“Come on, Stace.” Kiki was yanking her by the wrist. “And don’t give me that, but I feel guilty, bullshit.” Yanking her by the wrist, marching her across the parking lot, their white sashes flapping in the wind, heels click-clack-click-clacking up to the entrance where the neon letters glowed against the night sky.
Cool direction with Chuck’s funeral home debt prompt. But you end Stace’ session too soon! Does the future technology stimulate odor? Is there an unwelcome sound, like his skin flapping in the wind or a foot dragging on asphalt? And most importantly - touch? His torn lips, his shredded fingers, his missing crotch? Likewise, her increasing heartbeat, tensing of muscles, eyes drying from opening wide in shock, etc... Could you escalate the ending to show Joey embracing her?
Consider having Stace piece together a bit of what’s happening before Joey touches her... or you could insert an explanation through the clever computer text intrusion like, ------processing----- account in escrow (or appropriate legal term)-------processing------ session locked until debt paid in full-------- that way, you wouldnt need to explain so much of whats happening the with closing conversation between brock and kiki. And to amp up the horror, Lars could tell Kiki the session is locked until Joey’s debt is paid but Kiki isnt informed that Joey is a corpse... so she’s hearing screams and banging but assumes its wild sex and is telling brock you better pay before Stace changes her mind about the wedding, its forty minutes and she sounds like she’s having the time of her life
Imo, this is really strong. I like the parenthesis thoughts. And all the “Joey” slips of tongue phrases. Ha! Characters feel authentic.
First read comments with the qualifier that I'm daft in mind: The narrative arc of this story is very digestible, but here's a few things that might help with added clarity (which I've mostly picked up from Chuck):
1. There are times when it's not super clear if the narrator is talking about Joey or Brock. I can infer, but attribution or just using the name would make it easier to comprehend. Remember, don't make the reader think! And dumb it down in places for the not-too-bright readers (e.g., me).
2. L, D, and P stood for, I presume, Living, Deceased, and Pending (?). To me, I'd just spell it out. Instead of making the reader decipher it, let them realize, Oh, you can virtually simulate fucking dead people! Holy shit! The idea is what creates the intrigue, not the ambiguity. Also, knowing exactly what her options are, the astute reader (sometimes me) might infer she's going to pick a dead person, which might lead to disaster, which means they better keep reading to find out.
3. The significance of HWNSNBSETTD was a bit confusing to me. At first I thought it was Joey, but then it's clear it's not, but then I was like, Okay, then who is this person? Unless I missed something obvious (likely), then this seems like a place to downsize.
4. In the paragraph starting "On Kiki’s cell, Martell, Brock’s Best Man—their best man..." there's way too many names. Easy to critique this after seeing Chuck pound on it, but it's definitely true. While reading I was like, there's no way I'm going to try to keep track of these people. Better to use descriptors like Brock's best man, Brock's weed-smoking buddy, Brock's boss, my work frenemy, or whatever.
Related to this, if you've queried a novel or written a novel synopsis, or are planning to, you'll see that you're not supposed to name more than three characters, because otherwise it's too much to keep track of. In my WIP novel synopsis (which I'm editing now), I name four characters only: protagonist, co-antagonists, and mystery character. In the query letter I only name three.
5. Everything Wil said is spot on. The setup is great, but maybe too long, and the payoff is rushed. Give me 1,500 words of set-up, then 500-1,000 words of sheer terror to close the story out. That would be incredible. Also, if you make it clear the simulation went horribly awry, you might be able to do away with the last paragraph entirely. You'll have "earned" the ending.
To be clear: this story is really, really interesting. It sounds like a lot of critiquing, but some simple changes would flow through the entire story with monster impact. Hoping you modify and re-post. Super good stuff.