Hello there, NuclearStudent!
I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't gotten around to commenting on one of your works sooner, but better late than never, right? I'm glad that you recommended this story to be my first out of your collection of works—I think I have a good sense of your writing style and strengths, now! Let's jump in, shall we?
First off, let's start out with the obvious... This is the first time I've ever read a straight up horror story on these forums. I made the mistake of eating dinner right before reading this story. Luckily, I didn't throw up my dinner!
On second thought, if I had thrown it up, that might have been the ultimate compliment that I could have given you. Haha! For what it's worth, I don't throw up unless I really am sick, but this story did succeed in making my skin crawl. I certainly felt grossed out by what I was reading. So points to you, good sir!
You're technical writing abilities are great. You're really good at creating atmosphere... like really good. I might even say that it's your greatest strength. The settings and imagery in this story were more vivid in my mind than most other stories I've read on these forums. Below are just some of the lines that stuck out to me...
NuclearStudent wrote: ↑Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:52 amI just sat there. The sun was done rising. It was a Sunday, so without classes, there was nowhere to go. I should have been studying but I frankly didn’t want to. I didn’t feel hungry for some reason, so I just stayed in place. I waited for cicadas to call, but they never did.
NuclearStudent wrote: ↑Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:52 amI stared, waiting for some kind of clarification. I know Rin was just being cryptic as usual, but I felt sick to my stomach again. My spine tingled. My skin raised gooseflesh and it felt like someone was crawling through it. I knew there was no reason to feel this way, but I couldn’t fight it off.
Special mention goes to the bold bit above. I saw that in my head so vividly—awesome stuff.NuclearStudent wrote: ↑Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:52 amMy head tilted down and looked at myself. My face wrinkled to mimic something like embarrassment. The white snakes were gone and the remaining worms on my body were wriggling directly through my skin and into my body. They licked at the tiny remains of blood on my shirt as they went. I silently begged Kenji to notice something, anything.
Alright, let's talk some plot!
It becomes pretty clear by the end of this story that Hisao is experiencing sickness that comes from sleep deprivation. As someone who has gotten sick many times from lack of sleep, I find this story strangely relatable. Not the worms, of course, but the feeling of paranoia and sickness.
I was working on a research project for my school a couple years back. It was an experiment—a biology project where I had to culture microorganisms and gather measurements/data every hour. The whole experiment lasted two days, so I basically had to stay awake for 48 hours straight—only taking twenty minute power naps here and there. By the end of the two days, I started to mildly hallucinate. I started hearing things that weren't actually there—like footsteps. I'd turn around and nothing was there. It sent my paranoia through the roof, and it something that I thankfully haven't experienced again.
Given my experience with hallucinations in a sleep-deprived state, I am almost certain that Hisao is hallucinating the worms and the snakes. It's likely that Rin planted the image of the worms in his head, and that the thought manifested into a hallucination later that night. But it is just a hallucination, right? The way that Kenji reacts to him would make it seem like there's nothing wrong with Hisao on the outside. So there's probably no worms, right?
Well, it isn't that simple. NuclearStudent wouldn't make it that easy for us. He intentionally left in a few loose threads to keep us guessing as to whether or not Hisao is hallucinating. I personally think he is hallucinating, but there are more arguments that go either way.
On the one hand, I mentioned how Kenji didn't react to any external injuries—or worms—on Hisao's body. But hang on... Kenji is blind... So how would he see Hisao's injuries? Especially at the dead of night?
On the other hand... I noticed a very clever instance of foreshadowing on my reread of the story... Earlier on, Hisao watches a spider crawl up to Rin, but he flicks it away before it can crawl onto her. He finds the spider gross, but Rin has no reaction whatsoever to the spider. At first, we chalk this lack of reaction up to Rin being Rin. But after reading the end of the story, it's just as likely that the spider was never actually there, and that Hisao just hallucinated it. If the latter is true, then this has to be one of the most brilliant examples of foreshadowing I've ever seen on a story on these forums. It was so subtle that I didn't even notice it the first time around. Kudos, Nuke!
What I'm trying to say at the end of it all is that NuclearStudent leaves a little bit of ambiguity into the story, and while almost all logic points to the conclusion that Hisao is hallucinating the worms, I love how Nuke doesn't outright confirm it for us. That'd be a boring way to end the story, wouldn't it?
I really like how you shifted into the third person for this ending. It's a great little touch that really sells the whole story as an out-of-body experience.
I notice that you build a sense of tension in the reader through using small bits of escalating unease. The first thing we find out in the story is that Hisao is sleep deprived. Then we find out that it is finals week. Then we find out that Emi is mysteriously absent from the track. Then we see Rin's... odd painting. Then we have the run in with the spider. Then Rin starts going off on weird, uncomfortable tangents. Then Hisao starts to feel sick. Then the horror strikes, the tension had been properly built up, and I was completely invested.
Something else that I thought was especially clever about these small bits is that many of them double as foreshadowing. Hisao's sleep deprived state foreshadows how he's eventually going to get sick from it, I've already mentioned how the spider can be seen as subtle foreshadowing, and Rin's tangent about the worms literally come back to haunt Hisao. For Nuke to combine build-up with foreshadowing in this way was pretty cool. Very good writing, indeed.
Speaking of good writing, my hat is off to Nuke for attempting to write Rin. I find it extremely difficult to write Rin scenes, so I immediately respect anyone who can actually pull it off, and Nuke certainly did. Kudos!
Okay, I think that about settles my thoughts. All in all, I really enjoyed this one. Thanks for sending me this, Nuke!
Take care, everyone!