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Time Heals Most Wounds · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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One Day I Shall See a Bird
Fight me, I say, and he says: no.
Why not?
I don't want to.
Me neither.
Why'd you ask?
It'd be something to do.

I can see the sky through the gap between the wall and the roof. It's a small and jagged gap. The stone is rough and pointy and almost closed up in places. But through it I can see the sky. I make sure to look every single day and I tell him what the sky is like. It's sunny today.
Is it?
Yes. I can't see the clouds. Everything's blue.
He smiles and nods. I look at the sky again. I never tell him that I'm keeping watch for birds. I saw so many birds before we came down here and even on the first few days I would sometimes see a bird fly overhead. But not anymore.
It doesn't matter too much. The sky is pretty enough without the birds. I want to see more of it.
The sky.
You can't. Not without going outside.
And we still can't do that?
He takes a deep breath and leans back against the wall.
No, we can't.
And that's the end of it for today.

For lunch we have soup again. We have a lot of soup down here. When we first came down we had bread and canned meats and we could have sandwiches every day. But after a while the bread became stale and we ran out of meats. Yesterday I asked for something besides soup. We should keep having soup until the gas runs out, he said.
Today I don't ask and I drink my soup quietly. I want to ask, though. Even though I want the soup. Sometimes I say things just to make him angry because he is always so calm. I don't like the calm. It's dull.
He smiles at me while we're drinking our soup. I think he's grateful.

When I wake up from my nap I find that he's playing a strange game with the deck of cards. First he deals the deck in little piles that make a circle and then he starts sorting them. I watch him for a while and figure he's sorting them by number. But every time he sorts all of the kings into the middle he sighs and picks up all the cards to start again.
I don't think he's noticed I'm awake yet. I wait until he sighs again. As he's picking up the cards I say, why are you doing that? He looks up at me and his eyes seem startled for a moment.
Because I lost.
How can you lose at sorting cards?
He sighs and I expect him to start picking me up and shuffling me. I feel all mixed up anyway, even though he doesn't do anything.
It's a game, he says. Clock Patience.
Sounds stupid. I close my eyes and act like I'm going back to sleep. But I secretly peek through my lashes at him. He's shaking his head and shuffling the cards to start again. He looks so calm as he deals them into piles. Then he looks right at me. Are you watching?
Would you like to learn how to play?
No. I open my eyes and sit up. He knows I'm watching anyway.
Come here, then.

I don't really understand, I say. I'm dealing out the cards now. Twelve piles around the edge for the twelve points on the clock's face and one pile in the middle. He doesn't respond so I keep dealing cards until there's one left.
Now, what card did you get?
Seven of Clubs.
So it goes under the sevens pile
No. I understand how to play. I just don't understand why.
It passes the time.
But it's not a game. The only way to win is dumb luck. There's no skill.
He doesn't even get angry. He only shakes his head and looks away. So I take the Seven of Clubs and put it under the sevens pile. When I pick up the next card, it's a King.
I throw it at the middle of the pile and stomp off to my corner to look at the sky. After a while the room is filled with the quiet sound of cards bending and sliding on the floor.

To the northeast, a tree the birds once nested in shakes in the wind and another dead leaf falls lifeless to the earth.
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#1 · 2
One of the four bird stories is on my slate. I think I'll read that one next.

This story just seems empty to me. Nothing happens, the setting is never explained or hinted at much, we know almost nothing about the the characters. It's just empty filler. But considering the content of the story, I can only assume that this was intentional. The formatting is also nonstandard, which is weird and I can't figure out much of a reason for it, but it seems to work.

I'll give you some points for technical excellence, but I don't think you're getting any for enjoyability. So overall, this will probably end up somewhere in the middle of my ballot.
#2 · 2
· · >>QuillScratch
For some reason, I found this line:

He sighs and I expect him to start picking me up and shuffling me.

Very effective.

Overall, I have agree with J. Other than a feeling of general melancholy, depression, and listlessness, I didn't get much of anything from this fic. Mood-as-theme is doable, I think, and a high goal to aim for, but it doesn't come across nearly strong enough to justify everything that's going on here to me.

Experimental and interesting for that, but... that's about all, I'd say.
#3 · 1
· · >>QuillScratch
This story starts out oddly. The first sentence has two speakers in one line, which breaks a rule as I understand it. Now this fic seems rather experimental, so it could be intentional, but if so, it's an odd choice, as this is the only occurrence. Also the 'fight' idea isn't repeated anywhere else. I would actually consider removing this first section.

I'm not familiar with the version of solitaire the guy is playing, but I'll take your word for it.

Unusual way to approach dialog, but the characterization was strong despite it. There are hints that something seriously wrong is going on, but it's a very understated apocalypse. If it were a picture, I imagine it painted in pastels.

I'll agree that there wasn't much of an arc to the story; for me it was mostly a mood piece. While it largely succeeded, it didn't leave as strong of an impression as some of the other entries.
#4 · 1
I'm gonna join the chorus on this one. Great mood piece, but not a lot happens here.

I do kind of like the experimental style. Surprisingly, even though dialogue was not punctuated, I was able to keep up with the dialogue and tell which was dialogue and which was narrative. Though it's hard to describe, that format seemed to give everything a dull sameness to it, which I think fit the mood of the piece even though I don't know how exactly to put it.

I think you did a good job characterizing and kept the narrative interesting. The beginning hooked me and the dialogue showed rather than told the differences between the two characters. However, as others have said, there's not a lot in terms of plot. It's more of a characterizing moment than it is a story with plot. Not that there's anything wrong with a characterizing mood piece, it's just that it feels like a passing glimpse of a story instead of a fuller story.


So that's it for the under-reviewed ones that I can do. It might be time to actually finish my slate. >.>
#5 ·
· · >>QuillScratch
The lack of quote marks around dialog is confusing to me, as is the pronoun "he" that is never expanded to an actual person or description. Overall, the whole piece feels very experimental in form, while giving me no real sense of story or other development/progress.
#6 · 4
A Retrospective

I have to admit, I find it particularly amusing that almost every single review described this piece as experimental, when it was really anything but. I mean, I quite literally sat down three hours before the deadline and thought to myself "You know, I never did really like The Road, I wonder whether I'd appreciate it more if I tried out a similar voice?"

In fact, just about every aspect of this is inspired by the only Cormac McCarthy book I've ever read, because for some reason my reaction to the prompt was to write about an apocalypse scenario. I mean, even the last sentence is heavily inspired by the final section of The Road, where McCarthy switches from a very focused, personal, yet somewhat bland voice to one filled with hope and vision of nature as it once was.

I wanted to take a different approach to McCarthy, though—while The Road is very much about a character who is struggling on without any real hope of success, One Day I Shall See a Bird is (I'd argue) fundamentally about hope. Neither character has at all given up on the idea of one day being able to leave their shelter, and the bulk of the story is about the conflict between their different approaches to that hope. At the moment, this story is nothing more but our narrator beginning (but not succeeding) to learn the value of patience, and I'd wanted to have the opportunity to explore some progression for the other character (I really wanted to toy with his struggle to keep his emotions in-check—I've tried to write him as someone who maintains a mask of calmness, but bottling up frustration is obviously not a great plan) but ran out of space to do it, so that's something for me to include if I lengthen this.

The one part of this that I'd really change now, looking back, is the ending. Like The Road, I wanted to end on a tonal shift, but while The Road looks back at the Earth as it was before its apocalypse and describes natural beauty in a way that comes across more as hopeful than regretful, I wanted One Day I Shall See a Bird to end on a shift to a lack of hope (and particularly in this draft to suggest that the narrator's implied upcoming struggle to learn to be patient and yo wait was for naught), but I think that despite everything I did to avoid it I accidentally hinted too much at an Autumnal feel, which of course carries with it the idea of cycles of death and rebirth and, therefore, hope. Oops?

So, long story short: I'm hoping to revamp this one (maybe after finals >.>) and am probably more pleased with this than many of my previous writeoff entries, even if the reaction to it has mostly been "meh".

Thanks to everyone who reviewed—this round has been hella fun so far, and I'm looking forward to the finals. And also finals. I have those soon. I will try to be around to write words with you people anyway, because writing words is fun. And finals? Finals are not.

Shoutouts to things that made me smile:

>>Ratlab's description of "painted in pastels" is actually fantastic, and probably also applies well to The Road. I did mention I never really liked that book, didn't I?

Also >>Not_A_Hat found the line I had the most fun writing! Hooray!

>>Xepher Just wanted to respond quickly to your point about pronouns: one of the reasons I was thinking about doing something like this was that I'd recently read an article about how Cormac McCarthy (and others) deliberately avoid naming characters. One given reason was not wanting to give the reader more information than necessary, and forcing them to work with context clues (see also: lack of dialogue punctuation), which sounded like fun but I'm still really feeling out the implications of that for the story. The main reason I went without names is that I was clearly going for a very minimal style, and I didn't think that giving the characters names would add to the story—in fact, I think it would break down a bit of the wall between reader and character that I was trying to construct. On reflection, I think this would work better had I not used first person present, but I wanted to go with that to keep the sense of time and chronology just as abstracted and vague as the rest of the setting and details. Besides, since the characters were really meant to represent ideas, I think giving them names would have made that connection harder to make.