Feb 1

Voices

2 comments

Wow, I'm really late to the party, but here is my creation. Don't count on it to brighten your Friday though. It's as dark as dark chocolate. Hope you enjoy nonetheless.

 

"It's actually the Milky Way", said John. He put his left arm behind his head as we laid on the blanket I stole from my grandma's living room a couple of hours ago and pointed to the sky, his index finger making a little wave in the air as he tried to pinpoint the exact location of the Milky Way to me. "Do you see it now? God, how can you not know where the Milky Way is?", he nudged me in the ribs lightly and laughed. "I'm glad you're amused, but I just don't really spend much time looking at the sky, you know", I said while trying to find the pack of cigarettes I bought on the way over in my backpack. "What do you mean? Aren't you curious to know what's there? Up above? On another planet? All the stars that have been dead for millions of years? I thought girls live for thing like that - seeing a falling star or whatever", he looked at me raising an eyebrow trying to hold his laughter. "Do you even know me, John? We've been friends since we were five. Do you really believe I sit around waiting for some stars to start falling from the sky?", I rolled my eyes at him, "I'm more consumed by the depths of my bag and the magical powers it has - like swallowing all my belongings so I could never find anything inside, this is ridiculous" , I sighed as John already had a cigarette prepared for me. "You're a life saver", I said thankfully while putting it between my lips. "These things kill you, so I more or less classify as a slow murderer", he smirked and I couldn't help but laugh at this. "Didn't your grandpa die of lung cancer, Jess?, he looked at me, there was no sign of his previous bubbly persona. I frowned and looked down at my feet, "Hey, maybe I don't wish upon falling stars like other girls but I still have feelings... Why would you bring that up?", he put his hand on my knee and I could feel his soft gaze on me but didn't want to meet his eyes. I knew he cared and just wanted to look out for me and protect me. "Is this going to be one of your lectures, John? How I'm wasting my life away, the best years of it, the only time I'm going to be in my 20's and thriving? That I'm young now and I only live once and how I have to set goals for myself and achieve greatness and leave something behind? Because honestly you've already ruined the mood after bringing my dead grandfather into the conversation. So I smoke just like he smoked so that means I'll probably die of lung cancer. I also drink just like my alcoholic father, does that make me an addict too? Listen to me, now I'm yelling so maybe I inherited all of my mother's neurosis although I hopelessly tried to be better than that. Maybe if I was like some other family member I would've stayed silent and said nothing and nodded my head at you and put my head down because I was too scared to speak up. But I want to be myself for once and to answer your question - yes, my grandpa died of lung cancer. He smoked for over fifty years and he was my favorite person in this whole shit hole of a world. I looked up to him, I wanted to be around him and listen to his stories all the time, I wanted to be him. And yes, maybe I spent an entire summer of my childhood sitting in the garden with him every day while the sun was setting, trying to imitate his gestures while holding a pen like a cigarette. Maybe that's exactly what I'm doing now. I carry a pack with me all the time so when I feel like crying I could light one up and tell people it's because of the smoke. "Damn this smoke, man, it always gets in my eyes", and they would nod understandingly and look away. I light one up every time I feel alone in a room so I could maybe feel closer to him somehow. Maybe it sounds messed up but it's true. I light one up every time I want to feel like a badass because that's who he was. I want nothing else than to sit on a bench in our backyard, just me and grandpa, watching how the sun sets in all its glory and magnificent colors, kind of the same but always different every day. I want the smell of grass and fresh summer air, just how I remember it from when I was six and thought that everyone's going to live forever and bad things wouldn't happen to the people I love. I want to sit there in silence, with our cigarettes (mine is real for the first time), breathing in the smoke and everything else in sight - the sky, the house, the little dot in the sky which is probably an airplane, the Milky Way, everything. You can take on the world with a little bit of smoke. I want to inhale it, feel it filling up my lungs, making the world spin a couple of times in Technicolor and then exhale and let it go up in a graceful, almost transparent spiral and evaporate. This is how I want my life to end - with grandpa and his cigarettes, smoking endlessly on the bench of our back yard, watching a sunset after another in silence and smoke. Because aren't we all doomed to end up in dust? This is what's left of us in the end - not a body to touch, nor a warm hand to hold. Nothing to grasp, nothing to hold onto. Just dust. And if you're lucky - it'll only be smoke. Maybe you'll evaporate, maybe you'll touch the very edge of the sky, where things go from baby blue to nothing... I often talk to John. He's just one of the voices in my head I try to calm down and make silent. He will be saying funny things until he asks the inevitable question or brings back a memory. It's hard to deal with him sometimes because he's just so talented, exceptional with impressions, this John. He can turn himself into the people I miss the most which makes the inner monologue unbearable. He talks to me every time I put an extra set of silverware on the table, every time I pour a second cup of tea when I'm alone, every time I light a cigarette. It's not the Milky Way but what's inside it - a black hole where time finally stops and you're able to sit there with your loved ones in silence and finally be able to share a cigarette. Everything else is just smoke.

Hey Dess, thanks for sharing! It's as dark as chocolate indeed, and just as bittersweet. I liked it a lot. The idea is self-contained and well-defined, and the "message" is clear. It's obvious that it's written by a smoker, but you've described it beautifully.

 

In terms of technique, I did feel that a few sentences were a little overloaded and could potentially achieve better pacing by being split into smaller parts. For example the second sentence is quite long and contains two secondary actions - "as we laid", "as he tried to pinpoint", which left me a little out of breath while reading it. A few more paragraph breaks can also improve the visual reading of the text.

 

One thing that I very much enjoyed was the subtle transition from external dialogue to internal monologue. I noticed that, grammatically speaking, the speech that opens with "Is this one of your lectures, John?" never has an end quote, instead morphing into thoughts. It's not often that the syntax itself is used for storytelling, so bravo for that!

 

One thing that can perhaps be even further developed is the revelation that John is a voice. I feel like it isn't necessary to say it outright, but it can be progressively hinted, left to the reader to figure out; him waning away as the cigarette is consumed, in the end dissolving into smoke, or something like that. Just a random thought really, I'm not entirely sure about it but felt like sharing.

 

Last but not least, the dialogue is really on point, which brings both weight and realism into this. It's clear that the dialogue is the most important part here, and while sometimes good dialogue can be tricky, I feel like you're hitting the right spots here. Well written =)

Nice piece - with a neat twist. I really like the way it escalates too - from an off-the-cuff remark about the grandfather's death to the 'black hole where time finally stops'. I'd also be tempted to think about not making the 'reveal' that John is an imaginary voice so clear - and maybe dropping hints along the way so that readers have to work it out for themselves. That might change the focus of the story a bit - but that might be something worth playing around with?

New Posts
  • Guys, I decided to share my entry story. I've never been proud of it and now that I reread it, the unproud feeling stays. Anyway, here it is: Not The Best Of Me (the single) SUBSTITUTE FOR LIFE “It's actually the Milky Way,” said John. “No need to get so emotional about it.” I look at him softly and put my head against his hand, my hairs gently brushing his skin. It is camping season and every year John takes me to that place near the great lake, where we can be alone among other people. Loneliness doesn't actually appeal to my man – he longs for someone to talk to, someone to wake up next to – maybe that's why he has me. But conversations don't come easy to us. Looking up at the sky, all I can think about is if there is something I could bark at, some sort of approaching car, something to defend my John against. And he is pondering on things that aren't even good to eat, piss on or show your teeth to. Yes, golden retrievers are clever, they say, but I don't feel a fit company for that conversation. I can't help but think how nice it would be for John to really have a companion with whom he could talk and exchange actual ideas. Being a software engineer makes him a lot of money, but it also makes him a lot of working hours and, to be fair, makes him a little socially awkward. Male friends don't get his lack of sense of humor, his disinterest in politics and his choice of cars (“Who drives a 2010 BMW when you can afford a Tesla?” I heard someone say once.) Female friends don't get his need for order – folding socks and underwear before putting them in the laundry basket, for example, and his intolerance to perfumes of any kind. Girlfriends don't last long and although he seems to take parting well, after each woman leaving, he gets more and more immersed in work and gaming. And in me. I don't mind that – I get dog superfoods, pricey clothes and ever new toys to chew on but anyway I do need to see him smile to others. Too much love could kill me, as a fellow loud boker once said at the dog playground. So, here we are – me, barking at the unmoving stars, and John, trying to have an intelligent conversation with a dog. Tomorrow I will still be a dog – a loyal dog, a dog that loves his owner, a dog that is a substitute for life.
  • Bitter and Sweet “It’s actually the Milky Way,” said John. “Milky, silky, whatever. This Andrew Baker’s estate, right? Delivery.” The taxi driver was sulky. Such a huge delivery, so far out of town, in this ungodly hour. Couldn’t they wait? He hadn’t even had coffee yet. And that damn box was giving him the creeps. It was buzzing. Like a living thing. CHZ: Handle with extreme caution! said the big red label on it. “Open the damn door. Wider! Can’t you see my van’s big?” The driver shouted. John fussed about the lock, and a few moments later the car’s tires clawed against the gravel. The driver hit the brake hard, popped the trunk, and yelled: “Pick the damn box in back! Quick. Gotta go.” John tried to lift it but it was too heavy for his slender arms. The only physical effort he ever allowed himself was virtual. “Need some help here,” called John. “Let’s just lower it to the ground. I’ll take it from there.” The driver glared, but he wanted out quick. So he tilted his baseball cap and went to the back. “Come on, boy, pick up your side. One, two…” He dropped the box too quickly. It landed heavily and almost smashed John’s feet. “Thank you very much, indeed, ass…” John was saying, but the van was already screeching toward the exit. What a jerk , John muttered. He stood there for a moment wondering warily what his uncle had ordered this time. He was certain he’d seen that CHZ thing during his endless nights in the Deep web. John shuddered. He set off in search of help for the monstrous box. He saw the head beams of the gardener’s rusty Jeep. It was a miracle of engineering it was still moving. “Morning, John.” Tom was always cheerful. It was 4 o’clock in the morning, but he was beaming with energy. “Did that bloody thing arrive?” “What’s this fuss about, Tom? What’s in the box? It weights a ton.” “Don’t you worry. It’s for the party tonight. Your uncle has a surprise for the guests.” “The party, right. Another lovely display of good manners. Everyone speaks with their mouths full. The sugar daddies with the fat bellies and the fat wallets, and their anorexic eye candy. And that’s a charity event?!” “Cheer up, John. We’ll have a whole free week after that. Exciting, eh? We can do whatever we like.” Tom was always so good-humored, so friendly and accommodating. They slowly carried the box to the shed. Neither paid attention to the second label. And, anyway, they wouldn’t have made much sense of it: ‘[Rn]6 d 17 s 2. XT-ADS/MYRRHA’ It was time for breakfast and coffee. Tom toasted bread. John put coffee in the French press. Both gazed at the rising sun. A new day. Good for some, bad for others. John was trying not to think about that scary label. Tom was looking forward to a week in his beloved garden. *** Andrew smiled in the mirror in his hotel room and tightened his tie. There was a knock at the door. About time , he thought. He opened the door and a huge shadow quickly slipped a hood over his head. Another hit him hard in the solar plexus. The pain was shattering. Andrew fell on the floor, gasping for breath. They lifted him by the arms and dragged him. No words, no hesitation. A good team. Experienced. They put him in a car trunk. He felt a sharp needle in his neck. “Christ’s sake! What’s goin…,” Andrew mumbled and blacked out. *** ‘CHZ. Child Hemophilia and Zika.’ What the hell is Uncle up to?! John forced himself to keep reading. ‘RNA genome mutations… African lineage… Malformations and life-expectancy…’ Africa? Uncle’s doing research in Africa. Oh god. *** A bucket of ice cold water brought Andrew back. Actually, it was the shock that reactivated his senses. It was dark. He could feel a presence. Somebody was just standing there, in the shadows. All he could make out was the bucket swinging from the ceiling. “Where am I? Who are you?” Andrew was coughing and spitting dirty water on the floor. It tasted of something faintly familiar. Or was it the smell? Rotting flesh?! “Mr Baker, we meet at last. I bet you wish it was in better circumstances.” A woman’s voice, to his right. Andrew bristled. He’d heard the grinding sound of that voice, more than once. It took him a few moments to recover and speak back. “Untie me. Please.” “Of course, Mr Baker. Just a couple of things first.” “What things?” A lamp was switched on. Andrew blinked and looked around. He was in an abandoned car garage – tied to a worn chair. Old tools were scattered all over the place. On his left was a rusty Opel. It had broken windows and no tires. In front of him was a huge guy. His face was disfigured and menacing. On the right was a black Land Rover. The front left door was open and on the seat was a woman with silver hair and ice-cold grey eyes. Her hands were in the pockets of her black coat. There was a pin on the right lapel – golden initials on a dark-blue background: R.I.P. “Roxana Irvine Palmer. I didn’t expect to see you so soon.” Andrew was worried, but also a little curious. “Well, Mr Baker, your time’s up.” “Certainly, there must be a civilized way to communicate. You have a request, Milky Way’s call center works 24/7,” Andrew tried to be ironic. “Confident to the point of arrogance. As always. If only people knew what hides behind your nice looks and false smile.” “Let’s get these ropes off, have a cup of cocoa and talk like normal people.” Andrew tried to play Roxana’s obsession with the chocolate drink. Forbes had recently published an article on the Palmer family – the Cocoa Dynasty – and their suffocating stranglehold over African plantations. King Leopold II and his Congo Horrors paled in comparison. Murder, rape, famine, deformed babies. “First, tell me. Is it done?” Roxana asked. “Finally, it is.” “Good. Now tell me the access code to Milky Way’s laboratory.” Andrew held his breath. He couldn’t possibly let her in there. Not just yet. “And you had to kidnap me for this?” He tried to laugh off the tension and fear. “People are starting asking questions. Those filthy politicians. Greased too many dirty hands to turn a blind eye. We can’t wait any more. Give us what’s ours.” “All research and development is property of the foundation. The whole world is watching. No benefactor can use it only for their own purposes.” “You’ll think of something. People are not that stupid. They know companies don’t survive by giving money away for nothing. Not hundreds of millions.” “It’s called charity,” answered Andrew with bitterness in his voice. “Sure, keep up the fairy tale. Savior of the world. There are many promising avenues you can explore. Feed them something. Our project, of course, will remain a secret.” “You know there are side effects. We need more time.” “More time? I don’t think so. James?” The man with the disfigured face stepped forward. *** “Uncle, what did you just do?!” John was out of his mind. He was shaking violently. “Why?!” The party was going as expected. The mayor turned up. He choked on a shrimp and threw up in front of everyone. Quite a mouthful. Everyone was delighted – the celebrities, the politicians, the journalists. Ordinary people too. The whole event was streaming live on Twitter. John was disgusted. I think I’m about to throw up myself . And then the unthinkable happened. The lights went out and his uncle came on stage. Everyone expected one of his the-future-is-brighter- than-ever speeches. Instead, he dropped a bombshell. “Tonight I resign as CEO of the Milky Way Foundation.” A murmur started in the crowd. He couldn’t do that. The whole world depended on him to guide it. “Our chief benefactor will take on. You all know her. All of Milky Way’s research is in safe hands. Ladies and gentleman, Roxana Irvine Palmer.” Total silence. Everyone stared in disbelief. The Milky Way in the hands of the living embodiment of evil. Roxana Irvine Palmer . Rest In Peace. Never. Not for a second , John thought bitterly. Tears were rolling down his face. He rushed after Andrew. “Uncle, what did you just do?!” John was out of his mind. He was shaking violently. “Why?!” “It’s alright, John.” Andrew tried to calm him down. “No, it’s not. I know what you’ve been up to. CHZ?! That’s horrible. Even for Deep Web standards!” “Oh, dear boy. You’re right. It’s all my fault. I should’ve told you a long time ago.” “Told me what?” “How it all began. You see, my father was born on 26 April 1920. On that same day, the Great Debate took place. It was between the astronomers Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis. Shapley believed that the Milky Way was our entire universe. He was wrong, of course. But he discovered something else. Something beautiful. He knew that water was vital for life. So he set forth the conditions for a planetary surface to support water. Not too large or small, not too hot or cold, with just the right amount of radiant energy from a Sun. Or another source.” “And this is important because?” “It’s called Circumstellar Habitable Zone. CHZ!” Andrew was triumphant. “Oh, I see.” John was a bit sheepish. “You do, don’t you, my dear boy.” Andrew’s eyes shone with hope. “Extraterrestrial life and intelligence. Just like on Earth. Right. Are they green?” To himself John said I knew it. Uncle is totally bonkers . “Of course, not,” laughed Andrew. The boy is quick . “Or, maybe, they are. It’s actually a metaphor. It means to have life we need just the right amount of everything. Including bad stuff. Even bad guys.” “A deal with the devil. Genetic tinkering, human experiments!” John was livid. “No, no, no. Never!” “I don’t believe you.” John wouldn’t give up. “Well it’s true I turned to that filthy rich demon Roxana Irvine Palmer. Not directly. Through a middle man, of course.” As if it makes a difference , John thought angrily. “You see,” Andrew continued, “she was terrified she’d lose her cocoa empire. Rising temperatures are going to kill cocoa. So she was ready to pay to save her empire.” “So you began the search for the perfect cocoa,” John interrupted his uncle. “A genetically modified sort that will survive the scorching Sun. Did you know from the start that the only way to do it is to actually weave it into human genes? A human host? An inter-species hybrid? Cocoa in the womb of a…” “No, no. She thought that too, of course. So I said I needed more money, to buy politicians, whole governments. But they’re actually cheap. A free cocktail, something to eat. Anyway, we secretly focused on a perfectly safe source of nuclear power instead. A revolutionary particle accelerator. The MYRRHA reactor. Now that can save the world! And she can’t hide it. Her hands are tied. The whole world will know tonight. I published the findings online. Of course, she has some of the patents, but it’s only a matter of time before everyone benefits.” “She agreed to that?” “No, but what’s she going to do? No-one loves her.” Andrew chuckled. There was a long silence. Finally, John began to see. “You played her.” “It’s actually one of the oldest tricks in the book. Let people see what they want to see.” “And [Rn]6 d 17 s 2?” “I told you, not all bad guys are bad, and, it turns out, not all radiation is bad, either.” Andrew smiled lovingly at his nephew. John smiled back at his uncle. Suddenly, the world was different. They had found a more habitable zone.
  • Sorry for being so late to all of this. Clink on the link for the story and see you tonight. https://drive.google.com/open?id=10VbUbrLaIelD63J8Y_Zq3Ld_EB1RIVSk

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