Feedback and Rewrite

Back in November, I entered a writing contest with my original story Return to Madness.

I did not win through to the next round, but I did receive some good input from my judges. With that input– along with a couple of minor self-edits– I have reworked the story a bit, while remaining within the 250 word limit.

This is what the judges had to say about my story:

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1774}  You definitely infused this piece with Melissa’s nearly paralyzing fear. Her mysterious, traumatic experience is clearly still impacting her ability to date. Poor thing. You’ve really made this compelling.   {1909)  I thought you handled PTSD very well in this story. Melissa’s anxiety built realistically throughout her date.  {1744}  You created a powerful undertow in this narrative, as Melissa’s fears threatened to overtake her sense of the present moment. I found it particularly effective how Darius’s actions seemed to converge with Melissa’s memories of her past attacker.   WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1774}  Consider reworking this piece somewhat to add insight. Staying mindful of word count, think about shedding more light on the nature of Melissa’s captivity. Bathtub prison?   {1909)  This story would have felt more intimate to me if there was more information revealed about Melissa and her shocking past.  {1744}  I think this story would be even more powerful—and scarier—if you can blur the line even more between past and present in the final moments of the story. In this draft, it seems Melissa is still somewhat aware that she is remembering, rather than re-living, in the last few sentences. If you can instead take us more fully into her traumatic memory, you’ll have an even more unsettling story.

One change I made was to my title. Just a few hours after submitting my story to the contest, I thought of a better title, but it was too late to change it. But now’s my chance! Read the reworked story below:

GRIP ON REALITY

My fingers tap the table as I wait for Darius. Why did I ever let Jen talk me into this? Me, go out with a man? After all I’ve been through? 

It’s just a date, I tell myself. A normal date, in a normal restaurant, with a normal guy.

By the time Darius returns, I’m more collected and manage a smile. “Sorry that took forever,” he says, leaning in. “You don’t usually expect a long line in the mens’ room.” He chuckles at his little joke, but I don’t find it funny. Talk of bathrooms is one of the things that triggers the horrifying memories. 

It’s just a date.

Darius reaches into his pocket and pulls out a packet of gum. No, no, no. He pops a piece into his mouth. “Want one?” I grasp the table edge, every instinct screaming at me to flee. He chews, oblivious to my panic. “Melissa? What’s the matter?”

His lip-smacking drowns out every other sound. My heart pounds; I loose my grip on the table, prepared to bolt. When I look up, I see him– the man from my haunted past, who enjoyed chewing gum when he came to visit my bathtub prison. He holds a bloody chain in his hands and laughs at my fear. 

I yell at the top of my lungs before lunging toward my would-be assailant and pushing him away. He shouts my name from the tile floor, but I run. 

“Melissa!”

He’s not going to catch me again.

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