Friday, December 9, 2011

Darkness Surrounding #FridayFlash

Here is another piece that I put together for #Fridayflash. Please let me know what you think, and as always, feel free to be extra stabby with your critiques. It's the only way to help both of us grow.

Tim is dead.
At least I’m pretty sure he is. I crawled over to where he sat and shook him; he didn’t stir. His scrawny arm felt cool, not like when somebody gets out of the cold, but lifeless. I lifted his arm again, and it collapsed against his wasted and shriveled body.
I pushed myself away. For the first time in what must have been a couple days, I was grateful for the enveloping darkness and its ability to hide Tim’s body from me. The first week we had our flashlight, but once it died, time became elusive. The last thing he said to me was that he thought we made it to day ten, but I think it was closer to nine.
I closed my eyes and pressed my fingers into my eyelids, revealing bursts of colorful light flashing in front of my pupils. While no light reached the bottom of the mine shaft, it appeared we could create our own. It was actually Tim who first discovered this ‘light’ as he called it. But whatever it was, hunger hallucinations or some sort of physics phenomenon, I enjoyed it. Lately, when we were too weak to talk, Tim and I spent what we thought were hours staring into those lights.
When I opened my eyes, the darkness took over and I realized that my own body approached death. I wondered what it was like to die like that, like Tim. All I knew was that I didn’t want to, but there was nothing I could do, unless I wanted to go down a dark road I dared not think about.
The thought, however, had infected my mind; there was nothing I could do about it now. My own death was imminent, and who would it hurt anyways? Tim was dead. That was a fact, and he wouldn’t feel any pain. Although what of his wife and kids? What if they found only parts of him? But then again, what about my own family? Don’t they deserve their father?
I ran my hand down Tim’s arm and felt the muscular fibers, though mostly eaten by his body, still there and full of life saving energy. I pressed my fingers up against his bicep, and to be honest, a man, even one who is starved to death, has a fair amount of meat on him. Each arm probably enough to keep me alive another day; the legs, a couple more. The question was, how long until the rescue? Would it ever come?
“Tim.” I said into the darkness, not expecting a response but needing to talk to somebody. “Do you think the basketball team is going to make it to state this year?” Still silence from him, but I didn’t care. “Yea, they might have trouble defending the post, but their perimeter--I think you’re underestimating Davis. He’s a good kid--fuck it.”
My hands shook as I pulled out my pocket knife. I had spent the last five years of my life keeping the hinges oiled and the blade sharp, but getting it open in my current state left me out of breath. There was no strength for anything, my time was running out no matter what I did.
The knife sat open in my hand for a good long while. How long, I’m not sure. Time in darkness like that moves like a kid just learning to drive stick, and it was just about as painful too. I closed my eyes and watched the faint colors flash around. Where that light came from, I’ll never know, but it made me feel like there was something coming for me, that there was something out there. I summoned up any remaining strength I had and tossed my knife across the chamber.
I kept my eyes closed, watching the lights. My body made all kinds of strange, gurgling sounds, and I drifted in and out of sleep. I’m not sure how long I was out each time, but whenever I was awake, I didn’t last long. “Tim.” I cried out. “Give my regards to Beth when you see her.” I fell asleep.
Sometime later, I woke up to a light, a real one. I squinted at the brightness. It looked almost like a light from a miner’s helmet, and it was accompanied by the echoing sounds of a man cheering in the distance. I tried to keep my eyes open, but it was useless.
The next time I managed to open them, the light was even brighter. So bright in fact I couldn’t make out anything in my surroundings. But then, for a moment, I thought I saw some sort of monitor glowing green in the distance and my wife in the background. She rushed to my side. Yes, it was my wife. “I love you.” I called out, but my head crashed back into the pillow as soon as I tried to lift it. My eyes closed themselves and brought back those comfortable colors until they too faded to darkness.


Anonymous December 9, 2011 at 3:16 PM  

You grabbed my attention with the first sentence and held it right to the end, keeping me guessing. The ending was not what I expected but it wasn't a twist in the sense that there was no big reveal - no 'ta da!' Nicely done. The only problem I have with this, really, is that you made me want him to eat Tim. Partly because of this, I didn't get on with the happy ending. But also it made the whole thing a bit sentimental. I think an open, ambiguous ending would have worked much better here. If you ended it with him contemplating the pen knife, now that would have been an ending with real punch.

Michael A Tate December 9, 2011 at 4:03 PM  

Louise: Thank you, and about the ending, that got me thinking of an alternate that I'm almost thinking I like a little more.

"The knife sat open in my hand for a good long while. How long, I’m not sure. Time in darkness like that moves like a kid just learning to drive stick, and it was just about as painful too. I closed my eyes and watched the faint colors flash around. Where that light came from, I’ll never know, but it made me feel like there was something coming for me, that there was something out there. I summoned up any remaining strength I had and pressed the knife down. The thick, heavy liquid that flowed out looked more like syrup than blood. But it was exactly what I needed to save myself."

Again, thanks!

Raven Corinn Carluk December 9, 2011 at 4:17 PM  

I personally like his decision to not eat Tim. It has a great feel of resolve and personal ethics.

And I like the ending. It's tragic and happy at the same time. Good job. Nothing I can really think you need stabbylove over.

Stephen T. Harper December 9, 2011 at 4:35 PM  

Hey that was good, Michael. Love the dilemma. I thought it was going to be one of those ironic/twisty O Henry/Rod Serling endings where he's got Tim's bloody bicep hanging out of his mouth when the miner's turn on the lights and wake him up.

FARfetched December 9, 2011 at 9:27 PM  

Well done — I liked the resolution and how he handled the personal dilemma. Knowing he made it without eating his friend will make it all that much better for him in the end.

Food is one thing, but what about water? That's really the only thing that didn't ring true in this. Given sufficient water, most people can go two weeks or more without eating. But dehydration will kill almost anyone in four days or less.

Helen December 9, 2011 at 11:08 PM  

This was very well written, at least to my eye. I too liked that he resolved not to eat his friend, and was rescued.

I liked the internal talk and working out how much extra time that would give him if he did eat his friend.

The whole piece held my attention and I was never sure whether he would make it or not.

Well done!

Chuck Allen December 10, 2011 at 10:20 AM  

I, too, liked the way this played out. I agree a vague ending could work also, but adding in the sight of his wife at the end was touching.

Tom Gillespie : @tom_gillespie December 10, 2011 at 10:57 AM  

Gripping and suspenseful. I love the alternate ending..

Danielle La Paglia December 10, 2011 at 12:11 PM  

I really liked this piece. It had such a peaceful quality for such a desperate situation and I loved that contradiction.

As far as critique goes, the first two lines are in present tense where the rest of the story is in past tense and that through me a little in the beginning. I had to read the first paragraph twice, but the rest was fantastic.

Sonia Lal December 10, 2011 at 12:41 PM  

I afraid he was going to eat his friend. I liked the ending, that he didn't. Character has a great resolve.

Tim VanSant Writes December 10, 2011 at 1:57 PM  

I'm dead? I'd be hard pressed to think of an opening line that gets my attention more than that.

And, of course, it reminded me of this song:

Icy Sedgwick December 11, 2011 at 8:04 AM  

I'm prefer the ending you chose, in that he's rescued before he breaks one of humanity's final taboos. It gives the lights more of an ethereal, hopeful sense of symbolism, instead of just a biological phenomenon.

Elisabeth Black December 11, 2011 at 12:33 PM  

I was quite taken with the theme of the lights. I like the contrast they highlight between the bright and painful life we're immersed in within civilization, and the peaceful, if intense, experience he had when he was dying. I felt those were the strongest elements of the piece. Nice work.

John Wiswell December 11, 2011 at 11:03 PM  

I really dug this, especially with the tone of the first half. It feels headed for surrealism while running on intensity and intrigue. The intrigue on two levels: I was interested in both what he was up to, and in memories of Tim. Plus I love that simple opener. I had a radically different read on the opening line, which I'm hoping you'll consent for me to publish.

The only #stabbylove I really have for you is the three uses of "back" in the final paragraph. And maybe that while the conclusion is satisfying, the actions that carry it aren't quite. There's fatigue, but I wanted some unique action to crystallize the piece - and something unique to the piece. Demanding the unexpected is unreasonable, so it's something you can dismiss if you want.

D. Paul December 12, 2011 at 12:36 AM  


Well done. I like his moral dilemma, but, since you asked for an extra helping of stabby, I would offer this thought.

I think the crux of the story is his dilemma of whether or not to eat Tim. I just don't see the lights really adding to that, except making a nice tie in to his death at the brink of salvation (assuming I'm reading that right:-)

But I think you could do more with his animalistic cravings. His hunger, his instincts, his baser nature driving him towards eating Tim. His mind already starting to formulate reasons why its acceptable, and his rationality having to fight against that to finally throw the knife away.

I think that would make for a more compelling and powerful story than the introduction of the lights.

Still good, of course, but I think that would take it to the next level :-)

All the best,

Michael A Tate December 12, 2011 at 8:23 PM  

Raven: Thank you very much for the comments. I think the ending is the hardest part and most crucial, so I'm really glad you thought it worked.

Stephen: Lol, yea that would have been a pretty twisty ending indeed.

Far: Very good point about the water. I guess I assumed it was a drippy mineshaft type thing. I guess I always assumed they would have puddles or something, but I do suppose come clarification would have been key. Thank you very much for your comments. Very helpful.

Helen: Thank you very much. I'm glad that self-talk worked for you. It was one of my favorite parts.

Chuck: Thanks for comments on both endings :) I'm actually not sure which one I like better to be honest.

Tom: I'm glad you liked the alternate ending too!

Danielle: Wow, I guess the peaceful aspect wasn't the one I was going for, but I'm glad it felt that way for you. And spot on with the tense issue. Thank you so much for finding that!

Sonia: To be honest, I've read too many stories as of late where the opposite happened (seriously, my reading list is kinda messed up) so I wanted to make sure this wasn't one of them.

Tim: Yes, you are in fact dead. Great opening hook for a small percentage of the population.

Icy: I'm glad you caught onto the symbolism there. It's not too often that I try to do something like that intentionally, so I'm glad it worked.

Elisabeth: Again, I'm glad you like Icy liked the play with the lights. Thank you very much for your comments.

John: Of course, take the line. And with the dark comment, I see exactly what you are saying. It's comments like those that really give me that insight I think I need to take my writing to that next level. Thank you very much.

Paul: Again, I'm always looking to go to the next level, and I think I did get a little caught up in the whole lights theme while sacrificing some of those intense emotions. Just like John, these are very excellent comments, and hopefully they help.

Again, thank you to everybody. You have been most helpful!

Peter Newman December 13, 2011 at 1:34 PM  

I was really grabbed by the way this began and your writing held me throughout.

However in the interests of stabbylove (that reminds me of Buffy, should it?) I'd agree that the decision to not eat Tim is the ending of the story.

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