Posted Oct 23 2012 - 01:24 AM
I feel lost. That's not even an awful metaphor either. I literally am not aware of my physical surroundings in their relation to where I want to be. Absolutely lost.
The walls are white, painted cement like I remember them being for years. The ceilings are lit by rows of bright fluorescent lights, stretching endlessly down the halls. The floor is black and smells of rubber or crude oil. Petroleum based, anyways. Not like I care. The smell is awful, that's the important thing. When I recall my past in here, it seems --as though a vague mental image-- that it was almost a year ago. The floors have been getting darker and my lungs seem to grate with every breath.
I hear footsteps padding down the hall, somewhere around the next corner. I slow down as I approach the next intersection and press myself against the wall. Within seconds the muted echoes approach and I plant a solid fist in the runner's stomach, sending him sprawling across the floor. I look down at his face with an immense amount of guilt as he gasps for breath. There are no mirrors in this place, true, but an external sense tells me that the face of this man is my own. Whether a clone, an apparition, or simply a psychological trick, I no longer care. I put my foot against his throat and do what I've done this entire time, to survive. I know that I am the only one in this maze, quite literally. Every version of myself that I've cut off through decisions in the past have been merged to a single universe, where I've been forced to confront every version of myself and destroy them. I suppose whoever engineered this think of it as am amusing metaphor, that I literally have to kill off every bad decision I've made and come to terms with who I've become in that time, but all I see is a twisted reality where I've become a killer.
As his body dissipates into the ground, the stench of rubber seems to grow ever so slightly.
I continue down the halls, feeling more cheated with every kill. I feel sick that I'm becoming desensitized to this, that the moral problems and emotional impact is dulled as my methods become more brutal, merciless, and stunningly effective.
I make a right at the next intersection, followed by two lefts, a flight of stairs, and another right. There's no method to my choices any more. I used to agonize over the psychology of the maze, how every corner could be a setup to drive me into doing exactly what they want-- whoever they are. But now I just blindly decide on a whim, snapping back and forth, stopping occasionally to listen for the footsteps of myself.
Oh, speak of the devil. Another apparition runs past a crossroad ahead, screaming. I lunge forward and give chase. My breaths come heavy now. The death toll of the day is starting to wear. I'll probably take a nap after this one. He's wearing a straitjacket. I quicky match his speed as he turns a corner. I twist my leg around his and plant my foot on the ground, effectively collapsing his gait. I grab his neck and arm as I pull my leg back, slamming him face-first into the ground with a splintering crack. His body slowly disintegrates into a swirling black mass, like a swarm of flies that crawl into the black floor. My stomach is upset and I slump against the wall, directly across from a doorway.
Wait. There are no doors in this maze. I haul myself to my feet, wavering, and nearly puke with the excitement of this find. I take one step forward, then two, then I brace myself against the opposite wall with one hand and stop to take a deep breath and calm my stomach. I tentatively slide my fingers around the brass knob. It's cold, shiny and perfectly smooth. It's probably never been touched by my hand. I crack it open, and before I have time to regret my decision, I close my eyes and swing the door wide open.
I sit up with a start, my fingers still clenched in midair. The hum of medical equipment fills the silence my ears had been accustomed to in the maze. The walls are still white, but there's something different. My body goes cold as I move my legs, realizing that it feels so different than what I had been doing in there. A doctor stands to my side, frowning.
"The training was supposed to go on for six weeks more," he remarked. Was he angry, disappointed, or was that just an observation? The feeling of being cheated fills my mind.
"May I refresh your mind? It's possible that the months in there have erased some of your memories. You are in a military training facility. Here we give you the most difficult of all tasks so that you may be ready for anything in the battlefield. You must know how to kill, and you must see the look in your own eyes as you do so. What have you learned?"
None of this sounds familiar. This doesn't sound like something I would voluntarily ask for, and I feel no sense of duty or accomplishment at his words. It all just seems pointless. I stand up and waver for a moment as I regain my balance. Suddenly a new sensation fills my mind and I can't seem to push it back to my subconscious. The feel of solid ground beneath my feet. I'm no longer lost.
I grab the doctor by the collar with only a tingling sense of regret in my mind.
"Let me show you."
She said I wanna go home
Face turns white like a sky in December
She said I wanna go home
Posted Dec 09 2012 - 06:09 PM
Congratulations, Fortnightly Flash Fiction Contest winner! As a member of the Ambage, you earned yourself a review from a contest judge. Better late than never.
At first I thought this was an allegory. Then I read on and, finding the protagonist almost explicitly refer to it as such, thought it wasn't. Then I read to the end and realized it was indeed, brilliantly and almost satirically executed. But if anything it's an undertone, not even relevant to the story itself, which is contained entirely in the last six paragraphs. "The training was supposed to go on for six weeks more," he remarked.
Not to say that I think everything before that was unnecessary. Unnecessary, perhaps, to the story itself; but not to the storytelling. You could have just said, "So this guy was running around a simulated maze, not realizing it was such, fighting clones that represented his faults in a ruthless conflict to assert his superiority as the one true and whole version of himself. Then he woke up." But I think we can all agree that the eight paragraphs you used in place of this were far better. You didn't focus on what was valuable to the plot at the expense of what was valuable to the narrative, but you wrote what was worth reading, and even then not without forsaking what was valuable to the plot. Excellently done.
I have little to say regarding characters because, effectually, there were none. We have "I," nameless, with no personality or backstory. But he didn't need any of that. He didn't need to be a character, just a person. In a metaphor literalized, he killed himself and became an empty husk.
I fervently oppose present tense. I understand that some find it more engaging and are immediately pulled into the story by it, but it has the opposite effect on me. It feels awkward and inelegant; it pushes me away. Allow me to illustrate an example of what I mean:
Here's one problem with present tense. Past tense is so conventional that most writers are accustomed to it, and mistakes will happen. I think that precisely that is what made reading this difficult for me; my subconscious was screaming in protest at every verb. If it was a novel I would have put it down, probably before finishing the first chapter--if I ever finished it at all.
However, I recognize that there are those who enjoy present tense, and if you call yourself one, so be it.
Moreover, I will commend you for sliding gracefully into the tense. It might have been jarring, but instead you started out with what could easily have been a part of a past tense narration. You got the reader reading first, so that by the time the narrating began, they would be knee-deep in present tense before they even realized it. Anything else, and I would have been discouraged and might not have read on at all. Very nicely done.
If I have to find something to criticize, it's this:
"The training was supposed to go on for six weeks more," he remarked.
I twist my leg around his and plant my foot on the ground, effectively collapsing his gait.
That just didn't feel right. I am an ardent defender of synonymization, and I always approve of rephrasing to make words sound less vulgar and more elegant--but with a prudent sense of proportion. In this case, vulgarity would have been smoother and better suited the narration previously displayed. The simple words tripping him up would have been wholly sufficient.
And if that's the worst thing I can say about you, congratulations. This is a fine piece of work here.
Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith
Posted Dec 10 2012 - 10:33 AM
I really enjoyed your story. The idea of the labyrinth was a good choice. When you started mentioning him waking up, at first, I assumed it was a dream. Then when you said the word 'doctor', I assumed it was a coma. You then threw another curveball and gave rise to a military training camp. I think overall it was a great decision. Thank you!
Posted Mar 27 2013 - 09:12 PM
Official Short Stories Critics' Club Review
Hi, let's get started, shall we?
When I recall my past in here, it seems--as though a vague mental image--image that it was almost a year ago.
This simile is rather awkward. It already seems like his past is a vague mental image, so to compare it to the same thing just seems redundant. I would try something simpler like "I think I came here a year ago." Still, it seems odd that he recalls this when he has no way of measuring time.
My stomach is upset and I slump against the wall, directly across from a doorway.
Like Nuile mentioned before, this seems too elegant. I would just go with "throw-up," "vomit," or even "puke."
I disagree with Nuile on the tense argument, however. Present tense should indeed be used judiciously (I've seen far too many fanfic writers simply use it to make their work seem "edgy") but in this case I think it works, especially since protagonist has been trapped in a virtual reality.
I'm of two minds about the rest of your writing style. On one hand, I can see why you wanted to make the prose dry and clinical, because the protagonist has lost his ability to feel. On the other hand, I felt like it lacked immediacy. Yes, the character's emotions aren't runny through the story, but he shouldn't be telling us how he feels for our benefit. For that matter, if he has been desensitized, how can he feel guilt? How can he worry about the "moral problems" of killing himself over an over if he has lost his moral compass?
I imagine this would be sort of like watching a first person shooter. Sure, you're in the person's head, but you don't feel anything toward those who are going down in front of you.
One thing I did like was the subtle mention of the smell of burning rubber. It really gave this scene atmosphere and I would like to see you incorporate more details like it throughout. I really think you have something here. It just needs to be cut in some places and elaborated on in others. Best, and keep writing. ^^
Don't tell me which way I run.
What good could that do anyone?
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