I've been meaning to start a gallery for a bit but never quite seem to. I also have been meaning to edit my few contest entries using the critiques I received as a launching point. I am hoping that by putting up the galley and within the gallery my stories it will motivate me to get started. I also have a few stories poking around inspired by my RP that I may also post should I ever get them out of my head.
Constructive criticism and commentary is very welcome. Let me know you stopped by, link me to your writing and I will try to return the favor.
This is my first entry and I agreed with pretty much everything the critiques said. One of my friends who critiqued it asked why I had avoided dialog, was I comfortable with it etc? I am very comfortable with dialog but I liked this story without it, I felt that since the main character wasn't too bright and the story was the dying man's memory things wouldn't be to clear not to mention I felt trying to get his exact tone right might change the feel of the story or seem hokey. It needs a bit of cleaning up.
Pain flooded the world like light, blasting away everything including the darkness that had been such a blessing. Red was next and for a moment it was as if red was the color of pain. But no, red was the color of light through eyelids sealed shut. For a moment red was enough, more than really because even with the red there was pain. But the eyelids fluttered, unbidden and suddenly light replaced the red but the pain remained. Focusing was something that didn’t hurt though it took a long time. Colors, lights and shapes danced in the pain and finally settled into vision.
A sky white and hazy provided a diffused light that gave everything sharp edges. That was the vision that came first. Next came the sharp rim of rock overhead framing the haze of sky and softened here and there with a mist drifting up from the waterfall that plunged over the edge. A gasp at that, a gasp and a wince at that thought: plunging over the edge. Pain reared again at the gasp, the motion of the skull needed to emit the sound the source of the pain’s resurgence. Thoughts that needed to be corralled and so they were. Eyes and thoughts focused on the edge, the mist, the ribbon of water that trickled down the side and the hollows and shadows carved by the patient water over time.
The rock was lovely in that hazy light, a soft golden brown that reminded him of Rebecca, her tawny waves of hair now gone a little bit silver about the temples, so had the rock. Veins of white and silver danced over the surface of the walls overhead and it made him smile to think of it. Rebecca of the laughing eyes, Rebecca of the bouncing curls, Rebecca who was always too good for him. She still was he thought as he stared up at the scene above him and thought back to what had brought him there.
He’d been away for years, fighting a war he could have cared less about, risking his life and earning medal after medal to prove himself to be more than the slow, fourth son of a poor farmer so that he might have the right to marry his girl, Rebecca Monroe. She’d always been the prettiest, always been the nicest and had always had the time for him. She was gentle when she talked to him; never called him slow like all the others had and had even let him dance with her at the harvest festivals. He had been in love with her for as long as he could remember and the summer he was seventeen, the summer he was a man he asked her for her hand.
She hadn’t laughed, no she’d simply smiled at him and if her smile had more than a little sadness in it what was he to know about the workings of women? He only knew that he loved her and wanted her. She had chewed her lip for a long moment; something he knew meant she was thinking. He loved that about her, she was smart, clever and kind. For a long moment she considered his question and then she turned to him and in a voice as gentle and sweet as anything he’d ever known, she spoke.
Her plan was brilliant. He would go and join the army, prove himself and then he could proudly ask her father for her hand. She pointed out that he had no occupation besides work on his father’s farm and not likely even that once his brother took over. She was right and he thought for a moment about her words and saw the sense in them. He agreed and she let him kiss her hand because of it. The vision he had of her for many years was her clutching the hand he had kissed to her breast and waving with the other, that same sad smile still on her face.
It had been hard; he’d had to work very hard to move up through the ranks without any connections or people to speak for him. But Rebecca had believed in him, she had given him this task and so he had done it. He had a bit of luck one battle where he had tripped and taken a bayonet thrust meant for the general and that had earned him some attention, people stopped openly calling him slow after that. It was shortly after that battle that he’d been given a rank he felt was worth having someone write home about. He was certain the news would get to his sweetheart and he was certain that she would be proud. But the war waged on and he wasn’t able to leave, he wasn’t able to return and collect his love no matter what rank he attained.
A decade later he woke one day and realized the war had ended some months before but he’d grown so used to the routine of the life of a soldier that he hadn’t noticed. That day had been one of the happiest of his life. He’d put on his uniform, mounted his horse and headed home, his head high and his heart soaring somewhere overhead, just then he felt as if he could fly. He was going to be married he told everyone he passed, from merchant, to fellow soldier to tinkers and madmen. Their reactions varied but his remained the same, joyful and enthusiastic.
But then he’d returned to the village and he’d seen her. She was plumper and the silver in her hair was clear in the hazy light of day. It didn’t matter to him, she was lovely and all that he desired. He’d grinned, called her name and ran to her, puzzled by the group of curly-haired children behind her. But he’d paid them no real mind and swooped upon her and lifted her from the ground. Around and around they had spun, him laughing as he felt her squirming in his arms. He spun until the very world was as dizzy as he and then he’d set her down and kissed her. That’s when things went really wrong.
She’d slapped him and the children gathered about had started crying and one even kicked his shin, a little blue eyed boy with a fierce look in his eyes. He felt as if his world had shattered and he pleaded with her to explain. She did, with a voice as cruel as it had once been sweet. She was married, had been coming on nine years. She had children and she was happy. She wanted him to be happy for her. But he couldn’t be, he could barely hear the words over the roaring in his ears. He had covered them, right there in the square with everyone watching and begun to scream too, his voice trying to drown out the dying of his heart. Rage had replaced the love all in an instant and he struck her, a back handed blow that sent her tumbling to the ground. She looked up at him, his Rebecca with hurt in her eyes and blood on her mouth and he was instantly sorry. But things had gone too far, there were too many people about and he needed to think, needed a chance to talk to her alone.
Without thinking he scooped her up and bolted for his horse leaving the screaming gaggle of children behind. He threw her over the saddle and in seconds had spurred his horse to a gallop. The horse, though tired ran for his master, loyal to the end. The rode and they rode until finally they found themselves at the river a little bit up from the falls. The roar of the falls was a soft and soothing drone from this distance and he pulled up. He slid down from his saddle and offered his darling aid in getting down.
But something had happened to Rebecca on the journey; no longer was she the sweet love of his life. She was a red-faced angry middle-aged woman who flew at him and screamed at him, calling him the vilest of names and hammering at his chest with her fists. Stunned he took it, trying to decipher her words, to see how he was wrong in this as she clearly thought him to be. It made no sense. He had done as she’d asked, gone and joined the army, earned ranks and medals for her and she hadn’t waited, not like she’d promised. Pain filled him then, it washed away everything as he looked down at her pinched angry face and before he’d known it he’d struck out.
She reeled back from the blow and something twisted further in her face and her hand scrabbled at the ground as if seeking something. He watched in dumb fascination, wondering what it could be. In a second she’d found it, pulled back her arm and threw. The rock flew through the air with surprising accuracy and hit him in on his left cheekbone. The pain was intense but not as much as the pain in his chest. He could see in her eyes as he stumbled back and fell into the cool of the river that she hated him. In that instant he hated her too.
The river accepted him as nothing ever had, with calm and coolness. He bobbed for a moment, and the tears in his eyes joined the river which welcomed them as well. It seemed a good place to be for a moment as he drifted but then it began to move faster and faster and the way was choppier and choppier and cutting through his confusion, pain and grief was a thought: the falls. But by then he’d struck one rock with his leg and the sickening crunch and burst of pain pushed that thought away. The next two blows hit his ribs and knocked the breath out of him. Then for an instant he knew what it was to fly, but only for an instant.
He had thought he’d known what pain was before. He had been wrong. Lying at the bottom of the falls looking up into the hazy sky with every piece of him broken into nearly as many pieces as his heart he truly knew what it meant to feel pain. He could feel his life ebb away and welcomed the peace of blackness, of oblivion. As he died, his thoughts slow and sluggish he wondered if Rebecca his love, would take care of his horse, it was a good beast after all, loyal and true.
This is my favorite story by far, there was just something about it that I really liked. This one, apparently, is rife with passive writing which I need clean up and I have to say the critiques were the harshest with this one but since I love that kind of things they were a delight to read.
Two small figures darted silently through some trees moving towards the edge of a field. When the reached the spot where forest ended and field began they stopped and crouched in the shadow between two white pines, the resinous scent of the sap surrounded them and shielded them from what waited in the field before them. They stared out over trampled grass that was washed over with an eerie blue light by the nearly full moon overhead. The grass that had just the day before been knee high and dotted with late summer wild flowers lay trampled and broken. All throughout the field large masses of darkness lay and amongst them small quiet movements were accompanied by soft territorial growls. One of the figures slipped a small hand into the other’s and whispered.
“I don’t wanna go out there Jacob, there are ghosts out there.”
The taller of the two figures gave the hand a soft squeeze and whispered back, still staring at the field, his eyes picking out a course to take.
“We hafta go out there Clara, it’s our job. But don’t worry there aren’t any ghosts, just some foxes and maybe a raccoon or two. That’s why you’ve got the sticks.”
Clara let out a soft whine and tugged at her brother’s hand.
“Marcus told me there were ghosts, I don’t wanna go out there.”
Jacob pulled his eyes away from the field and turned, sat next to his sister and gathered her up in his arms. She went easily, burrowing into him and he felt his throat tighten up when he felt how small and frail she was as she shivered in his arms in her filthy rags. It wasn’t so long ago that she’d been rosy cheeked and a little plumper than was good for her. He held her for a long moment and wished things had been different for their family, wished their Papa hadn’t been called away to fight for the king. Wishes were cheap, he thought to himself, food isn’t.
He kissed his sister’s soft hair and in the cadence of his mother when she told him a bedtime story he began.
“Once long ago the gods gifted men with teeth of gold, strong teeth that would cut through the toughest meat and even Aunt Ida’s bread.” At this Clara laughed and he paused to allow the small patch of joy to settle into him on this cheerless night. “But mankind grew vain of their teeth and spent more time admiring their teeth than worshiping the gods and so the gods began to take back the teeth, one at a time. No more babies were born with golden teeth and the few that escaped the gods’ notice grew rarer and rarer. But still some exist and so the gods have asked a few chosen ones to gather up the golden teeth and safeguard them.” He kissed her soft head again and with a single dirty finger raised her face to his and gravely told her, “I am one of those chosen, little one and now you are too.”
She smiled in delight even though fear lingered in her hungry eyes. She nodded solemnly and stood, picking up two stout sticks and holding them crossed before her. He stood too and turned back to the field. He watched for a moment and saw some movement along the western side of the field. They would start on the east then.
Carefully the two slipped from the shadows and into the field, moving with speed to the first lump of darkness. The air over the field in the still night was that of a slaughterhouse, meat and blood and entrails that had burst and spilled their fetid contents onto the thirsty earth. Clara made a gagging noise but didn’t complain, having been gifted with a divinely given role she was determined to be worthy of it. Jacob was sadly used to the scent and barely noticed.
When they arrived at the dark mound Jacob signaled for Clara to keep watch as he rolled the body over. His young eyes didn’t look at the uniform, he didn’t much care what side this one had fought on, he only cared that this man was dead and might provide something so that his family might live. He made a cursory search through the man’s pockets and uniform, expecting to find nothing and succeeding in that. He wasn’t there for the pockets though. With practiced hands he pried open the man’s jaw, happy that death hadn’t locked it shut. He didn’t want Clara to have to see how he handled that. He looked in the man’s mouth, tilting his head back and forth looking for the glint of metal among the man’s teeth. He saw two that gleamed dully in the pale light. With a quick prayer of thanks he reached into his pocket and pulled out some pliers and set to work.
It wasn’t pleasant, the noises of his work were of wetness and grinding. The sounds were unsettling but he’d grown used to them. The tissues seemed to soften and relax after death and it made the extraction easier, for that he was also grateful though it still lingered in his mind that it was a sad thing for a boy of his age to know. Soon he was slipping the two teeth into the pouch at his side and gesturing to his sister that they were moving on. She nodded eagerly, her small pinched face looking older in the soft light of the moon and he suddenly hated that she was there. She should be home in bed, cuddling her doll with a belly full of stew and not traipsing around a field standing guard while her older brother, the man of the family pulled teeth out of dead men. He felt anger and sadness well up in him and hot tears prick at his eyes. It wasn’t fair but it was what they had.
He remembered all the times he’d tried to pick the field with the other scavengers, shooing away the buzzards and rifling through pockets looking for coin only to have it taken by a ruthless man who had somehow not gotten called to war. Jacob’s family had nearly died then, there was no work to be had and no food either because the gods had been cruel and sent famine and drought to torment those left behind while the war raged on. Still he’d gone picking and come home more than once with a blackened eye and no coin for food. That is until the day he’d happened to see the tooth. That was when he’d become a tooth fairy and that was when his family had finally begun to eat. He’d been taking his brother Luke with him but Luke had sprained his ankle in a rabbit hole and that had left only Clara to help him in his work.
They reached another mound and he had begun to roll the corpse over when there was a growl right next to Jacob. Clara let out a squeak and began to crack the sticks together. The loud sounds cut through the silence of the night and for a moment the field grew still. The fox who had been feasting on the man’s abdomen scurried away looking for other, easier prey, of which the field was rich. Jacob put an arm around his trembling sister’s shoulder and squeezed.
“You did good Clara, real good. Better than Luke even.”
She smiled up at him, her lower lip trembling and that look of determination still in her eyes. Her victory was for naught though, this corpse hadn’t been “gifted” with golden teeth. The two picked their way across the field, corpse by corpse until the stink of perforated bowls and sun baked meat ceased to trouble them. Two small figures creeping from shadow to shadow harvesting the fruits of war observed only by their fellow scavengers. When they reached the last mound of death on the western side of the field Jacob’s pouch had five teeth, his biggest haul to date.
“Clara, you are my luck!” he said indulgently to the small girl who was visibly growing weary. She perked up a little at the praise and smiled up at him. He turned back to the corpse, their last for the night and rolled it. He froze and stared. After a quick moment he whispered,
“Clara, look away, this one’s yucky.”
He heard the soft whisper of movement that said she’d obeyed and he continued to stare at the face he’d known so well, the face he’d know again in a few years when he became a man. His mind screamed the name over and over: Papa. His hands shook as he gently touched the face, more gaunt that he remembered and scruffy with a beard. The laughing eyes were glassy now as they stared up at the moon. Jacob felt hot tears stream down his face and he swallowed hard. He didn’t want Clara to see, he didn’t want her to know that the hard times weren’t behind them, they were still coming. When this war was over and other families reunited and returned to normal, this one wouldn’t. When the war was over Jacob would have no more fields to harvest, no more teeth to collect and his family would go hungry. With shaking hands he took out his pliers and set to work. The future would come and it would bring what it would bring, but for now Jacob had work to do. There was harvesting to be done, because his papa had one gold tooth.
This one I wrote with a fever of 102 and probably shouldn't have been writing just then. Even so I like it though it is my least favorite of the lot. I'm not sure where to start with the clean up but I am certain there is some good material within the text. There was some confusion about the house/ghost aspect, it wasn't as clear as it could be (fever remember!) and I'll probably start with that. But it was the house narrating the tale as one of the components was Anthropomorphic object
The Silent Life of Eliza May
I was there when Eliza Mae was born. I watched as she came into the world in a wash of blood, fluid and utter silence. Her mother lay in a stupor, so filled with opium she seemed almost a doll as her body labored, unassisted, to bring her baby forth. She lay in her fine lawn nightgown which was soaked with blood from the waist down. Her blue eyes were glassed over and a string of drool trickling from the corner of her mouth while the miracle occurred. Eliza was born with her eyes open and her mouth closed. She made no sound but in the instant of her birth she saw me. Saw me as no one else ever had and in that second I felt a connection to this tiny fragile life that lay in a pool of blood and watched me.
The Doctor, deep into an underground medical journal detailing the latest anatomical findings of the body snatchers, drifting on his own helping of opium looked up just in time to see the birth of the placenta. He seemed rather put out by the whole affair and lay down the book without a care for its spine and stomped unceremoniously over to the babe. Pushing back the meaty placenta which lay over Eliza’s torso, he seemed startled to find her alive after the eerie silence of her entrance. Unceremoniously he picked her up by her foot and delivered a resounding smack to her bottom. So it was that I witnessed Eliza’s first experience of pain, it would not be the last. She cried then, soft weak little wails, like a kitten pleading for milk. In no time the mother was cleaned, the babe as well and the wet-nurse summoned. I stayed with the babe through it all, thrilling in the way she seemed to see me, giddy with the feeling of being known.
So it was that I watched Eliza Mae grow up. It was by turns a beautiful and painful thing to watch. Delicate and golden she wasn’t supposed to survive her first year so her mother never bothered investing much time in the child, her father either. The rich milk of Nellie the housekeeper turned wet nurse saw her through though. In time Eliza Mae filled out, scrawny limbs rounding out and sporting dimples of a most fetching nature. Her mother, lost in her addictions and disinterested in the child she couldn’t remember bearing, spent most of her time outside the house in the company of ladies as shallow and greedy as herself. Her father, a brutal business man in whose veins pumped ambition and dark hungers in lieu of blood, saw his house and family as a necessary milestone in his lifework. One, which now completed, bore no further interest for him.
Ever a grave child Eliza and I spent almost all our time together as silent as the scene of her birth. Nevertheless it was a comfort to the both of us to be together. She would roam about the long dark halls never far from me, poking into all the nooks and crannies. By the time she was three she found out all my secrets without any help from me. When Eliza Mae was five her parents seemed to suddenly notice me for the first time.
Men came over, first men in fine suits with briefcases and promises involving words like: innovation, brilliant, cutting edge, the latest and greatest. Then a second wave of men came, these wore sturdy work clothes. In the course of their work they violated and hurt me, cutting into me and riddling me with pipes and valves and then hiding the signs of their forceful invasion. I spent my time in the crawlspace with Eliza who was almost as troubled as I by this invasion. We lay together and listened to the sounds of our world changing, flinching at each loud bang. When it was done the landscape of our world was changed. Gone were the candle sconces and in their place were ugly modern gaslights. Gone was the soft golden light of candles and in its place was the harsh unrelenting light of the lamps.
It was in this light that her father began to see her for the first time. His dark eyes seemed to fix upon her, to linger on the golden curls of her head and sweep down to the soft downy cheek with its fetching dimple. These dark eyes lingered on her mother too, wan and washed out. She was horribly aged by a loveless life filled with drugs and petty concerns. Eliza Mae was fresh and new to his wife’s old and worn. She didn’t like his attention. She tried to keep out of his way and I helped her as best I could. When I felt him come home I would shift and protest softly and she would know to hide, to make herself scarce. It worked, at least a little. But dinners were inevitable and it was at these dinners that she was seen.
Silence reigned throughout dinner, silence but for the mindless yet cheerful chatter of Nellie who took her meals in the kitchen after serving the master and his family. His eyes lingered on Eliza and she felt it like a weight upon her small frame. She shrank during this time, trying to become smaller and smaller, pushing her food about her plate and not eating. He noticed this and it did nothing but make his dark eyes glitter in the bright, steady light of those damn gaslights.
I was there when he first came to her. I was the first one to hear the creaking of the floorboards, the rattling of the door knob. I looked to her and saw in her wide blue eyes that she knew on some instinctive level what was about to happen, not the details, oh no my Eliza was much too young and sheltered for that. She knew what was coming even so, pain was coming. Am I a coward? I would have fled had I been able. Even so I tried not to see, I tried not to hear and when it was done I held myself back. I debated if I should go to her, or if the contact would be painful. She was silent even in this, simply turning and rolling into a ball upon the bed, her hand reaching through the bars of her headboard to gently touch the papered wall as if seeking comfort. I knew then what she wanted and I went to her and offered her what silent comfort I may.
He came to her many times in the weeks that followed. Each time he was bolder and more entitled, a tyrant who ruled her small body. Each time I was an unwilling and helpless witness while the girl’s mother slept off whatever drug she had favored that night, drugs that her husband was more than eager to provide. Eliza suffered in the silence she lived in and I suffered with her, wondering what could possibly end this pain for her.
Clever girl, she found her own answer and together we forged a plan. I followed her one evening, long after the tyrant had left her used and sore. I drifted behind her to her mother’s room where she crept forward and picked up the blue bottle that contained her mother’s health tonic off of her vanity. With shaking hands Eliza opened the bottle and downed all its contents. I wanted to yell, to shout and stop her but I could do no more than shake and rattle. It wasn’t enough, the damage was done and Eliza drifted dreamily back to her bed in the silence she’d lived her life in.
I stood over her watching her as those blue eyes closed for the last time, seeing me for the last time in the split second before the unnatural sleep took her. I watched as her breathing grew ever more shallow until, at last she breathed no more. Still the tie that had bound us lingered and I knew immediately what I had to do. Reaching within myself I found those hated gas lines, all of them dark and quiet this time of night. I traced the lines and found all the valves and as I did so I found the occupants. It was only Nellie that made me pause. She had been silly, ineffectual but she had saved my Eliza with her milk all those years ago. Even so it wasn’t enough to stop me. I loosened the valves, releasing the gas until every room in the house filled slowly and each and every one of those lives, lives that should have enriched her life but hadn’t, snuffed out. It wasn’t enough but it would have to do.
In silence she was born, in silence she died and in silence she was born again. I drifted back to her bedside and watched her small form and waited for the dawn to come so that I might see the colors that painted the sky paint her pale pinched face in the tones it had worn while alive. Long before the dawn I felt something, a shaking and a quaking that rattled my panes in a way that only I could. For a second my attention left the shell of my Eliza to see what had changed. Drifting down the halls and into all the rooms I could find nothing. When I settled my awareness back into her room I felt the change. It felt like I imagined a hand taking mine would feel like. Eliza, born anew and as much a part of me as I had been of her. I saw her and she saw me, our night’s work was done. Our night’s work was good.
So it was that we were there together when the next babe was born in that very same room where Eliza had made her silent appearance. This one was born amid screams and grunts and the hard work of her mother. She cried the second she came out and though she didn’t see us that first moment, she did see us eventually. We watched her, Eliza and I and we kept her as safe as we were able and witnessed all her joy and pain, together.