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It's a Long Way Down · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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A Simple Death
Today was a good day, because it was the day Mike would die.

He had got up at six in the morning to be fully prepared for this very special occasion. Cleaning himself with only a washbasin was hard, but he had yet learned to do it without a shower. He had even managed to comb that little cowlick which gave him so much trouble, and after one last satisfied glance in the mirror, he sat on his bed, waiting for the wardens to fetch him.

While waiting patiently, Mike started to hum a joyful melody, which reminded him of the golden wheat fields he used to run through when he was feeling in the mood to be one with nature. He chuckled at his own thought. Come on, get a grip Mike. This is not the time to be romantic.

If he was honest, there was one thing that brought him some regret. He hadn’t the opportunity to finish reading Janet and The Depths of Love. He had been caught by the sappy story of Janet’s torments of loves and he wished he had been able to see the conclusion, to find out whether Janet’s fate ended badly or not. He believed she would be fine but he wasn’t one hundred percent sure. He supposed that was the thrill that had got him enthralled in this story in the first place.

He cut himself from his reverie and took a look through the bars at the clock hanging on the wall across his cell. A quarter to nine. They should have come fifteen minutes ago.

Frowning, he stood up from his bed and approached the door.

“Guards?” he called. “I’m supposed to be executed at nine and I would feel bad to be late.”

Neither answer nor guards came, despite his multiple calls. Disconcerted, he sat back on his bed.

There must be a mistake: they are usually punctual, whether it be for meals or beatings. He looked at the calendar on the wall where he had crossed the days remaining before his execution. The fated day was circled in red, Monday, December 23rd. The guards came yesterday to beat him, just like every Sunday. So it was Monday, today, he was sure of that.

Finally, after half an hour of waiting, a guard showed up in front of his cell.

“Ah,” exclaimed Mike. “I was wondering when you would come. I was getting worried.”

The guard didn’t reply and grab the keys on his belt instead. He unlocked and opened the door cell. “Follow me,” he simply said, and Mike happily complied.

Once the door locked again, they walked and Mike tried to get to know this man who was certainly new here, since he had never seen him before. “I’m Mike, and I’m gonna die today. Who are you?” Once again, the guard stayed quiet. “Not very talkative, are you? That’s okay. I can talk for two, or I can stay quiet. I don’t mind the silence.”

After a couple of minutes, Mike, surprised, spoke again. “That’s not the way to the courtyard. Where are we going?” Just as he finished his question, the guard opened a door on their right and pushed him inside. While he was shoved inside the room, Mike noticed with disappointment that the guard had tried to be gentle. That wasn’t how a guard was supposed to act here, but whatever would happen, Mike was sure this new recruit would learn the way to properly fit inside these walls in no time. Too bad he wouldn’t be there to see the man blossom to a well-trained warden.

What he saw inside the room, however, was a surprise.

“Good morning Mr. A.” asked his lawyer. “How are you?”

For Mike, Peter L. was the living cliché of a lawyer: small, sharp nose, visible teeth. The face of rat, partially hidden behind rectangular glasses.

“There must be a problem Mr. L.,” said Mike. “I am supposed to die today and we’re already late.”

“Yes about that, I have good news.” Peter opened his suitcase, grabbed a stack of paper and started reading. “After several months of intense arguments, I’ve managed to appeal your case. There will be another trial in ninety days. Until then, your execution is postponed.”

“What?” Mike looked at him, dubious.

“I know,” he said with a grin. “I impress myself sometimes. I tell you, that wasn’t easy. I had to remind some people the favors they owed me. And you can thank your wife; she has harassed me for a long time before I gave in. She’s very stubborn.”

“You can’t be serious!” exclaimed Mike.

“I’m more than serious,” he said, still smiling, cleaning his glasses with a handkerchief. “Now, we should review all the documents to prepare your defense.” He put back his glasses on his nose. “After all, you wouldn’t like to be sentenced to death a second time now, would you?”

The ratface had dared to give him a wink. “Yes! Yes, I would!” Mike realised he was shouting but he couldn’t care less. “I’ve been sentenced to death! I should be dead by now but you’re actually telling me that I’m gonna live, at best, for another couple of months? That’s impossible, that’s so wrong!”

His lawyer’s smile turned into a frown. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Aren’t you happy? You have a chance to avoid capital punishment. Heck, you could even be found innocent and be free in the next months!”

“Society forbid!” said Mike, opening his arms.

“What do you mean?” asked the lawyer. “Are you implying that you’re actually guilty? Not that I really care, mind you.”

“That’s not the point! I’ve been sentenced to death,” he repeated. “I must die. That’s simple as that.”

“I really don’t get you,” said Peter, rubbing his nose. “Anyway, the procedure has been initiated and there isn’t much we can do about it. My role is to defend my client, even if it’s sometimes against their will. So let’s make things easier. Sit down so that we can decide how I will plead your cause.”

Mike clenched his fists. He wanted to demolish that condescending face. He raised an arm but instead of throwing it into that mask of self-sufficiency, he knocked on the door.

“Guard, we’re done. Get me back to my cell.”

Once again, the same bemused look was staring at him. Why did it have to appear on his wife’s face too? The fact she was looking at him through a window panel didn’t help either.

“I don’t understand,” she repeated. “Are you really keen to die?”

“No,” sighed Mike. He hoped his wife would had understood him at least. “They have sentenced me to capital punishment, they have sealed my fate. I have to be executed. Is it so hard to grasp?”

“Yes! Yes it is.” She put her hand on the window. “Are you sure you’re okay, here? Do they treat you well? Because if they don’t—”

“Don’t worry,” he cut her off. “Everything is fine, they regularly beat me and the food is terrible.”

“So what is it then?” Her eyes were watering and Mike started to feel guilty. Why wasn’t he able to explain her what was obvious for him?

“I already told you.” He heard his voice was trembling. “Society has judged me. I’m a member of this society so I have to respect its decision. You should too and—”

“You’re crazy!” She burst into tears, taking her head between her hands.

Mike felt his heart breaking. He wanted to break the glass instead. Like his wife before, he put his hand on the window. “Maria, honey…”

“Why don’t you just commit suicide?” she dropped between two sobs. “That should resolve your problem and mine at the same time!”

“Maria, please.”

Her wife stood up, her eyes red and puffy, and gave him what seemed to be a last look. “G–goodbye,” she stammered before turning away.

“Maria. Maria!” he called, to no avail.

She was gone, leaving him alone, more alone than he had ever been.

“A pack of tissues, three dollars and a quarter, a business card for Kauffman’s funerals —” Mike watched as the guard was filling a small cardboard box with the few possessions he had when he had entered. “— two inches of string, an empty bottle of water —” The court had acquitted him. This fucking rat face had managed to clear him of every charge. This was a nightmare. “— a mobile phone and a parking ticket.”

The guard handed him the box but Mike found his arms were weighing a ton. He was already having a hard time not collapsing but he still found the energy to take the small box.

“That should be all,” said the guard.

He knew he was supposed to leave, but the box was just like his arms: heavy. He looked at it, desperately seeking for a way out among all these trinkets from a previous life. A life so distant he wasn’t sure if he had really lived it anymore.

He took a few steps towards the exit door where another guard was waiting for him. It was the same guard who had brought him to his lawyer not so long ago. Frank. His name was Frank. When Mike looked at him, he saw some sympathy in his eyes and that was too much.

He dropped the box and collapsed on his knees. Why? Why didn’t they just execute him? How could this society allow him to be free?

He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up.

“Come on, man, get ahold of yourself,” Frank whispered softly. “Everything is gonna be okay, you’ll see.”

Mike cried on his shoulder for what felt like an eternity, while Frank was trying to comfort him with kind words. “I know it may look hard now but you’ll see, things will get better in no time.”

“How could they?” he cried. “I shouldn’t be living, I should be dead and buried!”

“I know. Death can be tough sometimes.” Frank rubbed his back, tightening his hug. “You think you got a good grasp on it and you realised that it has escaped you overnight.”

“I d–don’t know what to do. I wish I could stay here.”

“You know you can’t.”

“Could you at least beat me one last time?”

“It won’t do you any good. You have to face it. Come on.” Frank lifted Mike up, getting him up on his feet and stared at him. “You’re a tough guy, I know that.”

“Yeah… Thank you, and… Sorry for that,” said Mike, wiping his eyes.

“That’s fine.” Frank gathered the trinkets in the box and put it in Mike’s arms. “Come on, you can do it.”

He opened the door with a hand and softly but firmly pushed him outside with the other.

“Good luck out there,” he offered as final words.

“Thank you. I think I’ll need it.”

He walked the last step on his own and finally left the prison.

For the first time in a long time, Mike was… free. The realisation struck him, leaving him more distraught than before. Outside, the sun was so bright it hurt, a breeze ruffling his face.
Passers-by on the street were minding their own business, running after a death they couldn’t catch, and oblivious to the tragedy Mike was living.

He noticed a trash can on his right and walked to it. It was a very plain trash can, nothing standing-out. Mike emptied the box into it, only keeping the two inches of string and the Kauffman’s business card. He reconsidered and tore the card in half, throwing it in with the rest. It seemed fate had other plans for him, so he shouldn’t need it for a long time.

He put his hands in his pockets and headed for the place he had thought he couldn’t call it this way anymore: home.

He had a very long way to go, because today was the day Mike would live.

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#1 · 2
· · >>Fenton
This starts off feeling like the setup for some absurd dark comedy, and then abruptly changes into something else right before the punchline, and I don't think it works. Some of the dialogue is janky, too. I'm sorry, author, but this one isn't for me.
#2 · 2
· · >>horizon >>Fenton
“I really don’t get you,” said Ranmaria, rubbing her nose.

“I already told you.” The story's voice was trembling. “Society has judged me. I’m a member of this society so I have to respect its decision. You should too and—”

“You’re crazy.” She rolled her eyes, taking her head between her hands. “Why doesn’t Mike just commit suicide? It's the Writeoff.me standard ending, but it does make sense if he truly believes the initial judgment conferred a social absolute. Of course, that's obviously nonsense, and the lawyer is correct. 'Society's judgment' includes the whole of the legal system, including the potential for appeals and overturned verdicts, so if that's what Mike actually believes in then he should be as accepting of this appeal as he was of the initial conviction. So what is his ethos then?”

Her eyebrows were raised and A Simple Death started to feel guilty. Why wasn’t it able to explain to her what was obvious for its author?

“Anyway," she continued, "the procedure has been initiated and there isn’t much we can do about it. My role is to critique and vote on stories, even if it’s sometimes against their auteurist will. So let’s make things simple. This reads more like a strange author tract than a story, because Mike has no motivation or agency to do anything except throw tantrums and mope in his cell. The other characters point out that he could have agency and choose to do something for himself, so that clearly hasn't been overlooked. He simply refuses to do so, and doesn't offer any convincing explanation why. Likewise, the resulting piece doesn't affect me as a reader. I get the message that living is hard, but I'd need a lot more convincing to buy that it's worse than prison beatings and execution."

A Simple Death continued to meander for what felt like an eternity, while Ran was trying to comfort it with kind words. “I know it may look hard with the votes this round, but you’ll see, things will get better in no time. While there are some errors in spelling and grammar, I did enjoy the pacing and prose overall. It was a nice relaxing read, one which allows the reader to focus on the content quite well.”

“Thanks for writing!” she offered as final words.
#3 · 1
· · >>Fenton
Another underreviewed story. Let's dig in.

You've got quite a strong hook here, author:
Today was a good day, because it was the day Mike would die.

This upends all reasonable expectations. Right off the bat we want to know why Mike thinks that his death is a good thing.

This story's big problem is, I reached the end, and I still haven't answered the question that hooked me.

Mike's very insistent on it. He talks about it with several different side characters. It destroys his relationship and upends his, well, life. But despite all this focus we still never find out why. This is a big gaping hole in the heart of your story. "Why don't you kill yourself?" Maria says, and that's a really damn good question — which Mike never actually answers, so I really have no choice but to side with Maria here. That's not what you want. It destroys your main character's sympathetic-ness and shines a big spotlight on how the story tap-dances around giving us any context.

Some of the scenes do work well with your premise — his disappointment over the lack of beatings from the guard, for example — but would be even more powerful if we had that death-wish context.

And to your credit, I think the story does make an attempt:
“So what is it then?” Her eyes were watering and Mike started to feel guilty. Why wasn’t he able to explain her what was obvious for him?

“I already told you.” He heard his voice was trembling. “Society has judged me. I’m a member of this society so I have to respect its decision. You should too and—”

The problem is, that just leaves me with way more questions. If he looks forward to execution because society is infallible, how can he object to society's decision to assign him a defense lawyer? And why is he so gleeful at not only his fate but the beatings? There's something there beyond moral principle — a sort of masochism for which I don't see a real defense beyond Maria's accusatory "you're crazy".

(Edited to add: >>Ranmilia ninja'ed a post in while I was writing and made this point vastly more eloquently)

Honestly, that's the only major problem I have with the story. It is, unfortunately, a very large one, and I don't think the story quite works as-is unless you can do some editing on that central point and strengthen Mike's justifications for his feelings. I really would like to see this tweaked and brought to its full potential, and I think you can do it.

Tier: Almost There
#4 · 1
· · >>Fenton
I very distinctly feel like I am missing the point on this story. Like, I feel like there is some overall message that is trying the whole weirdness of this story together that just flies right over my head. As is, I just really don't understand Mike's obsession with the execution, why society's call matters there but not on appeals, or why he doesn't kill himself.

Aside from that, the story has sort of an odd rhythm to the diction that's a little hard to describe. It sounds very bouncy, if that makes sense? This is sort of exemplified by the use of "exclaimed" which feels like a much stronger emotion than I feel should be being used in these circumstances.

So yeah, I guess the best way to describe my biggest issue is that I really have no idea how to start, here. I realized interpretive literature is a thing, obviously, but here I can't quite pick up a thread, if that makes sense.
#5 ·
A Simple Death: Retrospective

Once again, I haven't been able to convey just the amount of confusion I wanted and instead, I convey too much confusion. I'm sorry for that.
The point of this story was to reverse the suicide trope, to act like a mirror. So I needed my character to be willing to die and to be happy about it. Why does he want to die? We don't really know and this is somehow the point. I wanted to write an absurd story so the character's motivation couldn't be fully explained in my mind. It seems that has bugged everyone. That's too bad and once again, I'm sorry.

Several people pointed out that, since Mike looks forward for his execution because he trusts society, he should also trusts society when it judges he's not guilty. That's a very good point, however, I think you've missed these lines:
“I know,” he(the lawyer) said with a grin. “I impress myself sometimes. I tell you, that wasn’t easy. I had to remind some people the favors they owed me. And you can thank your wife; she has harassed me for a long time before I gave in. She’s very stubborn.”

The lawyer didn't use the legal ways, he used blackmail and pressure to obtain another judgement for his client. Why did he do all this? Because of Mike's wife.
So the reason why Mike won't be executed is because individuals have taken actions. That's not because of the society, and that's why Mike can't agree with it.

Anyway, all this confusion, as you can guess, is mainly due to the time constraint. I started this 20h before the deadline. So fo course, that couldn't end in a mastepiece.
I thank you all for your inputs. I'll probably rework this (when, I have no idea) and post it on a blog on Fim.