I've put together a system that better helps me know who is truly interested in helping out. If that's you, please read over the following selection from a short story I wrote a few months ago and email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) a list of the errors you find in it. Those who snag the most will be accepted into my beta reading list. (And please note that not all errors have to be grammatical. If you find problems in the characterization, the settings, descriptions, etc., those count too.)
(Also, when submitting your list, quote a few words surrounding the error so I know what you're referencing.)
The Blackwood Relic
Travis Blackwood hurried to finish hooking up the plow to the tractor. Not only would pa tan his hide if he didn’t get the fields done today, but Cassidy was coming over in a few hours, and he didn’t have much time to get his chores finished before she arrived.
He paused, staring at the forest on the edge of the field. Though the sun was directly overhead, the shadows there were deep and elongated.
Even sunlight seemed to fear the trees.
Travis had learned quickly not to ask why he struggled breathing, why his hands felt clammy when he was near the forest. Pa refused to talk about anything that concerned the place. He was determined to tame the only field on the property that invited unruly growth—to force the trees to stay within their bounds.
And Travis, standing by the plow here on the edge of the field, should have felt relieved with the shadows so far away But the air surrounding him was still. Crickets didn’t chirp—mosquitoes didn’t buzz. And the wind never seemed to stir the leaves on this part of the farm—it was as if even the elements and creatures felt there was something to be feared here.
Travis shok himself. He’d never finish his chores if he couldn’t hold his thought together. And if Pa caught him dawdling, he’d whoop him for sure.
To bad the old man was still so much bigger than Travis, who was nearly 18. Travis hadn’t caught up with the rest of the family yet—including cousins and some of the girls.
He hopped onto the tractor seat and admired his arms, pretending they had another ten pounds on them each, like his cousin Justins. But Cassidy obviously didn’t care about that sort of thing. Her beautiful blues eyes were just for him.
Throwing the stick into gear, Travis pulled onto the field. Once he settled into the familiar pattern, he was able to daydream, and thoughts of the forest fled his mind.
Though he was nervous to introduce Cassidy to the family—scared, even—he also couldn’t wait. They’d be so surprised that he—scrawny, tiny Travis—could get a girl like her.
Well, he could. And he had.
A sudden bump jolted Travis from his daydreams, and the grinding that followed was rough enough to make his teeth ache. The tractor stopped moving and the engine whined as it attempted keep going.
“Oh, no, oh, no, Travis said, popping the thing out of gear. A cold sweat rushed from his scalp and down his back. Only one thing would stop the plow.
Pa was going to kill him.
He jumped from the tractor and rushed around to the side of the plow where the sound had come from.
“Doggonit”, he said, pulling off his hat.
He’d run over that rock, and the blades on this side of the plow were ruined, all tangled up around the stone.
Why Pa insisted on keeping it there, in the middle of the field, was beyond Travis. And the stupid part of the situation—Pa didn’t even know where it had come from, yet he still insisted it stay and that no one touch it.
Well, Travis had had i. It was time to get the thing taken care of. And tadoy was the best time to do it, seeing as how pa and ma were out on a date. They always got back late on date night, so Travis would have several hours to dig, if he harried.
He scratched his head. Now to figure out how to get the plow unstuck. He bent and grabbed the twisted metal, prepared to tug a hard as he could. But the moment his hand brushed the rock, all thought fled his mind. His joints froze and his heart stopped beating. A dull ache spread through his body, starting in his chest.
He gasped for breathe, struggling to regain control, but a sudden terror sized him. He felt someone—or something—approach. He looked around, barely able to move his head, but didnt see anyone. The pressure became unbearable and tears sprang to his eyes.
What the heck was going on?
Moments later, the pressure released, but the feeling that someone was watching remained. The sensation came from all directions, as if the person—or being—surrounded him.
“God?” he said, looking up at the sky. But the feeling in his heart was far from the warmth Ma always said came from god.
Something else was out there.
Travis’s breath caught. His hands slipped off the metal of the plow, his palms clammy. His heart pounded, making his ribs ache.
No, nothing was watching him. That was stupid. Only the plow was there, and plows don’t watch humans. They don’t watch animals or trees or objects, neither.
“’Cause they don’t watch nothin’,” he whispered to himself, wishing his courage would return.
He was definitely going to dig up the rock.
His phone rang just then, making him jump. He pulled it out of his pocket, nearly dropping it as he fumbled to see who was calling.
“Oh, Cass. Man, you scared the bejeebies outta me!”
“Why? What’s going on”
“I feel horrible, and it’s freaking me out. It’s all on accounta this stone here.” He dropped his voice, shielding the phone with his hand, hoping that whoever was listening wouldn’t hear what he would say next. “And I gotta do something about it. Gotta get rid of it. I’ll start as soon as possible ’cause it’s gonna take all night.”
Cassidy made a little pouty sound. “What about our date?’
Travis slapped his forehead. “Oh, Cass, I’m sorry. I totally forgot. But there’s no way I can go bowlin’ when I know this evil is around. Ma and Pa are gone until ten, so I only have now to do it. Pa’ll get so mad if he comes home and sees his field dug up. Nope, gotta get rid of the stone now, then make the field right as soon as I can.”
Cassidy sighed. “Oh, well, okay.” She paused. “Could I come help?”
Something in the forest caught Trevor’s attention, and he glanced that way. A sigh echoed across the field toward the stone.
“Shhh,” Travis hissed. He crouched down, looking at the trees, trying to see what had made the noise. Nothing happened, but he continued waiting, glaring in the sunlight, trying to ignore the prickly sensation on his skin.
Realizing that Cass might think he was a coward if he didn’t do something soon, he jumped to his feet and shouted, “Whoever you are, you ain’t scaring me!”
They were, but maybe they wouldn’t know he was bluffing.
“Trav, you’re freaking me out.”
Travis waited, and when nothing more happened, he passed a hand across his eyes. “It’s freakin’ me out,” he muttered. “What did you ask?”
“If I could come over.”
Travis thought it over for a bit. He didn’t want to put her in danger, but he could really use her help. “I guess so,” he said. “But we have to be careful and we have to go fast.”
“Okay! I’m good at digging. Between the two of us, we’ll get it taken care of.”
He couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm. He was so lucky she’d decided to date him. “Bring a shovel. And thanks Cass. I appreciate it.”
He ended the call, tucking his phone back into his pocket. Talking to Cassidy always lifted his spirits, but it didn’t take long for the pressing sensation of being watched to put him out of sorts again. He glanced at the forest as he got back to work. He’d never once set foot in it, on account of the stories. Stories he was sure weren’t true, but regardless, he had never wanted to know for sure.
It took him almost two hours to unstick the plow and get the tractor back to the barn. The job would have been much easier if he’d asked Pa for help, but there was no way he’d do that. Not when it for sure meant Pa would learn what happened.
’Course, he’d learn about it eventually. Travis couldn’t hide something like that forever. But at least when he did learn, that stone would be long gone, and Pa would be too grateful to finally have a clear field to be mad.
And that's it! Send your list to me at email@example.com, and I'll get back to you. :-)