Thursday, January 14, 2010


Magenta clouds crowded the ocean over a red, resting sun.

The Arctic sky dimmed, but would not curtain to night. Day never ended this time of year.

Two men coiled harpoon lines in a little boat. Wind scorched their faces. Salt withered their skin. Overhead, an eagle watched the wide waters for fish that weren't there.

One man tapped the other.

A nod to the horizon.

Stout shoulders turned toward strange scratches unrolling in the sky.

Vapor trails.

Long lines falling.

Like nothing they had ever seen.

As they watched, the tracks branched into hundreds more, like marshmallow claws reaching for Earth.

A pilot whale blew and broke water close by. A harpoon arrowed and stuck, whisking the line out of coils and snapping tight. The boat surged forward and plowed the swells. But the fight broke too soon. The men pulled a bent harpoon from the flame-tipped sea.

Two men coiled lines.

Wind scorched their faces.

Salt withered skin.

Neither spoke about the fresh claws streaking down the opposite horizon. Now both ends of the sky glowed like great hands grasping, continent to continent, over the pole.

The empty wind howled as one man rowed and the other rested his eyes.

Neither felt the nuclear heat encircling the lower world.

Neither especially cared.

Clear, frigid sky gazed down where the missiles had flown, and the men slipped toward home.

Above, the eagle wheeled to fish another day.


Michael Solender said...

lonely and kind of sad..very distant feel and undertow to this one. cool nonetheless.

Lee Hughes said...

Made me feel the desolation of it, one man's not so much struggle, but his living what he was used to. Great piece, made me ache for a fire.

Bernita said...

"Now both ends of the sky glowed like great hands grasping, continent to continent, over the pole."
The most magnificent line of all.

J. M. Poirot said...

Strong imagery, very lyrical and poetic, tinged with sadness. I really liked the eagle too. It's great that we had different birds in the stories, crows, hawks and eagle! nice variety. although now I'm curious what bird was it?

catvibe said...

Wow, there they are on their little boat at the top of the world while the apocalypse is looming beneath. I like the quiet serenity at the boat. The mundane task of coiling the rope was an excellent detail. The visuals on the sky were excellent. Like the sky was a canvas and you were painting it. Lovely if not gut wrenching juxtaposition here Jason.

Rachel Green said...

How terribly lonely. Were they the last of Earth, one wonders.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Well Done!

laughingwolf said...

very nicely wrought, jason...

Laurel said...

I have the most lovely images of an end-of-the-world sky. At least it sounds like it will be pretty.

Beautifully drawn and echoing with futile lonliness. I like all the "big nature, insignificant man" images. Sky, sea, whale. The men and their boat are dwarfed by comparison.

emeraldcite said...

Nicely done. I loved the imagery throughout.

That was great. Read it three times.

Michael Morse said...

Very enjoyable read, vivid description left a lasting impression-for as long as it lasts anyway. I keep looking toward the horizon now.

I am stunned by the quality of writing here. I'm no expert, or critic, but I know what I like and I love most of these stories. And the ones I don't love I like a lot. I'll be trying to put together a readers choice list, no idea how to choose!

Nevine Sultan said...

I particularly liked that you mentioned the relationship to the prompt at the very last line. The prose was laid out well, the description was highly detailed and sensory, and the silence of the men was haunting. Only the sounds of the wind and the water and nature. Excellent how our eyes and our senses were pulled up to the sky only at the very end!


Kate said...

This is gorgeous, Jason! From a writing standpoint, a few things stuck out of me.

1: Outstanding verb choices. Crowded, curtain, coiled, scorched, withered, surged, broke, howled, wheeled... Your verbs do the heavy lifting here, leaving the prose as uncluttered with modifiers.

2: Really effective use of repetition to show that nothing ever changes here, even when the world below is at war.

3: The form follows the story. The short, economical paragraphs evoke gusts of wind, the quick bursts of hunting activity, men of few words.

Beautiful job!

David Barber said...

A strong and lonely piece, Jason. Well done.

Regards, David.

Jean said...

Oblivious, perhaps, to the end coming, they go about their day as always. Or, will they be lone survivors?

Anthony Rapino said...

I like how you interpreted the branches in the picture as the jet streams of missiles (at least, that was my impression). It really goes to show how much we do with the prompt.

Love the story and atmosphere of this quiet apocalypse.

Crafty Green Poet said...

You've evoked desolate loneliness here, and the sense of these two being left all alone after the rest of the world has disappeared

Meghan said...

"As they watched, the tracks branched into hundreds more, like marshmallow claws reaching for Earth."

I love this. It's evocative to me. There's a lot of depth to this piece. Fabulous job, as usual.

MRMacrum said...

The World will indeed still turn no matter what madness we humans bring upon ourselves. And whatever lives after will not miss us. Nicely done

Lily Childs said...

Such a beautiful description of majestic nature, yet shrouded in sadness.

I really liked the line 'The Arctic sky dimmed, but would not curtain to night' almost as though there was a struggle.

A great tale of desolation.

Aimee Laine said...

Such vivid descriptions. "[...] strange scratches unrolling in the sky." Like that one! I could completely see and understand what was going on! Awesome as always!

DILLIGAF said...

Very lonely but not sad to me.

More like inevitable I reckon.

One day.

Terrific writing old bean. I could picture it all so clearly it almost hurt.

oh come on!!!! Word very is 'WARIP'!!!

Anonymous said...

This gave me a cold chill thinking about how isolated they were, but yet how unaffected also. Its a rare moment to not have a care in the world other than your immediate needs, food, shelter, family- its all survival. I almost think we should take our humanity back and live as we should - uh oh... I'm getting philisophical thats not good.

I really enjoyed reading this Jason, very vivid and striking. The senses were definately alive.

Unknown said...

Beautifully done! The imagery, the repetition, the entire feel of the piece... just stunning. It tugs the heart.

JaneyV said...

Jason, this piece has a still beauty about it like a millpond at dawn. There wasn't a single note that jarred - the flow of it was perfection. There were two lines that made my heart sing,

As they watched, the tracks branched into hundreds more, like marshmallow claws reaching for Earth.

this was just a stunning image! And

Now both ends of the sky glowed like great hands grasping, continent to continent, over the pole.

I had this incredible feeling of the world being choked - such a vivid and evocative sentence! WOW!

Once again - you show us how it's done.

Patsy said...

A very visual image - I like that.

Unspoken said...

You painted it and I believe you.

Anonymous said...

I like the calm tone to this, the feeling of enjoying nature regardless of the event, regardless of whether they're successful or not ... Just being in the moment. --JR

Kim Soles said...

So, it is an eagle?

I felt the suspense in this piece. Loved your line "As they watched, the tracks branched into hundreds more, like marshmallow claws reaching for Earth."

Clever how the characters react. - "The empty wind howled as one man rowed and the other rested his eyes."

Nice ending with the bird.

Dr. Ranee Kaur Banerjee said...

The sky goes from magenta to "flaming" to clear and frigid; the men don't sepak; the missiles don't whistle or whine; the only sound we hear is that or the "empty wind howling" as "both ends of the sky glowe(d) like great hands grasping, continent to continent, over the pole."

I'm naturally an images and senses kind of writer, Jason, and I loved your stunning visual imagery and the alliteration--I had to read this piece aloud to fully get the power of it.

And afterwards, the taste and texture of those "s" and "l" and "wh/h" sounds just lingered on my tongue.

Preeti said...

Flawless. Translucent. Lucid.

The desolation is so vivid. Endless stretches of ice. One can almost listen to the chinks of ice breaking and the wind howling.

There is something very composed and silent about this.

The all-knowing wise characters. The lack of conversation yet gestures that say it all.
"One man tapped the other. A nod to the horizon."
Oh God.
Oh my God.

Beautiful. With a benchmark such as this ... sigh ... what do i say, Jason?

Dr. Ranee Kaur Banerjee said...

I've also always wondered how you can pack so much into 250 words and still keep it so crisp and clear. It must be those verbs, as Kate's already pointed out.

Kate said...

Um, I just re-read my comment, which is riddled with typos. Those three things did not stick out OF me, they stuck out FOR me. Good heavens.

Unknown said...

Oh my, what absolute desolation, I loved the imagery created. The picture of the two lone fisherman as the world crashed around them. The symbolism of the eagle that will probably never return or survive. Breathtakingly wonderful!

Dottie :)

Anonymous said...

Michael, I'm very heartened by your comment and many others. I very much wanted this piece to have the emotional impact of isolation, fatigue, and exposure. I see you felt it.

Lee, ache for fire...oh, that's perfect! :) What an excellent way to put it!! I'm very happy I could evoke that empty cold.

Bernita, one of my goals for this piece was to explore the curious role of the North Pole in an old-fashioned nuclear war. I wanted a near personification of the conflict in those wispy hands.

J.M. Poirot, I decided to make the bird an eagle. I think I'll write a little piece in a day or so about the taking of the photograph. I'll reveal our friend's identity then!

Catvibe, I wanted the isolation and drudgery (despite dangers of the cold and sea) to utterly overshadow even an apocalyptic war. The difference is that they are there, and the war is not. So easy to distance ourselves from pain and destruction.

Leatherdykeuk, I have this vision of them going on this way for the rest of their lives. They just won't get anymore satellite TV or airmail.

Pamela Terry and Edward, thanks!

Laughingwolf, much appreciated!

Laurel, yes, that was the core of the emotional experience that I was shooting for. I wanted the reader to feel almost weathered like rock. To feel beyond caring for more than rest and warmth.

Emeraldcite, multiple!

Michael Morse, yes, that's the most wonderful thing about these contests. There are always a group of writers who show what amazing artistry can be achieved 250 words. It's a valuable lesson to take for when the word limit disappears.

Nevine, I wanted that environment and the condition of the men to have a potent effect on the emotions. Much of the harsh intensity is environmental and sensory. The action is the repetive, tired part. The blurred branches in the photo is what evoked the missiles in my mind.

Anonymous said...

great detailing jason. i saw everything from the boat. beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Kate, damn, I really like the way you think!! You exactly parsed out my writing approach for this piece. Once I decide on my goals for a scene (what emotion, what experience am I trying to produce), I then decide on how the words and structure can help create that effect. Thanks for your very, very astute review! Impressive. :)

David, these guys are far from even themselves.

Jean, I don't imagine them as the only survivors. They might be some of the most untouched, though.

Onipar, you got it exactly! That's what I made of the branches. MIRVs coming off of ICBMs.

Crafty Green Poet, the loneliness was palpable for me too.

Meghan, I did think of this as a many layered piece. I even thought of what it says about human empathy. How easy it is to be unaffected by horrors that don't visit us personally.

MRMacrum, that's how I felt too! Life for these people (and others in their village) really won't change at all. Strange to have such a huge event pass you by.

Lily, majestic nature, yet shrouded in sadness... what a perfect description! I like how these men feel indestructible. Like they are as permanent as the sea.

Aimee, actually the action of the missiles was more difficult to pace than I expected. Glad it felt natural to you!

Four Dinners, so clearly it almost hurt...what an incredibly high compliment! Thank you!!

CJT, yes, their simplicity and close relationship with nature immunized them from whatever invisible strife was gobbling the rest of us up. I wonder too if we would be better off with a more primitive life.

Maybe Genius, I really needed that repetition to give a sense of time, space, and mood.

JaneyV, what wonderful praise. :) I can really feel it in your words. Thanks for the treasure of that comment. All of it was just what I wanted you to see.

Patsy, I love to embrace the old showing-not-telling advice. Although, I did need some telling here to describe the strange impact of these sights.

She Writes, thank you for that gift back. :)

JR, the calm and the colors.... Thanks!

Kim, I wanted all of the actions to contribute strongly to the impact. As for the bird, no, not an eagle in reality. I'll let you guys know the story soon!

Ranee, ooh, I love that you picked out the sounds from the words! I like trying to make the physical act of reading approximate the experience in the story.

Preeti, I feel like you built on the experience in your comment! I feel the same sweeping scope in your words!! Thank you for that. :) And thank you for the high, high compliment.

Ranee, yes, a good deal is in the verbs. I've learned how much can be built with strong sentences and space to think in between.

Kate, your comment is too wonderful to worry about typos. :)

Dottie, I feel that way in the cold. So vulnerable. The world so large. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Much appreciated, Truevoid!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful descriptive writing.

I like -

*curtain to night*

*both ends of the sky glowed like great hands grasping, continent to continent, over the pole*

Also, the sensation that the world is simply falling asleep.

Lovely that you pair the scene with two boatmen; it adds a sense of calm to the piece.

Nice job.

~ Corra

McKoala said...

What a calm way to end the world; not with a bang, but a quiet puff. I love the description of the boatmen and their salt withered skin.

Chris Eldin said...

Bernita picked out my favorite line as well. And Laurel captured what I would've said (only she said it better)... I also love the way you draw the contrast between man and nature. Softly horrific.
Very very well written.

austere said...

Aurora borealis and a tinge of Nevile Shute without the distraught.

J. M. Poirot said...

By the way, I'm very intrigued by how open your piece is to interpretation. It's kinda kafkaesque. It reminds me of how there are 5 different schools of interpretation for Kafka's book The Trial. all considered valid because of the elastic quality of the text. you can line up all the symbols to neatly fit each interpretation. fascinating.

so when I read your piece the eagle was so striking, I immediately had this image of news footage of the Iraq war, missiles flying and the burning oil refinaries. your line - the eagle watching for fish that wasn't there - The US searching for oil? ok, so I might be completely out there in left field but your piece is certainly thought provoking. it brings you back to read again, that old literary quest, the search for hidden meaning. and what a great perspective from the Artic, so distant, so removed from war. but also makes you think of what's happening with global warming. no fish because of pollution? I love the many layers presented here. very cool.
I think I just revealed myself as a total literary nerd.

PixieDust said...

Such vivid imagery! Ok, you are definitely in my top 5! (we can vote for you, yes?)

My favorite line:
"but would not curtain to night"



Anonymous said...

Corra, a world falling asleep. Yes, I think that fits. While part of it never rests. Like the waves still stirring the sea.

McKoala, I made myself smile with the marshmallow claws thing. Talk about sweet and sour.... Thanks. :)

Chris, oh, you say things pretty spectacularly yourself. :) Thanks for letting me know.

Austere, they made us read On the Beach in 10th grade. I did think of it again when I wrote this. Would the radiation slowly reach them? I don't know.

J.M., are you kidding? I love that you have come back to it and delved deeper. I have to admit, I'm one who desparately wants to capture the experience of life, and life isn't neat and packaged. I want all of those questions and thoughts to spill in between the lines.

PixieDust, just saying so is a wonderful gesture. Thanks, my friend. There are many entries deserving of your votes. It's more than enough for me just to have my story be read.

Anonymous said...

Caveat (yeah, you get the same treatment as everyone else!)

Something I Would Keep

the phrase "curtain to night" and the repetition of the sixth (and following) lines

Something I Might Tweak

the alliteration of "stout shoulders...strange scratches"

Tara said...

You have such flow and beauty in your writing. Great piece!

spacedlaw said...

A fairly nostalgic piece, this (or maybe just the way I read it).
Thanks for sharing.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Above, the eagle wheeled to fish another day.

...and so it continues from day to day in his world - no matter what else is happening on land or water.
Wonderful perspective!

Jason, it has been a pleasure to read your story and many of the entries posted. Congratulations on such a fine contest! You are, indeed, a conduit for the writing masses!!

Sarah Laurenson said...

I got these guys as being just like the animals rather than contrasting. No matter what's happening in the rest of the world, their world is only this moment, this place, surviving to live, eat, hunt another day. They live to exist, not to think about what's happening far away from them.

Well done, Jason. And I was talking about a book that deals with nuclear holocaust on my blog - just now. So I was already there with you when I read this piece.

quin browne said...

i've yet to see you misstep in telling a story.

Karen said...

The imagery here is incredibly well done, and the tone of quiet acceptance of circumstance is compelling. The ending line, in some ways, is hopeful, I think. This life, at least, goes on.

Thank you for all of the time and effort you've put into this very interesting and enjoyable contest!

Terri said...

Your imagery is, as always, superb. I think what I like best is the pace, though; It all rolls together, starting with the distraction of vapour trails far away. Then they get distracted by their own fight in the sea while far away the world becomes obliterated. The words and pacing seems to rise like a wave here; Then the whale gets away and the damage, far away has been done... and the pacing slows, like the wave has passed. If it were music it would be a symphony.
Nicely composed :)

Anonymous said...

Aerin, no it.

Tara, thank you. :)

Spacedlaw, I think that once any writing leaves our hands, it becomes the property of each reader. Whatever it evoked in you is what it was.

Kaye, yes, I did want to portray that sense of continuity, that disconnect. This motif was an extreme way to do that. As for the community here, it's so gratifying to watch it grow. :)

Sarah, that's a great observation. When you peel away all the technology that we wrap around ourselves, this is still the basic truth. We still live a basic life, just through many proxies. If we take those away, we are these two people.

Quin Browne, missteps are a natural part of writing. That's why it's so important to have a skilled person critique what we write. Aine points out most of my missteps before they get posted. :)

Karen, thank you for the feedback on the imagery. I find it a hard line to walk...potent vs. overdone. And hosting this contest is my pleasure. :)

Terri, yes! The pace here was probably the biggest challenge. Not much happens, but I wanted it to feel huge and have time passing. Pacing had to be just so in order to achieve that. Thanks!

Tessa said...

Yes, yes, yes! It does feel huge....and there is a powerful majesty to it which is utterly compelling. The imagery too, is magnificent and the feeling of aching loneliness is almost tangible. A memorable and commanding piece of prose-poetry. I’m stunned.

SzélsőFa said...

i thought i left a comment here, but i don't seem to find it.
i commented about how triumphant life is - and how beautiful and cruel this sensation is in your writing. great job.

Kurt Hendricks said...

Love the image you create of two skeletal hands closing their grasp over the Earth. I can see it vividly in my head.

Anonymous said...

"tweak" I said! "tweak"! Just suggestions! Egads! Don't maim me, Mr. Pacino!

Anonymous said...

Tessa, thank you for telling me so. :)

Szelsofa, the size of the world is merciless.

Kurt, yes! I liked the image of those fingers reaching down.

Aerin, Tony is relaxing in the reflecting pool. He won't be hurting anyone anymore.

Craig said...

Great little details in the firt half really bring this one to life.

chong y l said...

A fittting master class in writing shorts for me; I learnt in past two weeks more than I learnt in my 4years+ of blog writHing!:) Cheers, YL, Desi

Anonymous said...

Craig, judicious spriklings of seasoning the soup.

Desiderata, that's great!! Then this has all been more than worth it. :)

AngelConradie said...

It feels so far away... Nice one Jason.