Title: Epitaph
Subtext: If we can't speak all of our mind any time we'd like, we must write.
Date: 17 Nov 15 (Tuesday in the PM)
Time: Less than a minute
Replies: 38
Revisions: 20
Publicity: Superfeed

Behind me came a crunching sound, then a leaping pounce and growl that rattled my chest bones. I ducked – rapid sheer instinct. It was a bear flying over my head and tumbling into the woody thicket. I ran like hell on a deer path.

*          *          *

I had wanted peace, so I took a walk where there were no people. I drove for an hour and picked a spot I didn’t quite know. There was nothing out there for concentric miles until a nuclear power plant cropped up in a cordoned-off part of wilderness.

*          *          *

Its reactors were melting down now, and a wave of radiation had gotten to the bear and me before either of us could do anything for the other. We were lamed.

It was minutes; then the end. There is no shock that bounds terminal pain. More than anything, it’s a weird rush of what might more routinely come on like a slow reaper going the pace of life.

*          *          *

In the secret pocket of my fleece were two tiny seashells, one spiral smaller than the other. I found them on the shore near my home and thought of my two sons. I kept them as a reminder.


Elk » Authorship
Elk » 3:40 PM 29 Mar 18
Elk » 12:22 AM 29 Mar 18
Elk » 6:28 AM 13 Jul 16
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Elk » 4:37 PM 17 Nov 15
Elk » 2:44 PM 17 Nov 15

The Thread (38)

 Author's voice in grey. 

  1. I like the language choices you’re making here, Elk. In “We were lamed,” I like how you’re making “lame” a verb and then flipping it into the passive voice.

    I also really enjoy the concept of a “slow reaper going the pace of life.” That’s a lovely way of taking an old, important concept and giving it a fresh spin.

  2. Obliged.

  3. Still tinkering. The revisions will tell the tale of the edits. Thoughts hereby solicited.

    That last line is challenging me — whether to use “lord” and how to best say “forget” or “never mind” without cheapening the deal.

  4. Try “we’d” rather than “you’d” there at the end.

    Also, omit “forget.”

    “…speak all of our mind any time we’d like, and to whom.”

  5. The end section is by far the strongest. Jettison the rest?

  6. Thanks, Bear. You’re saying jettison all the backdrop about the bear and meltdown? Just have it be that little section about the shells in the fleece pocket?

    On omitting “forget” – that line ties back to the subtext. It’s really one thing:

    If you can’t speak all of your mind any time you’d like, you must write. Lord knows none of us can speak all of our mind, forget any time you’d like.

    It just seemed like the two elements should be broken up – “all” and “any time” – because they’re cumulative in a way that highlights the impossibility and thus the necessity to write. Should it still be omitted, or just replaced with a better word or way?

    The “or to whom” was a late addition to this original notion.

  7. I like the simplicity of the ending. That’s your strong suit. It works well on its own.

    “In the secret pocket” is a great way to begin.

  8. I love the images in this piece. I love the bear suddenly crashing through the forest; I love the injured nuclear power plant leaking comic-book waves of radiation; I love the two seashells.

    I also love how those images work together. There’s a strange magnetism to them, one that isn’t completely explicable. For me, they speak about death and the odd, specific comfort of death. But the images feel sturdy enough to support a universe of readings.

    So I have to disagree with Bear’s suggestion to jettison the first two sections. I don’t disagree that the third section is strong enough to stand alone. But I like how the three sections function as a unit.

    I do think the first two sections could be sharper, though. For instance, I think focusing on objective action and environment rather than subjective feeling and description could make the first section more effective. The actions the protagonist performs rather than how s/he feels; what the bear does to the environment rather than its “watering mouth.”

    In my own writing, I think of this as developing negative space or guiding the reader’s imagination. Expansion versus limitation.

    Also, if the first two sections are more objective, it makes the emotion of the third more affecting.

    I have a question about the logic of the second section. Its first four sentences suggest a time either before or after the bear attack. Its fifth sentence, however, places the bear with the protagonist at the power plant meltdown. Am I not reading that correctly?

    Finally, in regards to the last line, I’d say you don’t need it. Trust the power of the experience you’ve curated for the reader. Bear radiation seashells: that’s wonderful, and that’s everything.

  9. Good eye – check it now. Still taking thoughts.

  10. I’m having trouble making connections from the first to the second to the third section. The first two seem a bit stilted, without the urgency generally allotted to such life and death situations. They lack life, to be blunt – in fact, they’re incredibly dream-like. Things just happen. The bear attacks, the power plant melts. No causation, no reflection.

    The ending, though, is full of life.

    Is this juxtaposition the idea?

    Just tell us the secret, Elk! What does it all mean?!

  11. When a bear attacks and a nuclear power plant melts down moments later, and then toxic death washes over you like an ocean wave, yeah, it’s gonna be pretty dreamlike. All this woman can do (did anyone else but me assume it was a man?) is virtually passively relate in a moment what’s happened moments before, before the last moment happens — the third section. Wouldn’t the end be the most real of all? One day each of us shall know just how real.

  12. I see what you mean about the first paragraph of the second section, @mako. It is indeed a flashback, to the hour or so before — the coming about of being at this attack and meltdown crossroads.

  13. The question is, was it meant to be dream-like?

  14. Are you just curious, or does authorial intent have a bearing here?

  15. Well, it has bearing on how the piece functions. As a dream, it’s fine, perhaps very fine. If it’s meant to represent reality (even a fantastical reality, if that makes sense), then there’s some work to be done to bring it to life.

  16. It’s definitely not a dream. But it is a vignette, and the last few moments of someone’s life. Not sure what else you think could fit in such a crowded moment. Make the changes and let me see what you’re talking about — I’m curious.

  17. One quick thing – in the second section, bear and me instead of bear and I.


    Behind me came a crunching sound, then a leaping pounce and growl that rattled my chest bones. I ducked – rapid sheer instinct. It was a bear flying over my head and tumbling into the woody thicket. I ran like hell on a deer path.


    The sound came on from nowhere – a crunching of leaves and a growl that rattled my chest bones. In sheer rapid instinct, I ducked. The bear flew over my head, tumbling into the woody thicket. I took to the trail and ran like hell.

  18. I’m also still confused about the second section. It seems to begin as a flashback, but it also seems to be after the attack (the bear is present).

  19. Don’t know that your version does much but change the hue so very slightly by adding a drop of yellow.

    On the second section (again) — it’s an explanation of why/how this individual is at this crossroads. She’s telling you about the bear, but then stops to say, “Here’s how/why I’m in the woods, and now this stuff is happening to that bear I was telling you about, and me too, of course.”

  20. You should throw in a couple of transitions/signifiers to that effect in the second section. The flashback bleeds into the present. It ends up being confusing.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “drop of yellow.” I think the revised version seems more readable, less robotic.

  21. It just adds some arbitrary color, not even a deep shade.

  22. Can you take a shot at stopping the bleeding — again I’m curious.

  23. I don’t think it’s arbitrary. It’s color versus black and white.

  24. To be honest, I’m still not sure what happens when. Is the narrator being chased by the bear when they come across the plant?

  25. I was actually aiming for black and white.

    On timing — goes to woods for walk, (plant starts melting down), bear attacks, starts getting affected by meltdown, finds seashells, final thought, death.

  26. I’ll let it go at this – as a dream work, it’s great. That’s what I’m getting out of it.

  27. High fives, @elk @bear @mako.

    Gender identity comes across to me here as a central thematic element and into that mix Elk, I, like you, assumed the narrator is a man. There seems to be a reckoning with a prior coming of age, both on the narrator’s part, and Earth’s. Role-play and relative dominance are tumbling and gnashing, leaching into and crashing up against an identity that wants to continue to emerge in a world that seems to be completely drawn and known to its component selves. The patriarchy?

    I put this down and the words flashed in negative as I closed my eyes. But they were these words from Nightwood:

    Jenny struck Robin, scratching and tearing in hysteria, striking, clutching and crying. Slowly the blood began to run down Robin’s cheeks, and as Jenny struck repeatedly Robin began to go down as if brought to the movement by the very blows themselves, as if she had no will, sinking down in the small carriage, her knees on the floor, her head forward as her arm moved upward in a gesture of defense . . .

  28. Powerful analysis, Falcon. Just about trumps the piece itself.

  29. Struggling mightily with the tenses here — help, @bear.

  30. This is one of the strangest things I’ve ever read. It reads like a translation by someone not fluent in either language. I mean that as a compliment.

  31. Did I get all the tenses right for what I’m trying to do?

  32. The first section comes between the first and second paragraphs of the second section. That’s what’s throwing it off chronologically. The solution might be dividing the second section in half with asterisks.

  33. Better — so then I take it you think the verb tenses are all correct?

  34. I’m not a big fan of the “were-now” construction in the first line of the new third section (try cutting “now”) but the tenses all seem fine.

  35. Now was new as of last night — was trying to distinguish further, but maybe it’s overkill, pun intended.

  36. Wondering if you should add the last section break between the third and fourth paragraphs to even it out.

  37. This one, as noted, reads like a curiosity to me, but there’s merit to that. I’d put on the Superfeed. Second?

  38. It’s already there — but that’s a great affirmation of our process.

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