First lines tell us a lot about the story, and the opening to Sandra Seamans' "Survival Instincts" (Pulp Pusher) warns us to pay attention to details, particularly the small, seemingly imperceptible ones.
"Penny pulled the worn quilt tight around her body in a futile attempt to stay warm. It wasn't the cold drafts sneaking through the walls of the old motel that were making her shiver. It was them. Then men who killed her father."
The feel of the fabric. The constriction of the quilt. The temperature of the room. Before we even know who Penny is, or what she is hiding from, Seamans has already shared with us Penny's sensations through acutely physical details.
Atmosphere is usually referred to as the overall ambiance of a story, but in "Survival Instincts" Semans takes this idea of "atmosphere" to a higher level altogether. As 12-year-old Penny hides in a hidden cupboard in the wall, listening to a gang of murderers wreck havoc through her father's motel, waiting and dreading the all-too-real possibility that she will be their next victim, it is the physical immediacy of her space that makes her fear all the more frightening. Like an architect, Seamans lays out for us the specificities of the surroundings: we hear the echoes from Mr. and Mrs. Kipps room as they meet their end and feel the thump on the wall as the gang begins searching for the hidden cupboard. The tension is all in the details – the rendering of Penny's intimate, dreadful sensations onto the page – which culminate in a chilling moment of realization for Penny, when everything her father taught her becomes essential for her survival. To say more would be to spoil such a terrific story – so here's a brief quote to give you a taste of what you have to look forward to.
"Stay quiet like a mouse, the least little move and they'll hear you. If they hear you, know that they'll find you and you'll have to fight your way out to stay alive. Remember that the most deadly creature on earth is a cornered rattlesnake. Think like a rattler, strike when they least expect it, and you might survive..."
Read Sandra Seamans' "Survival Instincts" here at Pulp Pusher.
Also, be sure to check out her blog, My Little Corner, which is full of information on short story publishing.
Image of Lillian Gish from The Wind (1928), directed by Victor Sjostrom.