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Nigh

by on September 19, 2010

These pants are itching. Of course, these are the itchy pants. There is no time to go and change. I’m late anyway. Hey! This is a pedestrian crossing, you idiot. City full of idiots. It’s 8:08 and I’m still three blocks away. And it looks like it’s about to rain. The sky – I look up. There’s something wrong with the –

“Sir, we’ve double checked. No, it’s not a tornado”, but they don’t listen. Jenny shakes her head. We’ve run the data twice, called the lab in Newark, they get the same thing. “It might be – some sort of electrical storm?” Jenny shrugs. We have no clue, but nobody wants to hear that. “Look, just keep the emergency services –“

I didn’t turn on the siren, but he knows I’m coming. The elevator is dead. Shit. This must be twenty stories. God, I wish I’d kept up the training. Jesus. The air feels thin, stretched. I pray it’s me, but damn it, it’s the bleeding inversion field, isn’t it? That’s how he said it would feel, just before –

The sky stretches around me, metal grey. It feels ready, vibrating like a violin string about to break. The inversion is mounting. I have made a little display that measures all the time left in the world. Nineteen seconds now. It’s 8:08. I hear someone thundering up the stairs. He won’t make it. None of us will. I feel compelled to maniacal laughter, but there’s just not enough –

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14 Comments
  1. Ooh, nasty, world stops! This is your characteristic creeps-up-on-you sort of technique, I had to read it three times (obsessing about why the 8:08 didn’t work) before I realised that each paragraph is actually a different person. The focus circles in so beautifully, you end up reading it as a single progressing viewpoint, but the payoff of revelation when you work out what’s happening is completely worth it.

    This is beautifully constructed from those little snatches of viewpoint which build up the scenario; they’re very vivid for all their economy. I’m impressed you managed a full-on ironic mad scientist plus nemesis in such a tiny space.

    Loved this. Thank you.

    • parfles permalink

      Thank you, nice Lady!

      I’m glad it made sense eventually, even though I’m pushing it at 3 readings. I wondered if there was a better way to make it clear that they were different viewpoints – I toyed with putting a reference to the time (8:08) in each paragraph, or with using paragraph dividers or different fonts or something… I’ll see how/if other people struggle. I want hard, but not TOO hard…

      I had this in my head as cut-scenes from the culmination of an action movie – flipping between the man in the street, the scientists, the cops, and the bad guy, all in the same moment. Hope some of this came across, as well as the abrupt endings to all their –

      • oh, yes, totally, it felt very much like a disaster movie climax, and the abrupt endings were very effective. I don’t think the three readings were pushing it: I suspect I was being a bit unintelligent first time round, I tend to read too fast and habitually have to come back for nuance and resonance and what have you. (Shut up, stv! dammit, now I can’t use that word other than self-consciously).

  2. This is a series of snapshots of people who are involved in a city’s (the world’s?) destruction. The first character seems to be a pedestrian, the second is perhaps a climatologist — definitely seems like a professional of some sort. The third is someone running up the stairs attempting to stop the device which causes the destruction. The fourth person seems to have set up the device, and seems to be waiting for the destruction of the world.

    My first thought was: ha! Amusing South African name. I do enjoy how the name goes along with the story.

    I enjoyed the voices. I thought that they all came across quite naturally. There were two spots where I thought things were a bit intrusive, which I point out below.

    > The sky – I look up.
    The rest of the paragraph before this (and after it) was very much in the character’s mind — having the character narrate that they’re looking up broke that for me.

    > I have made a little display that measures all the time left in the
    > world.
    All of the characters were never exactly narrating to us — they were thinking things and talking to each other, and we were getting to observe them. The Villain, however, decides to tell us that they’ve built this display. Felt out of place.

    There are some other places where the characters come close to narrating, but they didn’t feel intrusive.

    > No, it’s not a tornado”,
    Comma should be thus: “…it’s not a tornado,”

    I enjoyed this piece. The voices are great and the story fun.

    • parfles permalink

      Thank you, glad you liked it and it made sense!

      South African name: not sure what you mean?

      The narration – I see your point, it’s something I would not have spotted myself as I’m too close to the story, but it’s true – I’ll think about how I can express it differently!

      And thanks for the dialogue commas, always get that one wrong.
      🙂

  3. Oh, how exciting!

    I like the way each paragraph ends so abruptly. It makes you eager to see how the following one ends.

    • parfles permalink

      Thank you! I’m glad it came across this way!

  4. Cool idea and I like the ‘moment-bites’ of each paragraph.

    Think the minimal descriptions of exactly what the physical observable are is cute – we know the sky is ? and the air feels thin; electrical storm or tornado like – just enough to tease the imagination.

    Similairly the motives and roles of the involved characters (paragraphs 3 + 4) say just too little to answer any real question about the situation – really like this openess and it gives the impression you had a whole story-line behind these brief excerpts.

    I like the multiple voices but like Dox it took me at least a second reading to figure it out. Perhaps starting each paragraph out with a location name might help I might have been tempted by:
    [cnr 6th and 12th]: These pants are itching. Of course, these are the itchy…

    • parfles permalink

      Thank you! I did not have the whole story, of course, but the impression of that had to be there, to make it feel like a fragment of something bigger. I did just focus on minimal flashes, like an action movie, and I think that worked in letting the reader fill in the story.

  5. cbraz permalink

    This was great and a lot of fun. You completely got the cut scenes in a disaster movie climax. It was exciting in the same way 🙂 I agree with Rudy about the “- I look up ” bit, but not about the villain bit. Villains always monologue in these kinds of movies 🙂

    One small niggle is the itchy pants. It took me off on a weird tangent about something being wrong with the pants and the itchiness being significant. I would have preferred less confusing musings.

    • parfles permalink

      I don’t know what came over me with the itchy pants, they were just there. I started that paragraph four times and with the itchy pants, it just flowed.

      I am obviously incapable of non-itchy pants here, confusion be damned! 🙂

  6. As is becoming traditional for me reading your stories, I didn’t get this at all on the first read. Eventually I got it and I liked it a lot.
    The little snatches of time from the four different bits really works as a sketch of who what where how.
    You’ve built up a big world in a tiny space, especially the dangerous feeling of the looming disaster without saying much about it.

    Really, really, liked the interrupted endings of each paragraph.
    Creates great tension and speed.
    Liked the evil supper-villain the best. Shame they didn’t get a chance to monologue.I’m sure their plan was sheer elegance in its simplicity!

    About the only thing that didn’t work for me was
    > bleeding inversion field
    Although I can’t quite pinpoint why.

  7. parfles permalink

    Thank you! I’m glad it worked in the end.

    I do need to work on a way to distinguish the paragraphs from each other, but have not come up with a good solution…

    “Bleeding” probably doesn’t work as it’s too british in an american-feel story?

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