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It's a Long Way Down · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
The first thing you have to understand is that I didn’t always live here. In fact, I grew up in a place so rural that the city, this city, only existed as the stories people would bring back with them.

The second thing is that she smelled like those summers I’d tried to forget; like sun-drenched magnolias and the clear streams that ran through unmowed meadows.

The third thing is the carbonized three month’s paycheck she wore on her left hand.

This also happened to be the third thing I noticed about her. The first, of course, being her smell. And the second being the fact that she was probably the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid my eyes on.

But once I noticed that third thing, I realized I should stop paying so much attention to her, for my own sake. So I forced my nose to focus on everything else it could pick up: metallic overtones, with undertones of lemon cleaner and subtle notes of body odor. Eau d’Elevator.

The doors rolled shut and I tried to stare at my own brassy reflection instead of the million different ways she seemed to scatter the fluorescent lights, as if her own confidence could radiate outwards for her. The lights exploded from every sequin in her dress that matched the sequins on her clutch that complemented the gems in her necklace that paled in comparison to the depth of her eyes.

I wasn’t doing very well. Her eyes caught mine and she very quickly, deliberately averted them.

I like living in this building. I like living near the top floor because it reminds me of racing to climb trees as a child, how I always wanted to get to the highest branch possible. Living up here is so much more than that child could’ve ever imagined. And I like that.

What I don’t like is that there’s no service in the elevators. So you have to awkwardly stare at your phone and pretend it’s useful for the entire duration of the arduous descent.

The building is tall enough that it doesn’t even ding on every floor. So there’s nothing but suffocating silence and the faint sensation of movement.

A faint sensation that I, in that moment, realized was nonexistent. Not trusting my own sense of proprioception, I looked towards her. She seemed unaffected.

I waited. Silence and the smell of magnolias. But we definitely weren’t moving.

“Are we... stopped?” She asked, not looking at me. I acted like I hadn’t been waiting for her to speak.

“Uh, I think so?”

“Shit.” She whispered, her attention on her phone.

I hypothesized she must not live in the building for two reasons: firstly, I would have remembered seeing someone that beautiful, and secondly because she seemed to be holding onto a sliver of hope of her phone working.

“Fuck.” She said, a bit louder, now that she’d confirmed the uselessness of her phone.

“Do you, uh, have somewhere to be?”

“Yes.” Dismissive, gesturing to the cocktail dress and the clutch and the makeup.


Her eyes told me she really did not want to be talking to me in that moment.

“An art opening.”

“Oh where?”

She sighed. I rolled my eyes.

“It’s not like you have anything else to do other than talk to me.”

She opened her mouth to speak, then stopped herself. She was silent for a moment, inspecting the perfect red polish on her nails. Red that matched her lipstick that matched the poppies in our front garden my mother warned me to stay away from.

She sighed again. Defeated.

“It’s at the modern art museum. There’s this new acquisition that they’re celebrating.”

“Oh, the weird abstract one with the lines and the colors?”

Her eyes showed distrust. Whether that was of me or the still-motionless elevator, I wasn’t sure.

“Either you’ve seen it or you’re good at guessing.”

“No, I’ve seen it. I was there last week.”

She looked at me, truly looked at me for the first time since she’d stepped in the elevator. I could tell she was analyzing me, trying to figure out how my faded jeans and oversized hoodie and mop of hair could add up to be the kind of person who frequented art museums.

“So why are you going?” I’d decided to interrupt her before she could reduce me to a point where I wasn’t mysterious anymore. Not that I have very much mystery going for me in the first place.

“I’m an art critic.” She said it with the tone of someone who doesn’t hold much regard to that opinion. I smiled at her but she rolled her eyes. “And now you’re going to ask me what I thought of the painting.”

She had me there. I shrugged, hands in my pockets. She smiled, showing perfectly white teeth that matched the sparkle from her diamonds that matched a life I know I’d never get any closer to.

“I’m about to go to this event and everyone is going to ask me that same question. And I’m going to have to tell them the exact same thing, which is the exact same thing I wrote in my column that nobody reads, and then they’ll tell me what they think of it, which is basically the same opinion, but they’ll be sure to use bigger words, just to show me how cultured they are.” She cast her eyes downward, at the marble floor that would be polished tomorrow. “These things are always the same. I hate these people.”

I wanted to tell her that she was one of them, she was the exact erudite thing she despised, but that seemed counterproductive. I wasn’t exactly keen on angering someone when I had no escape.

Holding my tongue meant I had nothing to contribute, so I stayed quiet. I stared at her reflection pretending its phone wasn’t useless.

“Well,” I finally offered. “I guarantee I’m not going to say the exact same things about it.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“So you hated it?”

“I just don’t like art that tries to be what it isn’t.”

She laughed. More of a scoff, really, telling me exactly what she thought of how uneducated I am.

“So you didn’t understand it, then?”

“Well I'm a bit iffy on something that abstract, ‘cause it tends to lean so heavily on viewer interpretation. I mean, there is something aesthetically pleasing about some of the panels, and it shows a clear progression. It definitely means something, and if I don’t get what that something is, is that my fault or the artist’s? It seems like the artist aimed for a deconstruction of something, but I don’t know. I guess it leaves too many questions that don’t fall into any interpretation.”


“I don’t know, like, why do the curved lines disappear in the second part and then reappear in the next panels? Or like, uh, why did they add a darker blue on the second panel and a darker grey on the fifth? It seems really random, like maybe it would seem more cohesive if they went with the same colors throughout the whole thing.”

I waited for her to respond, either to belittle me for clearly knowing nothing about art, or to calmly explain all the answers to all my dumb questions. I wasn’t sure which would’ve been better.

But she didn’t say anything. Her face seemed to suggest that she was actually thinking about what I’d said, holding weight to my words. I didn’t like being under that amount of scrutiny.

“Oh and, the first three frames share nothing but the colors, and then the last three all share similarities with the third. That’s kinda an odd break, right?”

She smiled in a way that could very easily be a smirk.

“You clearly know the painting very well.”

“It’s like ten feet tall, dude, there’s a lot to look at.” she chuckled.

“Twelve, actually.”

I paused again, giving her room to speak. She didn’t.

“What, aren’t you going to explain it to me? C’mon, I know you get all that artsy bullshit.”

She shrugged, leaned against the wall, shifted her clutch from one hand to the other.

“I could. I could sit here and lecture you about increases in entropy, or the shift from mechanical to digital, or a rejection of color theory in contemporary American art. But all of that is completely useless. None of that is going to change your mind about anything.”

“I guess I just don’t get modern art.”

“Oh no, you get it. You get it better than anyone I’ll talk to at this stupid reception tonight. That is, if I ever get there.” She paused, eyes to the ceiling. “Actually, come to think of it, shouldn’t we be freaking out instead of discussing art right now?”

I shrugged.

“I’ve never been claustrophobic, and it doesn’t seem like you really want to be going to this event.”

“Yeah, of course I don’t, but it’s one of those things you gotta do, y’know?”

Maybe I was studying her too hard or maybe she really did look down at her ring when she said that.

What I wanted to do was grab her and kiss her and push her against the mahogany wall and wake up tomorrow with mascara on my pillowcase and her, half-dressed, sitting on the edge of my bed, on the phone with her fiancé, telling him it was over.

But I didn’t. That’s the kind of thing movie characters do, not me.

Besides, even if I did sleep with her, all it would end up as would be a secret she’d be holding in the back of her mind as she walked down the aisle.

“Hey, are we moving?”

I’d been so caught up in my dumb fantasies I hadn’t noticed. But we were definitely moving again.

I knew that once she stepped out of that elevator, I wouldn’t be seeing her again. Something told me that. So if I had anything else monumental to say, I needed to tell her very quickly.

But all of a sudden, any words I could form seemed so stupid, so misguided. So I stayed quiet.

Finally, the elevator slowed to a stop at her floor, finally near the ground again, and the doors opened.

“Wait.” I commanded, making her pause in the doorway.

I wanted to tell her that art was a silly field to pursue because no painting could ever be as beautiful as she was. I wanted to tell her she deserved better than a blood diamond and plates of hors d'oeuvres. I wanted to tell her that the sound of her voice made me feel safe and whole and happier than I’d been since I was a child. I wanted to tell her I’d do anything to have the privilege of falling in love with her.

“What did you mean when you told me I get modern art?”

She looked at me like she had just as many things to say as I had, and she was just as unable to say any of it.

“It’s art. I like your questions but stop looking for answers.”

She stepped out and the doors slid closed, leaving me one last look to soak in as much of her as possible, before I was alone again.

The elevator went down one more floor, and when the door opened there was a man in a suit, smiling at me.

“Is everything alright? It was a slight mechanical malfunction and we promise we’ll do our best to assure you that it never happens again.

I assured him I was fine.

“Did it cause any sort of inconvenience to your plans tonight? If so, we’d be happy to—”

I brushed him off with a wave of my hand.

“No. No inconvenience at all, actually.”

And with that, I held down the close button until he was gone, until it was just me and my reflection and the very faint smell of magnolias.

The first thing you have to understand is that I eventually didn’t live there. I grew tired of the smell of old piss and garbage and longed for clean breezes and uncut grass again.

The second is that, in the absence of her, I settled for someone not nearly as beautiful, but with eyes just as captivating.

The third is that I could never get the magnolias to smell like they did in my memories.
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#1 ·
I'm surprised that this didn't also reference that 'she had the longest legs' picture.

The grammar and mechanics were mostly clean, and I liked the importance of scent as a descriptor. There was a section where the dialog attribution broke down for me, though, and I wasn't sure who was talking.

The art analysis was a strong point - you clearly have a keen eye for detail, and you noticed some things and raised questions that I hadn't considered. I don't know how satisfying the answers were, though, even if that seems somewhat intentional. Still I could buy the pro art-critic thing, which is a good sign.

There were some details that hung me up, like, isn't there usually a call button in the elevator for times like that? I kept expecting them to use it, or at least give it some sort of offhand nod.

Given the fellow's familiarity with the painting, I half-expected him to reveal himself as the painter.

The characters seemed solid. The ending had a melancholy sense of leaving things hanging, but intentionally so. At least for me it seemed like it hit the note it was aiming for.
#2 ·
This is a very interesting piece. The first thing that struck me about it, sadly, is that the construction of the prose leaves something to be desired, with several awkward phrasings and cluttered paragraphs here and there. But what I do really like is how the author layered on so many evocative sensory details – especially the line about the smell and the "Eau d'Elevator." It was kind of perfect.

As a story, I felt like this was a solid standalone vignette – the dialogue between the characters feels quite natural and interesting. The emotions at play come across well, and there's a lot of personality here – the way the protagonist describes the art, in particular, was very interesting to me, and did a good job at portraying how the protagonist thinks.

All in all, I don't think this piece was anything special, but it showed a lot of character and the prose was certainly very readable past the slightly cluttered introductory paragraphs. I really liked the ending lines too.

So yeah, I think this succeeded very well in what it was trying to do, but in the end I don't think it's much more than just a solid character piece, and personally I think more highly of more adventurous stories.
#3 · 2
· · >>Fenton >>Ranmilia
To be honest, I've got issues with this story. I like everything that surrounds the art discussion -- the description of the girl, the snippets of the narrator's previous life, the character and tone of the prose...

But the argument itself is what kills the story for me. Because, I mean -- this is an entire story written just to explain how bad the picture is. I looked it up, and apparently you can't submit stories based on your own pictures, so we're not seeing a case of the artist being cheeky.

Kind of a rude move, I think? I mean, really, this reads as just an art critique (a negative one, too) wrapped up in a story to give it flavor. The narrator explains why the picture is bad and then the professional art critic goes "You know what? You are so right, you get art so well, that I'm not even going to bother arguing with you'.

Thing is, in a vacuum this is a good story. If it hadn't been based on an actual, real picture that exists, I would have liked it a lot, I think, although I would have said that the art review is the weakest part of it. It just sounds kind of hollow, devoid of meaning. It doesn't really seem like a conversation between people who know about abstract art; it kind of reads as just somebody being annoyed at the aesthetics.

Also, it's totally ripping off Fenton's comment on the pic proper:

"[...]It seems like the artist aimed for a deconstruction of something, but I don’t know. I guess it leaves too many questions that don’t fall into any interpretation.”


“I don’t know, like, why do the curved lines disappear in the second part and then reappear in the next panels? Or like, uh, why did they add a darker blue on the second panel and a darker grey on the fifth? It seems really random, like maybe it would seem more cohesive if they went with the same colors throughout the whole thing.”

So this is a very abstract piece. It seems that you aimed for a deconstruction of something, which I still need to figure out, but I guess it is also what you aimed for by not giving much of a context aside from the title and the subtext.
However, there are questions left open, questions that doesn't fall into any interpretation.
Why curved lines disappear in the second part to reappear in the next panels?
Why did you add a darker blue on the second panel and a darker grey on the fifth? IMO, you should have gone with the same colors throughout all your entry

That's a side-by-side comparison: story first, Fenton's comment second.

I really don't like leaving comments like this. I'm sure that the author just had an idea they liked and wrote about it using art critique as a medium to establish a relationship between the two characters. In that it works, and I like the prose and all that, as I said, Solid writing, good characters.

But the entire meat of the story is kind of misguided, and I can see it as offensive. I sorta feel sorry for whoever drew that picture, y'know? If you had also shown the characters defending the picture so this is more of a debate, it could have been seen as just a reflection of the arguments that surrounded the work itself here in the Writeoff, and then I guess the message would've beem more "Abstract art depends on the viewer" or something less... unintentionally insulting?

But as it is, to me it reads as 'This picture is garbage, and here's why'. Again: I like to think that wasn't the author's intent at all, and maybe I'm being overly sensitive, and I feel bad about being this blunt, but yeeeeah.
#4 · 2
· · >>Ranmilia
Boy, someone has been inspired by what I submitted for the art round. I wasn't expecting it at all. So warning, this review might be biased since I'm very happy that someone write around and about my entry. That being said, let's see what this story is made of.

I can make out three different points in this. The first one is the opening and the ending of the story, bookends. The second is the interaction between the narrator and the critic. The third, the comment about the art.

Let's start by the interaction.
That was great, very enjoyable. Both the dialogs and the narrator's voice were excellent. I felt a lot of empathy for this poor guy trying to play out of his league, trapped in an elevator (another shoutout to one of my prevous entry? I'm curious).
The third thing is the carbonized three month’s paycheck she wore on her left hand.

I wasn’t exactly keen on angering someone when I had no escape.

Two examples of several sentences that I found hilarious.
There isn't much I could add to be honest, other than repeating that I enjoyed it.

Then, let's talk about the bookends.
Those actually didn't work much for me. I mean, the beginning on his own is great but put side by side with the ending, I don't know how it works. While the beginning is a blunt start right into the scene, the ending seems to try to resolve the narrator's life. We didn't follow him through a long period of his life, we only saw him taking an elevator. And it's not like he had a meaningful epiphany during the lift, he just talked about art with a woman, on who he fantasised.

And last, but definitely not least, the comment on the art piece.
>>Aragon said he found the comment very rude. While I understand why he could feel it that way, I didn't find it rude. In fact, I find it funny that the art critic was annoyed by all these pretentious smartasses who think they know better and only them can really enjoy this kind of art. Moreover, there is this line:
“It’s art. I like your questions but stop looking for answers.”

It felt like a genuine answer for modern art. Like art's goal is to challenge the viewer, not providing him the answer.
However, if you did intent to be 'rude' like Aragon said, I'm afraid to tell you that you failed (see above why).
There is one last thing to talk about. It's the pretty much copy-pasted comments on This is A Mad World. There are two possibilities in my mind. Either you didn't bother to actually write them and simply copy pasted them, only slightly changing one or two words, or you did this on purpose.
Because I'm an optimist and tend to see the good everywhere, I lean towards the second. Especially because I can smell Walter Benjamin and his successors from miles away (The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction). Basically, I feel that it plays on two layers of meta. The first one is directly referencing things happening in the comments and the second, what I've linked above. The comments become some kind of art, which are replicable in a new form of arts. It adds to the interpretation of art discussed by the two characters and that is art raises too many questions to be relevant to try finding answers.
Moreover, the rest of the story is well written so I can't buy the author writing solid paragraphs and not bothering working on the comment part.

So all in all, this was enjoyable and funny. I feel like there was some imbalance between the comment on art and the actual interaction between the two characters, but it is still solid and consistent to be placed in the mid-tier. Thank you for your work.
#5 · 2
· · >>AndrewRogue
Me, a third of the way through this story: *various groaning noises* *hands doing sarcastic air tildes around the phrase ~Litfic As Fuck~* "Do I actually have to read this all the way through?"

Me, after reading this all the way through: "..." "..." "..." *deep sigh* ".................. Did I actually wind up genuinely liking this? Like, I-Hope-This-Medals liking this? I think I did."

I completely disagree with the assertion that anyone should ever stop looking for answers in art. I think the guy on the elevator is a complete creeper and the lady should've broke out the pepper spray when he wouldn't leave her alone. (Please, nobody act that way in real life. Do not ogle women. Do not insist they should converse with you because the two of you are trapped in an elevator. Especially if you are also sexually fantasizing about them in that moment.) I think the term "deconstruction" is put through some abuse in the piece (to be fair, it's a very common misuse, but a professional modern art critic should know better.)

Despite all of that, the piece did deliver a cohesive narrative with some excellent character interaction and meta-discussion on art. It's an incredible use of the prompt system, and I, personally, think that incorporating Fenton's comments in the story is a strength rather than a weakness.

In contrast to >>Aragon, I did not feel this piece was a negative or rude commentary on the art at all - I thought it presented the artwork quite positively! Flawed, perhaps, but certainly not without respect. Though, some of that stems from my reading of the characters as both being jerks, and the writing being self-aware of that to some degree. To me, the primary subject of the writing is the art, and the conversation around the art, extending to >>Fenton's comments on what turned out to be his own work. The characters in the elevator are just well-dressed mouthpieces for this conversation.

I'm probably going to be coming back to this one to continue the art debate, so I'll try and keep this initial review brief. The piece is without a doubt ~Litfic as Fuck~, the prose makes me want to print it out and throw it against a door in places, and the bookends could be improved or removed. But overall, it hits the good parts of litfic as well, and does so in a way that I found compelling and relevant even through my dislike for the specific stances taken. The author knows what they're doing, and accomplished a great deal of their fairly difficult goals! So, for me this is quite a high placement. Maybe even getting to first, I'll have to think about it. But to the author, thank you very much for writing.
#6 ·
This was a short, but pleasant ride. The elevator failure trope is of course quite threadbare and tired, but it works pretty well here. It’s not ambitious, but what it does, it does it well, and it doesn't drag. I found it refreshing, didn’t even mind the rambling about modern art. I was entertained by the interplay between the characters, and that was enough to make me happy. A cute little story with slight overtones of a Dino Buzzati’s short story called “The Elevator”, which is much more sombre in tone.

So, yeah, well done. Slate topper or runner-up.
#7 ·
Hm. Put me in largely the same boat as >>Ranmilia. While I'm not overly fond of the conventions of this sort of style, this one reads well, doesn't outstay its welcome, and has a very pleasant rhythm to it. I'm less sure on the art discussion (primarily because I know approximately jack and shit about art), but c'est la vie.