Hey! It looks like you're new here. You might want to check out the introduction.

Glass Masquerade · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Two on a Raft
They say it takes two weeks to go completely insane when you're lost at sea, and, first of all, I don't believe people who say that, at least not without several addendums. There are probably a lot of pre-existing conditions to take into account, like how much food and shelter you have, or how bad the weather is. Maybe the guy had a condition before he got lost at sea; who knows? Maybe he was already insane. All I'm saying is, you can't believe the first result that comes up on Google when all you type into search bar is "How long does it take to go insane at sea?"

Insanity, I think, is a natural defense mechanism that all humans have when shit becomes too much for them to deal with. Like, it's just a mode that your mind goes into, a protective shell of fantasy to shield your most important organ from completely shutting down, which leaves your body on autopilot. The trick is figuring out how to signal your mind that the danger has passed so it can take the stick again.

I think I lasted about a week. Never was much of an endurance guy. Ken might have lasted longer.

His dad's yacht was expensive, but pretty damn fragile. Personally, I think it could have done with two or three fewer Jacuzzi tubs, maybe used a few more life vests and emergency MREs. When Ken and I started sorting out our supplies on the grimy rubber floor of our life raft, and the slow realization of how screwed we really are starts closing over each of us, and he makes a kind of weak laugh that says pretty much everything that hasn't been said at this point.

"If by some miracle we survive this, my dad's gonna kill me," he says. Even though I'm crying, I'm also kind of laughing, because I know how much of an asshole Ken's dad is. He's a stock broker, which says pretty much everything about Ken's dad that hasn't been said at this point.

I say, "What if we end up like the guys in 'The Edge,' and, like, we start spilling our guts to each other, and get at each other's throats for something we said we did in the past. Then one of us starts digging pit traps and shit for the other guy to fall into."

Ken shrugs. "Digging's gonna be hard on a rubber raft," he replies. "More likely we'll end up like Tom whatsisface from 'Castaway.'"

"Hanks," I say.

"What?" says Ken.

"Tom Hanks."

"Yeah, like Tom Hanks. Drawing faces on volleyballs, growing out our beards..."

"We'll have to draw on something other than volleyballs, like our asses," I muse, pretty much done with crying at this point. I still hadn't fully accepted our situation, but I had accepted that crying wouldn't do jack to help.

"Your ass is too ugly to put a face on," Ken tells me.

"I'll draw a face on your ass and call it Maddison. Then I'll take it to London, and buy it expensive clothes that it can spill wine on."

"God, we're already living 'The Edge,' aren't we."

He bitched so much about that after he and Maddison came back from the UK. I thought it was the funniest thing ever because I have no problem being a prick whenever Ken's waving his family's wealth and his supermodel girlfriend in my face. Those were like the silver spoon prima-donnas in high school who bemoaned the fact that everybody wanted favors from them because they had a lot of money, and yes, that was basically true, but you didn't need to throw the humble brag into the picture. Only favor ever asked of me growing up was if I could spare a cigarette or a lighter, usually both. Ken's wealth and my lower-middle-class poverty became our joke while we were stranded at sea, because, let's face it: we were both sharing the same life raft.

The first few nights were the roughest because of how much we had to adjust to our new life as castaways (In retrospect, things definitely got a lot worse, but after enough bad things happen, it all starts to have the same, bland flavor). We decided we'd take shifts to keep an eye out for passing ships during the night so one of us would always be awake to shoot up a signal flare. Thank Tap-Dancing Christ the raft came with an emergency bag with first aid, a little survival food, four bottles of fresh water, some flares, and a flare gun. Other than that, we pretty much had to make do with the clothes we were wearing and whatever we happened to have on our person when the yacht capsized, and I can tell you first-hand that Candy Crush goes a long way to stalling out insanity. Be sure to mentally prepare yourself for that harrowing moment when your phone flickers the "Low Battery" message. That's like your doctor telling you that you've got terminal cancer.

Even if you had a phone with an infinite battery life, cabin fever sets in eventually.

"We should build a sail," I say on the third day. Might have been a Wednesday, but who cares. At least I didn't have to take my shift at Dairy Queen.

"What for?" he says.

"Dunno...catch the wind? We're just kind of drifting out here right now, might not be moving anywhere at all. I think I've seen castaways build sails for their rafts in movies before, using their T-shirts or something."

"I think I'd rather keep my shirt."

"Is it expensive?"

"Don't be a dick. But, since you asked, yes. It's expensive."

Every so often the bottom of our raft fills up with warm bilge water that smells like salt and dead fish, and our wrinkly asses have been marinating in it for hours. We found one of those collapsible cups in the emergency bag, so we use that to bail us out.

"Yeah, I don't know how much good a sail would do us," I say as I bail. "Who's to say the wind would even take us the right way?"

"If we're going to build anything," says Ken, "it should be a way to catch fish, since that's all we'll have to eat once the MREs are gone."

"I mean, that won't matter when we run out of water. Are we running out of water faster than food?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Figures."

"Fuck."

"Yep."

"Maybe I should just drown myself now and save time."

"Now who's being a dick?"

Of course we'd thought about killing ourselves, but there were much easier ways to go about it than drowning. Technically, drowning was the cleanest way, but neither of us much liked the thought of drowning. I'd had a deep-seated fear of water since an incident back when I was ten years old. I remember swimming out into the river, hearing my mom yelling that I'd gone out too far, then the current grabs me and drags me a mile downstream, and it takes somebody nearly an hour to finally find me, huddled up in a miserable sobbing ball on the shore. Took me years to go anywhere near water after that.

But back to the suicide thing. We'd decided that, firstly, it would be an asshole move for one of us to do it, leaving the other to quietly lose his mind on his own. So we made a pact that we'd both agree to do it together, if at all. The second thing is actually something else the emergency bag contained that I failed to mention before: a multitool. Besides a toothpick, screwdrivers, and a tiny pair of scissors, the multitool also had a small knife blade.

We discussed whether the best way to bleed out would be to cut across the wrist, or go straight for the throat. Also, I think we both knew the correct answer, but we'd use any excuse for discussion at that point.

"Wrists. Definitely," Ken tells me on Day Five.

"I disagree," I croak through cracked lips. By now, I've learned that the sun is a stupid ball of seething yellow hatred that's intent on vaporizing the entire planet, starting with my face.

"Why do you disagree?" asks Ken.

"You know damn well why," I say.

"Has anybody ever tried going right for the brain? Like, through their eye or something."

I shrug. "Bet'cha somebody was crazy enough to try it. Maybe they even pulled it off."

"Do you think you'd ever use the toothpick?"

"Right now, I wouldn't care if all my teeth fell out. My face hurts."

"No, I mean for suicide."

"Oh. Hell no. I'd rather drown."

I think I've made it sound like we gave up too early with all our talks about suicide. That's partially true, because at some point we'd accepted that it was highly unlikely that we'd stumble into another boat out here, and didn't put much effort into sustaining ourselves beyond the water and food in the emergency bag. Maybe if our combined knowledge of survival consisted of more than the movies we'd seen on the subject, we would have put more gusto into it (by the way, we didn't actually draw faces on our asses).

That's the other thing about being stranded at sea; you develop a grim sense of humor. Maybe it was ironic that this had actually happened to the two of us, who'd been friends since elementary school, now finally ending their lives together at roughly the same time, in the same rubber life raft. It may not sound like the funniest thing when I say it like that, but trust me when I say that shit was hilarious. You know how they always say the universe has a funny sense of humor. I don't think those people really get it until they've been the brunt of the joke for seven days solid.

"Nah, Maddison wouldn't care that I died," Ken says on Day Six. "Like, maybe she'd cry a little bit just to keep up appearances. She'd fuck another guy in the middle of my funeral."

"Dude," I say. "That's pretty messed up. I'd never do that to you."

"Do what? Fuck another guy?"

We laugh. Our laughs sound more like brays from a pair of elderly donkeys.

"I'd never hurt you like that, man. Why would you even date a girl you know would turn her back on you?"

He shrugs, which is a bullshit answer. I press him further.

"Do you think it's possible for a guy like you to get an honest girl? One who isn't just after your money?"

He scowls at me. I can tell it's a scowl because he furrows his brow a bit. It hurts our sunburnt faces to make our expressions too severe. It also requires too much energy.

"You make it sound like that's the only thing they go for."

"Isn't it? It ain't your looks."

"Shut up," he says after a tense pause. He rolls over on his side, facing the wall of the raft.

"I'm just messing with you," I tell him, and lower my head. "Maybe I went a bit too far."

"No such thing as 'too far' anymore," he says, sighing. "I could say the same about you; the only reason girls are attracted to you is because they feel sorry for you."

I let this sink in for a minute, letting an angry fantasy flash through my head.

"Let's stop talking about girls," I suggest.

We stop talking about girls for a little while, but the topic resurfaces intermittently. Picture what goes through the mind of a man who hasn't had a good meal in five days. He's seeing New York Steaks, cheeseburgers stacked with thick beef patties, pies and cakes, like he's got an eight hour infomercial about food playing in his brain. Now picture what goes through the mind of a man who hasn't had sex in five years. It's not difficult to replace those images of food with...something else.

Like I mentioned before, I only lasted a week before going nuts. I even remember warning Ken, "I think I'm going nuts," and he responded with, "Who isn't?" like some pretentious douchebag, so I told him, "No, seriously. I think I might have just gone out of my mind."

I don't remember what he said after that. It might have been something insensitive, or he might have laughed.

It's difficult to explain what it's like to go insane, I think because it feels so natural when it happens. When I was growing up, we had this screen door at the back of our house that had a lovely view of the aqueduct and the scenic rear-end of a Khol's superstore. That screen door used to squeak all the time, day in and god-forsaken day out whenever a slight breeze passed by. My bedroom was right next to it, so I would hear it all the time. Lost a lot of sleep to that fucking screen door.

But, one day, I just didn't notice it anymore. I'd gotten so used to it that it was natural, yet whenever we had guests over to our house, I'd hear them complain about the screen door, and I'd say, "What about the screen door?" then they'd clarify that it was squeaking, and ask when was the last time we'd oiled the hinges. Squeaky screen doors had apparently not entered their realm of normality.

I must have started welcoming all kinds of things into my realm of normality. The waves constantly undulating beneath me was normal. My skin cracking under the hot sun was normal. Extreme hunger and thirst, both normal. Contemplating suicide was routine. Forgetting entire days was just another day at the office. This cycle must have continued until something outside my realm of normality barged in.

The ship that found us was an oil tanker on its way out from San Francisco. They said I was on the brink of death when they found me. I'd been drifting at sea for seventeen days.

Oh, and Ken, as you've probably already assumed, died. In fact, he'd died on the first day from severe head trauma. The police asked me why I hadn't thrown his body overboard. All I could do was shrug, which was a bullshit response.

Pics
« Prev   4   Next »
#1 · 1
· · >>WritingSpirit >>Rocket Lawn Chair
I have to think I'd get more out of this story if I'd seen "The Edge."

that hasn't been said at this point

This struck me oddly, and it's a subtle thing, but it makes it sound like he's relating this tale to someone. Which he is! Except it doesn't come across that way at first. This bit felt like a blip until it became obvious later on that this was the case. So for one, I'd recommend making that clear right from the start.

Then the question inevitably rises about who he's talking to. I'll fall back on the advice of The Professionals. There are writing professors who say anything in first person must have an explicitly defined audience, or at least a heavily implied one. For the most part, I don't necessarily agree with that, as lots of first-person stories can be taken as the character's internal musings to himself. There's a fine line, and it depends on how he phrases things and what he says. In some cases, it wouldn't fit an internal monologue.

However, this story directly addresses a "you." There's less of a gray area here, and yet lots of authors do this, and those stories can still be enjoyable. There may be a difference between what authorites say is supposed to be done and what your casual reader actually cares about, though I do find that the "supposed to" stuff often does have a pretty subtle effect. Readers might not notice it, but it does make the story resonate with them a bit more.

All that is to say I found it a little off-putting that the narrator is talking to a "you" I know nothing about. It seems odd that he'd tell this tale to some random person, so that's where this defined audience comes in. I'm wondering who I am to him and why he's telling me this.

The character voicing was really good, though I have to say he just comes across as the author himself, assuming my guess of who wrote it is correct, but it's pretty distinctive. I suspect a lot of my characters are just versions of me, too.

Anyway, my only plot issues are ones you might not have necessarily known about. This sounds like a pretty big yacht, but it depends on how big. Capsized boats sometimes don't sink, and this gets even more true the smaller they are. Of course, if there's a big hole punched in the hull, that changes matters, but you never characterized this as a collision or shipwreck, just capsizing. So there's a pretty good chance it would have remained afloat, and then your chances of rescue are a lot higher if you stay near it. And yachts of much size would have a motorboat on board, not just a life raft. Plus anyone who can afford a yacht that big doesn't operate it themselves. It takes skill to drive a large boat/ship, and Ken wouldn't have been the one driving, which makes me wonder where the staff is. And why nobody radioed out an SOS call. Or maybe the narrator was exaggerating about the three jacuzzis, and it's not that big a boat, and it did smash itself on a reef, and all that gets perfectly explained, except I can't tell that from what's actually in the story.

This obviously isn't going to kill the story for most readers, because they wouldn't know all that, but it does illustrate the value of research if you want something that'll pass by those who do know.

I'm wondering why the police are asking him this rather than the tanker crew. It implies to me a connection with the head trauma, like they suspect he killed Kenny (you bastard!).

So in the end this comes out being basically a combination of "Castaway" (for all you made a direct reference to it) and "The Sixth Sense." So there is a surprise ending, but depending on the truth of what I said in the previous paragraph, how much that reveal re-contextualizes the story can change quite a bit, and that's the criterion for a good twist. It definitely changes my perception of how he interacted with Ken, but it could also change my perception of who he is, especially with how flippant he is about the whole thing.

This is the first story I've read, so I don't know how it stacks up against the rest of my slate, but as a first impression, I'd call it a strong character piece, but that didn't have a lot of "wow" factor, and that had a pretty obvious surprise. The only thing that caught me off guard was how early on Ken died, which makes me wonder if the narrator's account of it remains colored through his warped perception even today.
#2 ·
· · >>Miller Minus >>Rocket Lawn Chair
So... this story didn't thrill me, but it did kinda horrify me.

Er, before that, though, a bit of critique; there were a few spots here where you were changing tense. Not sure if that was intentional, but bits like 'then the current grabs me and drags me' jarred me a few times.

Structurally, this feels like a twist-ending story, without much else. I'd normally say that's a problem, because undercutting all your buddy-talk by re-casting it as the ravings of a madman is doing yourself a disservice, but... alright, on to the horror bit.

First off, let me say that I'm not really certain this is what you intended, Author. I don't really like to read too much into stories; mostly because I'm lazy, but also because I think a strong story is, well, narratively powerful. If I have to guess or squint at the meaning, I consider it the author doing a poor job of conveying their meaning. This does mean I'm not in the audience for a fair slice of fiction, but still.

Anyways, it's really a matter of proximity. First off, the comment about dressing Ken's ass up as 'Madison' just seems like a crass joke. However, when the 'I'm going insane' moment comes back (as has been foreshadowed) right after a discussion about Madison, paired with how the MC is probably jealous and definitely 'starving for sex', and then the twist is dropped where Ken has been dead the whole time from head trauma, well... I'm not saying that 'he killed Ken, sunk the boat, and spent two weeks in a life-raft buggering the corpse because he's just that crazy' is my strongest read for this story, but it's a close second. And the sheer fridge-horror of it kinda leaves me with a dread fascination; I can't get it out of my head now.

So yeah. I'm pretty curious about what you intended here. Either this is a story with a horrifying subtext that's presented a bit weakly, or a story with otherwise good presentation that undercuts itself at the end and has a proximity problem. It could be either, and I think I'd rank them about the same. One of them says more about me than the other, though. Still, thanks for writing... even if I need some brain-bleach now.
#3 ·
· · >>WritingSpirit >>Rocket Lawn Chair
This story is basically fine, and accomplishes what it wants to. But the ending twist isn't particularly shocking or new.

My bigger problem is more of a personal complaint: I found the attitude and perspective of the main character to be really boring. It's a certain kind of bitter/sarcastic/macho that I feel like I've seen so, so often before. Kind of the factory default of a character who's too cool to care about stuff, even in a life/death situation. That makes sense with the ending contextualization that perhaps pushes the impression over into the realm of 'sociopath' but... It's a character I immediately disliked, and that distanced me from actually caring at all about the story. Perhaps it works better for other readers.
#4 ·
· · >>Rocket Lawn Chair
Pretty much share the same opinions with >>Pascoite on this one, particularly on the narrator addressing the reader directly. Expanding on the point about the protagonist narrating this story to us as if we have some sort of relationship with the character, I'm of the view that there's nothing that helps with establishing and defining just what our position is. Are we a close friend or some unfortunate public defender assigned to him in the aftermath of everything that happened?

I do, however, disagree with Pasco in that the voicing of the character was really good, but that's really because this story kinda scraped at a nitpick of mine. It's an okay for me, mostly because I didn't like the general 'hand-holding' that happens throughout the whole story. I felt like I was being lead on by the narrator instead of experiencing the story with him. It starts getting prominent midway through, with sentences like:

Of course we'd thought about killing ourselves


Having those first two words just felt unnecessary; the sentence works fine without it. With it, however, it sorta implies to me that suicide was a decision that was near the top of their priority list when it really isn't. I did wonder if it really is, though the following sentences after that made me doubtful of that notion.

We stop talking about girls for a little while, but the topic resurfaces intermittently


I felt like there was a possible moment of comedy that could've sprung from there that could come about from showing it instead of telling us. Like having the protagonist, after suggesting to drop the topic on girls, just starts talking about another girl he had eyes for in high school and how he would fuck the living daylights out of her if she was stranded here in place of Ken. Random stuff like that to ramp up the comedy aspect a little.

Like I mentioned before, I only lasted a week before going nuts.


Whole sentence could be thrown out, really. Perhaps if you wanna callback to it, maybe you don't have to add in 'like I mentioned before'. I'm still aware that the protagonist did only last a week before going insane up until that point.

There's other examples littered around the story, but all in all, I just didn't like that I was being guided through the story that easily. The premise is absurd in of itself and I find myself wanting to revel in all that absurdity, but I felt like I was being held back by the narrator from taking that grand leap. I think it can also extend to resolving >>Ferd Threstle's issue regarding the characterization of the character too to let the audience have the freedom to interpret the story and the narrator in any way they wish instead of being lead around like that.

The dialogue does have its shining moments, mostly thanks to Ken, to be honest. He definitely worked as a character that our protagonist plays very well off on. Just wished our protagonist had some semblance of what Ken has to offer that could reciprocate the humor.

It's an okay story. Can't say anything much else about it, to be honest, mostly because I'm not entirely sure what the story's gunning for. Still, props to you, author, for writing this!
#5 ·
· · >>Rocket Lawn Chair
This story reads like a lesson in why you should never use a plot twist to excuse a story that doesn't make sense.

Because as I'm reading this story, I'm having several reservations about what's going on between these two—the biggest one being, Where the hell is their urgency? Look, I've read The Martian, I know that it can be fun to read/write grim humour in a grim situation, and it's not that weird for people to act that way. But not entirely. A little bit of panic, fright, anything between these two that implies they realize how fucked they are and that they don't want to die would have made a lot more sense.

But so he was mad the whole time. A-ha. You got me. And although the story makes more sense now, that doesn't mean I enjoyed reading it any more. That's still a problem, to me.

Like, look at Harry Potter's favourite potions teacher, Snape. Even though he's merely pretending to be an asshole throughout most of the books, he's still a well-made antagonist. His plot twist re-contextualizes the story in a different way, but the original way has to be engaging too.


But enough harping on that, let's talk about the voicing. I thought it was good, personally. Not great or anything, but definitely serviceable, and it was supported well by the conversations between Ken and our protagonist. But still, I couldn't help but feel that the voice faltered every time the protagonist used a very "technical" word. Words like "addendum" and "require" and "pre-existing condition" and whatnot. Whatever you choose for your voice, make sure you stick with it.

Also, I have to echo what >>Not_A_Hat said about the tense changing, and maybe go after you a little more for it. You story starts with a description of what will happen, told in past tense, but then the story jumps backwards to the yacht, and moments later the tense jumps forward to present! Yikes! Also this paragraph...

Every so often the bottom of our raft fills up with warm bilge water that smells like salt and dead fish, and our wrinkly asses have been marinating in it for hours. We found one of those collapsible cups in the emergency bag, so we use that to bail us out.


...is kind of all over the place. If you meant for all this to be explained away by the twist, then, as I mentioned, it doesn't work. But if you didn't, then it's something to watch out for in the future.

But that's all from me. Thanks for writing this piece, and best of luck in the shakedown!
#6 · 3
·
>>Pascoite
>>Not_A_Hat
>>Ferd Threstle
>>WritingSpirit
>>Miller Minus

Fortunately there aren't many excuses I can give this fic, as I can agree with nearly all the critique levied against it, especially the problems most of you noticed with tenses and the lack of any clear message in the story. If there was any message in my head at the time, it might have had something to do with how aimless and desolate I've felt my writing to be lately, just drifting along with an uncertain future—but that would still be assigning purpose to something that I went into with no purpose or goal besides simply finishing on time. I kind of regret canning my original idea when I was 3k words into it on Saturday.

Thank you all for taking time to read and provide feedback. I didn't have fun writing this, and I apologize for conveying that feeling to you.