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brigits_flame: Absence

Jun. 20th, 2009 | 10:46 pm

Title: Absence
Word Count: 873
Warnings: Behind-the-scenes violence.
Summary: Can a man who lives by chance really be a man at all?
Notes: This was written for the brigits_flame June contest; the topic is "Caesar."

Night again. I walk the dirty streets of this city and listen to the howling of fetid dogs and the screaming of tortured souls. Stumble upon an old man lying in a broken doorway. He stares at me, pleading. Flip a coin. Heads. God must be merciful tonight. I give him the coin.

Keep walking. Pull my hat further over to cover the ghastly emptiness that exists beneath. Doubt anyone would look up for long enough to notice anyway. A woman lays on the ground, assailed by fleeing vagrants. Flip a coin. Heads, it shows for her. I help her up. Send her home.

For them? Tails. God is vengeful tonight. Time to hunt.

Check the alley that they just ran down. Left or right? Left or right? Flip a coin. Left it is. Follow the alley to a late-night diner. Greeted by a fat, old waitress. She smells of kitchen grease and bitter coffee. Maybe that's just her. No, I don't need a seat, lady. See any shady men here? Just me? Figures.

I walk on. Flip a coin over and over. Heads. Tails. Heads. Tails. Tails. Double tails. God is angry. Tails. Tails. Tails. Pause. Look up from my single-minded motions. A pale face stares back at me. No can do; a sin's still a sin. Your time's up. String's already been cut.

Onwards I travel. Steps seem aimless, but there's a plan for all of us. I guess it's called fate, and tonight, I am fate.

A mosquito lands on my arm. We are all God's creatures. Tails. His to watch over and his to judge. I crush the bug between my fingers and drop its twitching body on the dirty ground. Darkness blends into darkness. The incident is forgotten, except for the nagging itch on my arm. I ignore it and walk on.

Late night joints open everywhere on this street -- HOT GIRLS!!! Bar Open! Neon signs whiz by. I walk quickly. This place is full of sinners. Can't take care of them all. Got a job tonight.

Tails makes me stop at a twenty-four-hour liquor store. I look up. It's a standoff. There's a kid in there. Got a gun. Why do you look so scared, boy? You're the big bad man with a gun, aren't you? Flip. Heads. Curious. Get the hell out of here! Watch his retreating back. Got my own gun now. Stop acting like a fool, little man! I flip the coin. Tails. Tools, like us, were made for a purpose. We're no use if we don't live to our full potentials.

I walk out. Arm's itching again. Damn mosquito.

Snow begins to fall. Pristine white becomes tainted as soon as it touches the ground. City's so drenched with sin that even angels can't combat corruption. I trudge through the streets. Every step brings me closer, closer to my prey and closer to God.

I stop at an apartment building. It's old. Couldn't say how old. The bricks are all worn around the edges and the mortar between them is sunken in. I walk into the building and up the staircase. First floor flips heads. So does second.

Tails lands in my palm on the third floor. I exit the staircase. Walk down the hall. Three-oh-four reads the door of the residence that flips tails. I knock loudly. Once, twice, three times. It's late. A rude voice answers.

It's the kid from the liquor store. I flip the coin in my hand. It lands on heads again for him. I push past him into the room. It's small and looks run down. A single dilapidating couch sits in the middle of the floor; a young couple recline on it. The radio is on a talk station -- something about rising crime rates. Their faces look blank; they're either listening intently or not listening at all.

I flip the coin twice. Tails, and tails again.

My work done, I leave the room. The boy from the store is gone. I hear heavy footsteps hurrying away from me. I ignore them and exit the building. The bite on my arm feels worse than ever, but I continue ignoring it. The day is going to break soon, and it's time for me to go.

A child walks alone on the street. A note of desperation escapes from his lips. Something about this bothers me, as nothing else has. What the hell were you thinking, kid? Dark is dangerous. Men like me out here. Bad men.

The mad itch on my arm returns. I scratch it irritably. What do you want? Stop whining! Where's your house? There? Why are you looking at me like that?

All I hear are echoes. There. Over there. Bodies strewn across the living room floor. Wrong. What's wrong? I'm missing something here. God has never led me wrong.

I feel the biting cold. God. That's what's missing.

My arm is bugging me more than ever. I scratch it.

My skin turns an angry shade of red. I keep scratching.

Flip. Tails.

No! Tails. Tails.

Tails again. Flip. Flip. Flip. An endless melody clangs as coins clatter against the pavement. I don't look at what they are. I know.

Tails. Tails. All tails.

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Comments {24}

ephemeralbreath

(no subject)

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jun. 21st, 2009 03:09 am (UTC)
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I must leave a note at the end because I feel kind of apprehensive about the distinctiveness of this piece, especially in light of recent publications that have become popular. The connection to the prompt may also be obscure, so I hope it all makes sense. =/

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ephemeralbreath

(no subject)

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jun. 21st, 2009 05:23 am (UTC)
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* I'm not talking about Twilight. Just to clarify.

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(Deleted comment)

ephemeralbreath

(no subject)

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jun. 21st, 2009 05:44 am (UTC)
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Haha! No worries; we all know that book has been at the forefront of internet-dwellers' minds.

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mistvieh

(no subject)

from: mistvieh
date: Jun. 23rd, 2009 05:22 am (UTC)
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Bahahahahahahaha!

"I'm not talking about Twilight." You hush!

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ephemeralbreath

(no subject)

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jun. 23rd, 2009 05:58 am (UTC)
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Haha... >.>

He's not a vampire! I promise!

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mistvieh

(no subject)

from: mistvieh
date: Jun. 23rd, 2009 06:01 am (UTC)
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No, no, I know that. -snickers-

No, I was just laughin' 'cause I wrote something 'Twilight-related' last week. Did you read it?

Tee hee. I didn't even think 'vampire' when I read this entry (which is splendid -- good work!), so your little 'footnoote' gave me a good laugh at my own expense. :-)

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ephemeralbreath

(no subject)

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jun. 23rd, 2009 06:08 am (UTC)
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I did read it! Haha. I also remember a certain footnote on that piece, too. ;D

Good! I got a comment about him having to leave at sunrise, and was like, oh no...!

Thank you. I'm glad you liked it!

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(Deleted comment)

ephemeralbreath

(no subject)

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jun. 21st, 2009 05:26 am (UTC)
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Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

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the_panic_light

(no subject)

from: the_panic_light
date: Jun. 21st, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
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Very interesting. The kind of thing that would work well on screen.

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ephemeralbreath

(no subject)

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jun. 22nd, 2009 03:09 am (UTC)
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Thank you. That's how I saw it when I wrote it.

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amused4ever

(no subject)

from: amused4ever
date: Jun. 22nd, 2009 04:05 am (UTC)
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Oooh, I liked that. I get what you were worried about, too, but I don't think there was much you could do about it. Vigilante-antiheroes just have that same flair about them, sometimes. Anyway, my favorite part was about the whole coin-flipping thing. That was good, so simple yet...not. Or something. YEAH. Way for me to be INTELLIGENT.

Though, I'm a little confused about the end? Just the actual event--was the kid's family murdered? For the rest of it, I think I understand what's going on. I'm assuming the coin-flipping led him to the stick-up at the store instead of the murders at the kid's house, which he considers the heavier crime and thus should have been stopped by 'God' through the coin-flipping? Yes? Just clarifying for myself.

Overall, great job. I really enjoyed reading it!

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ephemeralbreath

(no subject)

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jun. 22nd, 2009 04:24 am (UTC)
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Well, I think I may have made it a little too complicated and underhanded, given the comments I've gotten so far.

I'm glad you liked it!!! :D Yeah, darn those vigilantes.

Okay, so let's think -- you already mentioned that he's an anti-hero, so he's obviously doing something that's non-heroic, in the traditional sense of the word. Remember when I mentioned to you his loyalty to and subsequent betrayal from God? Yeah. That's what the end is about.

He does have a mission, though, and believes that everything he's doing that night has to do with it, so first man he encounters and states that his string has been cut? I meant the "string" that the three sisters of Greek/Roman mythology keep up with and cut when it's time for a man to die. The stickup at the grocery store -- he lets the kid go, but if you read closely, when he says that men should live to their full potentials, he's really talking about the full potential of the gun -- to kill. He's still hunting, you see, when he stops at the apartment. He finishes his "work," and leaves again. I think you probably see what I'm going at here by now.

Don't forget the summary, as well. What he mistakes as God is really just chance, and the end is a reflection of that. Did he kill the wrong people? Did he let the wrong man go because of a false belief? Why does he flip tails at the end? Or is it that tails is all he can see as a result of a change in his perceptions?

I hope things start making sense now!

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merthin

(no subject)

from: merthin
date: Jun. 23rd, 2009 04:44 am (UTC)
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I believe in Harvey Dent. *grin* Sorry. I'm a bit of a Batman fan and your character reminds me very vaguely of Two Face.

Query: Is he flipping the coin repeatedly at the end to decide his own fate and/or the fate of his hand/arm? "And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched." -Mark 9:43.

This is an interesting and very dark piece. The justifications of mankind's actions are almost as disturbing as the actions themselves. Nice job. :-)

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mistvieh

(no subject)

from: mistvieh
date: Jun. 23rd, 2009 06:04 am (UTC)
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Re: I believe in Harvey Dent.

I got the -exact- same vibe. Pulled me right in. The coin flipping in general is delicious, despite being linked to Two-Face.

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ephemeralbreath

(no subject)

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jun. 23rd, 2009 06:06 am (UTC)
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Haha. Someone else told me the coin thing reminded him of Two Face. I wasn't thinking about him at all when I wrote it, though.

The end begins with him flipping for the child, and then he realizes that he himself is doomed because of the choices he was given which he did not make. That's an interesting quote that you bring up. The itch on his arm comes up at points where he has just picked the road that he will travel down at a crossroads; he finally scratches his arm at the very end when outer influences finally get to him.

Thank you for the comment! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Edit

from: harlotbug3
date: Jun. 23rd, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
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[Morning. Morning. Tuesday morning. Red pen. [Red pen]. Red pen [again].


Night again. I walk the dirty streets of this city and listen to the howling of fetid dogs and the screaming of tortured souls [Too long, too showy, too contrasting with the following sentences. Try a few separate sentences more along the lines of : “I walk the dirty streets. Fetid dogs howl. Tortured souls scream]

Keep walking. [Pull my hat further over to cover the ghastly emptiness that exists beneath=too showy even if that’s the idea].


Check the alley [that=delete] they just ran down. Left or right? Left or right? Flip a coin.

I walk on. Flip a coin over and over. Heads. Tails. Heads. Tails. Tails. Double tails. God is angry.[Nice]


This place is full of sinners. Can't take care of them all. [Got a job tonight.=seems unnecessary]

Get the hell out of here! Watch his retreating back. Got my own gun now [this implies but doesn’t make it clear enough that the boy dropped his gun and the narrator picked it up].

Snow begins to fall. Pristine white becomes tainted as soon as it touches the ground. [City's so drenched with sin that even angels can't combat corruption.=a bit too blunt] I trudge through the streets. Every step brings me closer, closer to my prey and closer to God.


Walk down the hall. [Three-oh-four reads the door of the residence that flips tails.= too long, try “Flip tails in front of room 304”] I knock loudly.

It's the kid from the liquor store. I flip the coin in my hand. It lands on heads again for him. I push past him into the room.

I flip the coin twice. Tails, and tails again.[Nice.]

Tails. Tails. All tails. [Well ended. Tighten up voice consistency, the meat and sweet of this one, and it’ll be a fairly solid piece.]

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ephemeralbreath

Re: Edit

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jun. 23rd, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
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Good morning!

Wow, I agree with pretty much all of what you've said. Some parts had too much of a Sin City feel to them, and I think those are the ones that you picked up on and said were too big. I can see what you mean by the tone not being consistent; I definitely need to work on that.

I'll probably do a rewrite of this piece with your suggestions.

Thank you for your wonderful edit,
Kelly

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mullvaney

Edit numero deux

from: mullvaney
date: Jul. 1st, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)
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Nice use of stream-of-consciousness. It shows the main characters state of min; he/she felt slightly off balance, intense, single-minded and cold. Honestly, I sort of expected him/her to be a rampaging sociopath escaped from custody. You also use it to create the murkiness of the situations and the setting. Similarly, the use of the toss of the coin, with a caveat: the phrase "tonight. I am fate." This is jarringly obvious, I would replace it with "I flip the coin." This says the exact same thing, and fits better with your rhythm.

A few grammatical and style comments:

A woman lays on the ground, assailed by fleeing vagrants.

'lays' should be 'lies', and the second part would read better thus: " . . . ground; the vagrants who attacked her fleeing around the corner." or somesuch.

ghastly emptiness that exists beneath

emptiness is not ghastly in and of itself, and the phrase would be much more elegant as "emptiness beneath", or "void beneath". Personally, I like 'void' it goes better with the whole 'fate' thing.


Arm's itching again get rid of the 's-again, it's more elegant. Also, it begins snowing in the next line. Mosquitoes would not be "in season" if it is winter.

The end is a little ambiguous, I read it as fate, or this person who thinks he or she is fate, is being told by the coin that he or she must kill the child, and is hesitating. Odd, because he/she has not hesitated at all up to this point. Am I reading this wrong?

This is good, nice and disciplined, something that is often lacking in work that shows the sort of ambiguity you've got going on. FYI- I didn't get Twilight at all; this is far more distinctive ;D I got Noir Comics and Nick Cave lyrics. Interesting story!

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ephemeralbreath

Re: Edit numero deux

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jul. 2nd, 2009 12:48 am (UTC)
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Thank you for your comments. I agree that some of the words could have been better thought out. Also, I totally did not think about mosquitoes and winter! Let's just call it surrealism. Haha.

You're right. The ending is about him flipping the coin for the child. But in this kid telling him about the parents, makes him look back at what he's done. He really can't reason, like he has with every other one, why the child would flip tails. At the very end, the tails symbolizes his own doom.

Thanks for reading; I'm glad you enjoyed it! I was definitely channeling some comic-book-ness and word-visuals in this piece.

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an edit for you

from: faerie_spark
date: Jul. 5th, 2009 12:23 am (UTC)
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Hi There,

I received your edit as a last-minute thing last week, and am just now getting to it. My apologies for making you wait so long.


I don't know what your frame of reference for this piece is, but I really really enjoyed reading it. You have an immediacy and grittiness to your writing which makes it entertaining and suspenseful. I was definitely at the edge of my seat while reading this. Your use of an unconventional grammatical structure (i.e, starting sentences with verbs, using short, choppy sentences, etc) really contributes to the feel of this story.


I like your use of multiple symbols---God (whose role in the piece is marvelously vague), the mosquito, or rather it's bite (a conscience, perhaps?), the coin. Weaving these symbols throughout the story, turns it from a potentially monotonous litany, into something meaningful and thought-provoking.

I have specific feedback which I will copy below and in subsequent comments.

1. A woman lays on the ground, assailed by fleeing vagrants. (assailed by fleeing vagrants? This is confusing to me. Are they fleeing because our narrator has just arrived?) ) Flip a coin. Heads, it shows for her. I help her up. Send her home.

For them? (meaning the vagrants? This isn’t completely clear

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edit, comment two

from: faerie_spark
date: Jul. 5th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
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2. Check the alley that they just ran down. Left or right? Left or right? (I like this repetition. It adds tention and realism.)

3. She smells of kitchen grease and bitter coffee. Maybe that's just her. (Do you mean that it might just be the smell of her body not of the diner? It stands to reason that she’d smell like a diner if she worked in one. Again, I’m not completely clear about what you’re driving at.)

4.A pale face stares back at me. No can do; a sin's still a sin. Your time's up. String's already been cut. (Is this the voice of the pale face? Who is the pale face? What can it not do?)



6. I guess it's called fate, and tonight, I am fate. (I like this, a seamless melding of what the narrator is and where the narrator is. I can’t tell whether the place is manipulating the narrator or vice versa, and I like this ambiguity.)

7. A mosquito lands on my arm. We are all God's creatures. Tails. His to watch over and his to judge. I crush the bug between my fingers and drop its twitching
body on the dirty ground. (This is a gripping image, evoking as it does the tenuousness of life and the numerous and profound questions many have about God

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edit, comment 3

from: faerie_spark
date: Jul. 5th, 2009 12:31 am (UTC)
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8. City's so drenched with sin that even angels can't combat corruption. (Is our narrator an angel then? An angel of light, or of dark?)

9. I exit the staircase. Walk down the hall. Three-oh-four reads the door of the residence that flips tails. (So our angel is walking down the hall flipping the coin? It would be helpful to add the coin-flipping to the sentence about walking down the hallway.)

10.

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ephemeralbreath

Re: edit, comment 3

from: ephemeralbreath
date: Jul. 5th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
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Oh, okay. It's no problem! I already got two edits on this, but I guess that's just goodie for me. Haha.

There really was no frame of reference for this piece. It's a standalone. I'm glad you enjoyed the feel of the story. :)

Yes, the itching is a manifestation of the protagonist's conscience/guilt.

Hmmm... I thought it was clear, but I guess that's because I have that specific vision in my head, but yes, what you've assumed is correct.

The comment he makes about her smelling of "kitchen grease and bitter coffee" is him talking about her greasiness and bitterness, personality-wise, you know? I guess it was a kind of odd statement.

No, there is no dialogue coming from other characters, if you can see through the rest of the story. All of it is the narrator talking, so what he's saying is in response to what the "pale face" has asked him, which is an implied plea for mercy. It's not stated specifically, but he is one of the attackers from earlier in the story.

I didn't really see the narrator as an angel. The sentence is just his interpretation of the falling of snow, which itself is an innocent event. This is supposed to be a display of his obsession with good versus evil and God's role in it.

I was afraid that the repetition of the coin flipping would be too over-the-top, but I guess it would fit in with the rest of the story.

Thank you for your edit! I really enjoyed reading your interpretation of the story.

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Re: edit, comment 3

from: faerie_spark
date: Jul. 5th, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
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Sorry about the additional edit. I was told that one of the editors assigned to your piece couldn't do it. Oh well, and extra edit isn't so bad.

Thanks for some of your clarifications.

If the pale face is meant to be one of the attackers from earlier in the story, you could always write something to make that clearer. It r really doesn't do the reader much good if the writer knows something and the reader never gets to learn it. But such a small detail really isn't a big deal. I'll be keeping an eye on your writing, ad you have a gripping style and really know how to keep a story moving.

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