Okay, here I am at last. I'll start by saying that this was quite a fascinating read - one of those pieces that you can't stop reading until you've finished. It didn't quite make me reconsider my life philosophy, but I definitely felt the downward spiral of your characters. Let's take a look at your questions:
Is it too obvious? Alternatively, is it too obscure? I'm aiming for somewhere in the middle; ideally I'd like the reader to have a pretty good idea of what happened while still leaving a bit of doubt.
The narrator kills his buddy in the end, right? I didn't find anything about it too obvious, except for one thing I'll get to below.
Is there enough foreshadowing?
I have to confess, I don't usually look for foreshadowing. Either someone follows the rules of storytelling (which I find often includes a great many cliched attempts at sneaky foreshadowing, which aren't), and I can therefore determine exactly what's going to happen when; or they don't follow the rules, and I find myself pleasantly surprised at the end (See: Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman). FORTUNATELY, this piece reminds me very strongly of Neil Gaimain, and if I look for the sneaky little foreshadowing places, they're there. I find the piece doesn't really need foreshadowing - by the time the narrator reaches the end, I'm not really SURPRISED by how low humanity can sink...ya know?
What do you think of the narrator? Do you believe him?
Do I believe the narrator? Well that's an interesting question. Which part are you asking about? Do I believe the whole story he tells me? In which case the answer is yes, because I have a suspend-disbelief impulse like you wouldn't believe Seriously, though, I'd like a touch more clarification on this question.
Any unbearable cliched phrases (I know I use them; I get lazy and they slip in)?
I didn't notice any unbearable ones. As I said, this reminds me strongly of Neil Gaiman, in whose work I find the cliches actually add to the piece because of how he uses them.
I like this piece. BUT I'm not sure what to do with it. It's an interesting concept, but I feel like it still needs some fleshing out. Who on earth is Magpie? Where does he come from? What the hell is he? I feel like even a line mentioning where Magpie was found would help - by giving us just a touch more information, you could actually make him a bit more mysterious, but in a slightly stronger way (if that makes sense). And another thing: why is his name Magpie? Who gave him that name? I know you like magpies (as I do myself), but is there any reason within the story that his name is Magpie? Why does he even have a name?
Also, I'm not thrilled with the title. Thought about 'Magpie', but that seemed too obvious. Or 'Master Cleanse'. I'm going to keep thinking on it, but if anything jumps out at you, I'm open to suggestions.
I have to say I actually like the title - I think the tone of it matches the piece, somehow. I think it isn't obvious, and when you've finished reading and come back to it, you kind of go, "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," and chuckle darkly. Again, I'm not sure about the name "Magpie," so if you really aren't happy with the title, I suggest you really spend some time thinking about what Magpie's name is and why he should be called that - giving the reader a bit more of a reason might not go amiss, either.
Anyway. Ignore the stars. I think this is good, but sort of...lacks punch. I think that's really it. I like the story in general, but adding just a touch more information to flesh out Magpie's character, make him less flat, could add a new dimension to the piece.
I hope you find this helpful!
That is helpful. And you brought up a lot of things that I'll look at when I go through revising. Now there shall be some very long exposition why I'll answer your questions
Funny enough, I was thinking today about why I named him Magpie (because I'm also going to have to write an essay to go along with this explaining the techniques/practices I use and why).
I have a rather perpetual fascination with the concept of sin eaters. I've written a few things over the years about individuals that are able to take things from others in one way or another; I don't know that any are out of storage in my gallery, though. One of those was about a more human boy named Magpie, who did this whole thing a bit more voluntarily. Overall, it was a cheerier story than this one. That story, however, has been something I've wanted to revisit and straighten up for awhile, so I sort of took that - or Magpie, himself, really - and the sin eater idea and so that's part of where his name came from. The other part is that magpies are collectors - which is what he's doing in a sense - and I wanted his name to reflect that side of his nature. I imagine the narrator gave him the name as something to call him (and because it's much easier when your characters have names as a writer ) but I'll have to think about why he would pick that one. I also need to figure out where Charley found him and how he managed to get him to his basement, because I didn't really investigate that aspect of it too much.
The obvious/obscure question. Looking at my questions now, I realise that the first three are all variations of the same thing. Mostly I wanted to know if the sneaky foreshadowing attempts actually worked or came across as trying too hard - kind of that thing where you read something and take it at face value and then get to the end and look at it again and realise, oh, yeah, that's saying two things. So apparently that does work (I really like being spoken about in relation to Neil Gaiman, just so you know ).
In terms of believability, it was the narrator's progression. Like. There are enough little bits leading up to it that it doesn't seem totally bizarre that he kills his friend in the end. In my mind, this guy is kind of a psychopath to begin with, even well before Magpie comes along, though someone else that read it didn't get that. That he killed Charley was clear, and the other people that went missing, but the motivation was different. Not that the specific why is as important as that it happens. So it was basically just, does this person seem consistent throughout?
I am so out of practice writing something this short. There are a lot more things I'd like to put into this and explore, but with 1500 words you really do have to single out the most important bits to highlight. Anyway. Thanks for taking the time to go through this for me and you've given me some good questions to ask when I go back over it.
Ooooh. See, I knew some things about magpies, but "sin eaters"? That sounds pretty awesome. And geeze, I know 1500 words is a pretty tough limit. Sorry for suggesting you add more!
When it comes to the narrator's believability: I say yes. Definitely believable. I didn't see him as already been kinda sociopathic, but I thought his downward spiral was very well paced.
Glad you found it helpful!
I don't know that there's actually a correlation between magpies and sin eaters, but that family of birds seems pretty good at collecting creepy and/or supernatural attributes, and magpies are less stigmatised than say, crows or ravens. I know I also look at characters named 'Raven' with a sort of 'seriously?' mentality (too much time hanging with the goff kids ).
My mom's gone through and sliced out much of my usual verbosity so I might have some wiggle room when I get done deleting all of them. I used to be able to knock out this quick 500/1000/1500 word things without a problem, but between Nano and my project for uni, my brain is so stuck in novel mode it sort of boggles the mind how to effectively tell a story with so few words. I suppose it's useful to keep in practice, though.