Thursday, January 07, 2010

Entry #27

Alone
by Peter Dudley


Up here in the branches, the wind slithers under my coat and tightens around my arms. My breath freezes in my beard. This new rope scratches, but it warms my neck.

Wind whistles through the barn nearby, and ice breaks with thunderclaps on the river. Smoke escapes from the farmhouse chimney, disappearing into a gunmetal sky. As if from nowhere, one big crow flaps onto a close branch and stares me down with coal eyes and a black icicle beak.

Through cracking lips, I croak, “You never seen a man hang himself before?” My teeth chatter. I grasp the trunk to keep from slipping. “You come to stop me?”

“No.” The quiet voice visits my mind directly. The crow cocks its head to the side, its beak shut. The voice is Sarah’s. “I’ve come to witness.”

I glance to the ground, skin prickling. Sarah might be there, my shovel still buried in her naked chest, her blood staining the gray snow. Jefferson might stand next to her, headless. I whisper, “Begone, adultress witch,” and I shiver in every bone, right to my soul.

Sarah’s voice coos, “You will be warm enough, husband, when you join your brother in Hell. I bear no fault. He took me by force.”

“Begone!” I swat at the crow. My foot slips. I pitch forward and swing down in a slow arc, feel the rope cut my throat and freeze my breath. A gauzy haze drowns my vision, and the crow ascends through barren branches.

57 comments:

Bernita said...

Viseral.

wrath999 said...

very well done

catvibe said...

Pete! That's AWESOME! The imagery is chilling and eerie, and I love the way the story is revealed. He and his brother sound like real slime, they deserve death. Sarah gets to be in a crow at least, that's not so bad. I would know. :-)

lena said...

Just wow. That is indeed an entire story in so few words. And so greatly told.

Jared Culpepper said...

for each piece, a purpose. i applaud something so carefully assembled.

Nevine said...

An interesting view from beyond... Very dark and profoundly evil.

Nevine

Aniket said...

No. I am not going to say - I love it or its the best one yet (again!) or that the crafting and pacing of story is just perfect.

I am going to maintain my stand that boycotting you is the only way for us to succeed!

Well. Good for you that I learnt about Karma a few posts back... Great work! Hope you donate a few shillings to our pots after your loot. :)

Leatherdykeuk said...

I loved Sarah's voice, her need to witness.

Chris Eldin said...

Ditto all the comments. This has got to be one of my favorites, if not my favorite. I love the way your story slowly unfolds.
Masterful writing.

Amias said...

was the suicide an accident or was the accident a suicide? Either way, a murderer died -- poetic justice.

Sarah Laurenson said...

This is going in my list of favorites. Wow, Pete. Awesome! Chilling! And I love how his swatting at the crow made him slip.

pjd said...

To all who commented: Thank you for reading it, and for the kind words! (Also, thank-you to my wife for acting as critique partner and sharing the truths about the first draft in the kindest, gentlest way possible.)

Bernita: Thanks! That one word is high praise from you.

wrath999: Thank you!

Cat: You are sweet! Thank you for the kind words! And yes, I mean about the men deserving what they got. :-)

Jared: Thank you, sir. 250 is an unforgiving limit. My worry was that I was trying to do too much in too small a space.

Nevine: I've never been called "profoundly evil" before. It could grow on me.

Aniket: Some businesspeople think that a boycott is the best possible publicity. Boycott away! You remain one of the nicest, kindest, most positive people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. I hope one day we can meet in person.

Leatherdykeuk: Thank you! That's also my favorite part of this piece.

Chris: Aw, shucks. Maybe some day we can sit on the dumpster and I'll tell you all the backstory. ;-)

Amias: Both. It's interesting that poetic justice features in so many of the entries I've read so far. Something about the photo maybe implies that?

Sarah: Aw shucks to you too! (And thanks for your comment on my blog. Double aw shucks!)

Craig said...

I liked how you gave intent to forces and objects in this piece. Both overtly with the crow and more subtly with the wind almost coming across as malicious

'The wind slithers under my coat and tightens around my arms.,

I really loved that line.

fairyhedgehog said...

Beautifully written. I love that you've got so much story in such a short space and it doesn't feel forced.

Kartik said...

You could feel her anger in the story! Terrific :) Makes me wonder what he'd be reborn as..

JaneyV said...

Oh Peter you have excelled yourself here. I love how you unfold the story and the characters - so gentle yet so precise. Justice is served so poetically it makes the soul soar.

Brillipants!

SzélsőFa said...

what a horrid, painful vision, which is to mean it is greatly mastered.

PEOPLE, PLACES, VOICES, FACES... said...

The slithering wind; the "black icicle beak," the only warmth coming from the new rope on his neck and Sarah's insidious voice...bone chilling and yet blood warming.
Mr. Dudley, you leave me breathless and amazed!

Ranee

Four Dinners said...

Bloody Hell!!

That has so much power!!!!!

I could picture them dressed as Mormons? somewhere in the past. Brilliant mate.

Incredibly well done old bean!

Hey! I got one word from Benita too....'Naughty'....oh eck...;-)

Bernita said...

Peter,I didn't mean to be abrupt. I shoul have added "brilliant" and "outstanding" and a lot of other words. I think yours is one of the very best in an absolute extravaganza of talent.

pjd said...

Craig: Thanks! It's one of the things I tried hard to accomplish, so I'm glad to hear you appreciate that.

Fairy HH: Thank you, dear. "Doesn't feel forced" is a rich compliment because I felt like it was trying to do too much.

Kartik: Interesting that you took it as reincarnation... that wasn't my intent, but it seems to work that way too. Thanks!

Janey: Aw, you are far too kind. Or are you just feeling bad because you used my name for your fall guy? (I know what you're thinking... Bollocks, innit? :-)

Szelsofa: Thank you! I've had my writing called "horrid" and "painful" before, but not quite in the same way. :-)

PPVF: (May I call you PPVF?) I'll take breathless and amazed. I'm OK with that. Thanks!

Four Dinners: Mormons. How interesting! I did not have that as my intent, but I can see why you'd say that. Thanks for the kind words!

Bernita: I thought of your comment as "terse" and "efficient," but never "abrupt." Thanks for stopping by again to drop some more words on me!

And I totally agree that this is an absolute extravaganza of talent. Not only clever treatments and interpretations of the photo, but also really outstanding writing in so many, many submissions. This is my fourth CoN contest, and in each the average quality of the submissions has gone up at the same time the number of submissions has increased. A testament to the community Jason has fostered and nurtured.

maybe genius said...

Hits me like a ton of bricks. The voice and pacing are just perfect.

Karen said...

You have a winner here! Excellent, Peter.

Janel said...

Very chilling and unforgettable. Glad to see he got what he deserved in the end.

Terri said...

Gripping, from start to end; beautifully written, great pacing and Justice is served.
Excellent :-)

Tara said...

Love, love, love! it! All around great.

adrienne trafford said...

incredibly written and disturbing story - i got a chill - the story has stayed with me...

Kate said...

Great job creating a full story with excellent construction and beautiful language.

Aimee Laine said...

Boy that was well written! I was completely there with them and totally waiting for it to happen. Awesome!

Beth Harar said...

Your imagery is wonderful and your characters compelling. Very good job!

Tessa said...

Wow..jaw hits floor! Superbly paced - with imagery so vivid as to be almost hallucinatory. Exceptionally well written.

Ayodele Morocco-Clarke said...

Pretty good story!

laughingwolf said...

pete, you sly dog... you've done it again! :)

pjd said...

maybe genius: Thank you! ton of bricks is a good effect, right?

karen: You are very kind! "winner" is definitely good...

Janel: thanks! glad you liked the justice.

Terri: Thank you, too! I'll take "excellent" any day.

tara: Three loves? Definitely a nice compliment!

Adrienne: thank you for the kind words; usually people reserve the word "disturbing" for me, not my stories...

Kate: thank you! I really appreciate the "beautiful language" comment.

Aimee: You are very kind. Awesome is awesome praise.

Beth: Thank you! I like "compelling."

tessa: Hallucinatory! "imagery so vivid" is a lovely compliment given the gorgeous artwork on your site.

Ayodele: Thanks!

laughingwolf: ha ha, thanks!

David Barber said...

Awesome piece of writing Peter.

Regards, David.

Michelle H. said...

The images this brought to mind made me shiver! Brillant! I do so love it when the story takes control of the mind.

pjd said...

David: thank you!

Michelle: I'm always happy with "brilliant." thanks!

austere said...

For all the gore, completely brilliant.
I like the way this is clean and "closed", everything neat and full-stopped.

Laurel said...

This rocks. And it feels so complete. You did a superb job working in the salient details.

Merry Monteleone said...

Up here in the branches, the wind slithers under my coat and tightens around my arms.

You had me from the first sentence, Pete - I love the way your use of phrasing paints such a precise and vivid picture.

Definitely my favorite so far.

Jimmie Vee said...

The darker the better. I love nothing more than a feel good story - in this case the saving of untold taxpayer dollars that won't have to be spent on rehabilitating Sarah's husband so he can be a future productive member of society. Do the crime, pay the fine. Bravo.

sylvia said...

Oh, I feel the winter chill all the way from here. You really packed the story in. Excellent!

ThomG said...

Chilling and very descriptive. Loved the pacing as well.

Liz said...

Very scary and very much like Poe. Is he one of your favs? I may have nightmares because I was able to visualize this so well.

pjd said...

austere: thank you! I really appreciate your kind words.

Laurel: Thanks, and I'm glad to know you're not nailing any sons-in-law but your mom's. :-)

Merry: Aw, shucks! I'm so glad my wheedling helped get you to enter. (Though I bet you would have without my wheedling.) Your entry rocks.

Jimmie Vee: LOL about the taxpayer dollars. Are you really BT masquerading under another name today?

sylvia: Thanks! I was worried I packed in too much.

ThomG: ThomG is in the house! Good to see you, sir, and I am sorry I've been absent from three word Wednesday. I'm hoping to return soon, but I'm still only up to entry #150 in this beast of a contest.

(To everyone else: check out Three Word Wednesday (link above). Great stuff.)

Liz: I wouldn't say I know that much Poe, just a little. Certainly loved it when I was a kid, particularly Pit and the Pendulum with Vincent Price. I do love me some macabre humor, though... I should share my "Unlucky 26" some time.

truevoid said...

I shiver in every bone, right to my soul.

feel the rope cut my throat and freeze my breath


nice lines. very gripping. enjoyed reading it!

Preeti said...

Oh dear...
There is a conflict within me as i key this comment. Obviously the crow is not communicating with him and neither is Sarah (via the crow or otherwise) so that leaves me with just one thought.
He knew it. Then why did he do it?
why does he think that she's adulterous? is he justifying his action? does he trust his brother more than her?

Aargh...questions, questions....

but all said and done. i loved the way it flowed. and i also nodded my head and smiled at how i waited in anticipation for the second paragraph to end so that i could move on. it kept me hooked.

lovely characterization. and i am amazed at how well you've described a long agonizing moment in 250 words and yet made me feel that it lasted much much longer. BEAUTIFUL.

Anonymous said...

Hell of a story. Smoothly written and poetic, even the wife's explanation regarding her husband's brother (a quote that, on its own, might sound awkward). --JR

BernardL said...

A well crafted tale of horror with all the elements inside a 250 word box. I enjoyed it immensely.

McKoala said...

Beautiful writing, unveiling the story. Very effective and I like the wry ending.

Deb Smythe said...

Wow, Peter, you can write! A There's a lovely rhythm to your prose. Loved your word choice as well. Great story.

Rabid Fox said...

Creepy with a cool ending. I like it. And it seems we shared a similar inspiration concerning the "talking" crow. Great minds think alike? Let's say so. :)

Jane said...

quite a chiller! i love how the story unravels with his thoughts..nothing more he can do at the end really as he's nothing to live for..the descriptions of the crow were great and the images of how he killed his wife mist grusome..you took me staight to the scene, i could even hear as well as see it..well done.

Aerin said...

Dear Entrants #1-105,

I have read your pieces so that I can fairly participate in the Readers' Choice vote. (I read all of them through last week, before I started commenting.) I will be coming back around to offer my keep/tweak comment, but I didn't want anyone to snark.

Cheers,
Aerin (#236)

BTW, it's perfectly fine if you still want to snark, but this way you can choose a more appropriate subject, like the Parrish's choice of Christmas presents for the Mrs. or the various uses for whipped cream

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Vividly told, a chilling story!
Count me among your many fans.

pjd said...

truevoid: Thank you for the kind words! I kinda liked those lines, too.

Preeti: Why would Sarah (her spirit) not be communicating with the MC? Sorry that second paragraph dragged... thanks for the kind words!

JR: You have no idea how I agonized over those couple of sentences. I'm still not sure they work as well as I want them to. Thanks!

BernardL: Thank you. I enjoyed your comment immensely. :-)

McKoala: Thanks! I thought maybe I'd end up with some koala claw marks, but... >phew!<

Deb Smythe: Thank you so much. That is great praise indeed.

Rabid Fox: Great minds, yes. :-)

Jane: Thanks for the in depth commentary. "Straight to the scene" is a very nice statement.

Commenters between Jane and Kathleen: I have read your comment so I can fairly understand how all readers felt. I will be coming back around to read any additional comments you may leave in the future.

Kathleen A. Ryan: Aw, shucks! I didn't realize I had fans, but I definitely will count you among them. :-)

Preeti said...

of course... i was thinking along the lines of him justifying his act...

and No No .. the second para did not drag at all. it was a cleverly constructed hook. and maybe the only semblance of sanity/normalcy in the piece.