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Long Story Short · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Vignettes of a Man You Knew
Before you knew him, he slept in the fields where he and his family worked, just a few yards from the road. The wind blew hard during those harvest days, especially there on the plains. What they were harvesting didn’t matter; it wasn’t their crop, and they were hungry. During a depression like that, a man couldn’t be picky about how and where he worked.

He watched the Model Ts put-put-put on by, loaded with furniture as their occupants escaped to the coast. Supposedly there’d be work there, and they could save enough money to buy better lives.

He wouldn’t escape to California; too many family members lived right there in Sedgewick County. In that time and part of the country, family took precedence over all things except Jesus and farming. In his case, the three often intertwined.

No, he would stay there for a long time. All he could do was gaze out over the plains, eyes squinting as the dust smacked against his head and obscured the setting sun. The harvest moon would be rising soon, glowing orange against the dark night.

Work would begin again at sunrise. For now though, he could stare up at the sky, dreaming of a better world.

Ten years before you were born, he’d found himself occupying former Nazi territory (I think it was Nuremburg, or maybe Cologne). He’d been one of the fortunate soldiers, keeping towards the sidelines of the war and getting no serious injuries.

On one of those streets, he looked around with a vague uneasiness. Two years ago, the Americans fired artillery shells straight into the town. Now, the citizens wandered about with other things on their minds, ignoring the destruction that still riddled their streets.

At a street light, he paused. He reached into his left pocket and fished around for the Attikahs he’d bummed off a friendly officer. With a quick strike of a match and a steady hand, he soon breathed a warm and wonderful smoke into his lungs.

He closed his eyes, and images of home filled his mind.

The silent plains, when the wind stopped blowing and the dust finally settled.

The golden grain fields that covered all of Southern Kansas.

The open spring sky, where not even one cloud dotted the eternal aqua that hung above him.

He opened his eyes and looked out at the shattered metropolis before him. At that moment, he knew only one Eternal Truth: he could not live amongst these concrete tombstones any longer.

He stood there for a few minutes more, breathing in rhythm with the low wind that snaked through the bombed-out ruins. Then he wandered back towards Command, counting the days until the journey home.

When you were seven years old, he took you, your mother and your siblings on a Christmas trip to Oklahoma. Some distant cousins had invited the family to their homestead, so you all piled into the faded 1962 Chevy that sat in your driveway. Familiarity had bred boredom, so you and the rest of the children were eager to get somewhere away from home.

For the first few hours, the wind whooshing past the car provided the only noise. But maybe an hour or two after you crossed the state line, he turned on the radio just as a new song began. I don’t know if it was “Jingle Bells” or “White Christmas”, but whatever it was, he started singing to it. He didn’t have an especially grand voice, but he held the notes well enough in a rough baritone.

Then your mother joined, her smoother voice mellowing the harmony.

Then you and the siblings hopped in. By some Christmas miracle, the resulting cacophony didn’t throw the adults off their rhythm.

You sang along that empty highway, your voices the only thing resounding in that darkness. And when the song was done, you all laughed, giddy at the merriment that permeated your souls. In the dark rearview mirror, you could just make out the grins that filled his and your mother’s faces. You smiled back, as did the rest of the children.

The smiles persisted as you sped down that dark road, until you and your siblings fell asleep. Your father stayed awake the whole night, guiding the car into the eternal darkness that hid the better world from his sight.

But he would make sure the rest of you were there in the morning.
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#1 ·
You just reminded me I'm not going to see my dad until next year, so thanks for that. This was really nice, you packed a lot of emotion here. Speaking of emotion, I think you could've dwelled deeper on how the main character's dad felt during those moments of his life. Nevertheless, this is a lovely piece.
#2 · 2
As the name implied, it was a series of vignettes, that were individually well drawn. Outside of a general time/life progressing, theme, I didn't really get a sense of how they interconnect.

The narrative voice seemed odd to me at times, I'm not sure just who's perspective this is from. A prime example is the intro to the second scene; within two paragraphs, it seems both omniscient (knowing his inner thoughts) while also being limited (not knowing where he is). It might be stronger with a more identifiable perspective, like a mother looking over an old photo album or something.

Overall there are some nice, evocative scenes, but for me they don't build on each other as much as they might.
#3 ·
It’s reasonably well written and evocative, but it lacks an arc that connects the three pieces and creates tension. It’s interesting but not dramatic. We feel the loneliness of the guy, but it’s never built upon. As a result, I can hardly root for your character, because I don’t know where is the conflict here.

Also I was expecting something completely different, along the lines of a little known, but poignant song called “Funeral of a Brazilian worker” which captures in a score of lines the destitution in which Brazilian peasants lived during the 60s. I thought you were aiming for this, but no.

So all in all, a bit too shallow. Add depth to the characters and you’ll have a good story.
#4 · 2
· · >>AndrewRogue
It took me far too long to realise the implications of the title. Thanks, author. That was a punch right in the feels.

In all honesty, I don't have a lot in particular to criticise this piece on. I disagree with previous commenters on the disjointed nature of the piece—it's a series of vignettes detailing different parts of a character's life, which as a medium is necessarily disjointed. And to me, it works: these three little glimpses into "our" father's life give us a sense of the breadth of his experience, united only by his sense of devotion to home and family. That's cool!

I liked the way the narrator kept themselves hidden throughout, too, only surfacing in the prose to make us aware of their own uncertainties in detail (a really cool trick to highlight what matters about a story by showing the reader something that explicitly doesn't). The narrator here knows that their audience isn't interested in them, that their audience only cares to hear about their father... so they slide out of the spotlight. I like how that almost itself hints at the bigger story here, at what's going on with the two characters who we never actually see directly. It's just enough to give us a sense that they're there without letting us focus on them at all (for that would be to the detriment of the stories on display).

If I had but one real complaint regarding the full-piece structure, it would be this: the imagery in the second scene could be changed ever so slightly and (with minimal effort) you could tie one theme strongly through the three vignettes. Consider the first vignette's "family took precedence over all things", and the last vignette's final lines: the theme of devotion to family, here, is so strong that I'm almost surprised it isn't raised in the second vignette. To present us with images of family, rather than (or perhaps alongside) home, in the second would be more than enough to achieve this, and I think it would make this piece stronger—though of course, I'm happy to accept that the decline and resurgence of the theme of family might have been your intent.

All in all: I like this piece. It doesn't hit me as hard as it might, and the individual vignettes could in places be tidied a little just to make the prose tighter (worst offender? The short passage as everyone joins in with the song in the third vignette, which keeps missing the mark for me on where it's placing its emphasis, as well as its overall tone), but it's a pretty strong entry with a very enjoyable form. I had fun reading this!
#5 · 1
The "I" interjections feel somewhat unwelcome and really disrupt the sort of ethereal voicing that the vignettes have, particularly given how they dive into the father's thoughts and such. I really don't think they should exist. Keep it to the second person.

The description of vignette is indeed accurate, as this is mostly just a solidly emotive piece that conveys the idea of a father's dedication to family. It certainly succeeds well there, but it does run headlong into that issue of is this a story? Which I feel should be an easier question, but I have had a lot of trouble with that during mini rounds for some reason. There is a definite sense of progression, but there is no conflict. Is this sufficient? I dunno. Probably not. Is definitely a solid vignette, though.

I do agree a bit with >>QuillScratch regarding the themes in scene 2. I think they are still there as is, but I think calling it out a bit harder would be to the benefit of the scene.

Add this to the "it is fine and does what it set to achieve" pile.
#6 · 1
I know this is almost 4 months after the contest, but I just wanted to say something about this story before it gets filed away. I wrote this based on the experiences my grandfather had during the Depression, World War 2 and the final years of his life. I'm surprised it got to second place, but I'm more than happy it did. I've noticed that both this and "Brother's Keeper" were both based on events I'd actually experienced, and they seem to be the most celebrated of my works in these contests. Maybe when the emotion is more real, I can make better material.

Thanks for voting it to number 2, and I'll see you around.