To get up to speed, read this first.
Writing a short story, in public this way, is good and bad. It’s good in that you get a little feedback and encouragement. You see if anyone reads their way through it, if anyone seems to have an idea of where you might be going. But asking for advice can be counterproductive as well, since writers really do need to tell their own story. I don’t think stories are really told by committee. They lose some of their fire. Workshops can polish off rough edges, but they can’t produce the stone itself.
I began this story with nothing more than the idea of someone who had to endure a systematic attempt by his co-workers designed to make him think he was losing his memory, and his mind. I’ve heard this referred to as the “mind f*ck,” but there’s another term that a new Facebook friend, Dita Sullivan, used called “gaslighting.” (I had to look it up; apparently it has a long history.)
I also had no real idea who the people were. I had Tyler, a sort of squared-away but emotionally closed-off high tech manager going places, a neighbor and friend down the hallway, Nathan Kennedy, and his wife, Julie. I also had “the twins,” two predatory, lazy, bright, fresh out of college programmers. Weirdly, I seem to know these twins, still, better than anyone else. I can see them. They are amoral, fun-seeking, immortal, careless human flotsam. You get the weird sense they really care about no one. They aren’t outright criminals, because some things would put them in jail, and more so than most people, they are just really about themselves and their own comfort and really profound evil would bring profoundly uncomfortable realities. Anyone who has ever driven a Southern California freeway has met versions of these people.
Nathan is coming into focus as someone who is stalled. He’s capable, but he’s not willing to pay the price for being somewhere. He doesn’t even want to think about where he wants to be, so he won’t ever get there. He wants a better future, and he lives in that future, but he won’t define it completely and he certainly won’t make any plans to get there. His good natured wife, Julie, is waiting for direction that he may never give. He’s jealous of Tyler.
So, obviously, between the twins and Nathan we have some motivation for the gaslighting, but not quite enough yet.
There has to be some scene where Tyler sees through the three of them, scolds them in a way that is both a) true and b) cuts to the bone. They have to really hate that Tyler has seen through them, and this all has to take place before the gaslighting begins.
The story’s hook — what Tyler sees in the parking lot — is a creation of the gaslighting campaign and it scares the crap out of him.
It seems to me the story could go one of a few ways:
1. Tyler really is crazy. He really is losing his mind. The narrator’s point of view was close and sympathetic to Tyler, but so close that we couldn’t see Tyler’s descent.
2. The gaslighting campaign started innocently, but then, for some reason, got out of control. Perhaps Julie made a confession to her husband that she has feelings for Tyler, that Tyler represents the direction she wants in life, and this confession pushes Nathan over the edge.
3. Tyler realizes to what lengths they have gone to make his insanity credible and then goes along with it, up to the point of being scared by his own revenge. The fright at the first sight out the window is about Tyler’s own fear of not being able to pull this off.
I’m thinking outloud for myself, but if I’m not seeing something, tell me.