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Time Heals Most Wounds · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
The Prison Of Our Minds
The driving rain is cold and washes through my thin coat in the darkness of the highway shoulder. I trudge onwards, trying to keep my leaden feet far enough from the highway to be safe, as if safety is something I can ever desire. There is a ritual to putting your thumb out when you hear the hiss of the oncoming car, but staying back far enough to be safe. In the last few years, I’ve never been hit, but in this darkness and rain, there is always the chance. All it would take is somebody who had been drinking, a moment of inattention, the screech of tires on pavement, and—

The bright red lights of brakes glitter through the darkness as a van splashes past me, slowing to a halt. Despite the weight of water soaked into my clothes, I pick up my speed to a lumbering run and slide into the offered passenger seat with my backpack between my legs.

There is a ritual to this too, where I express my gratitude to the driver in a quiet fashion while he or she attempts to merge back into traffic without killing us all. Then of course comes the question:

So, where’ya headed?

There is no simple way to admit it, so I lie like always. How do you tell someone you are not going to anywhere, but away from everything? I have been going to so many places so many times, always far away from where I am now. As the conversation moves on, the weather is an easy topic, as the time spent under the freezing rain has given me so many creative words for ‘wet’ that I actually relax, looking into the headlight-lit night through the kaleidoscopic distortion of the rain with only a few unwelcome ghosts troubling my thoughts. Still, I shiver, and the driver helpfully turns up the heat in my direction, regardless of the vaguely dog-like scent I emit while drying.

Then comes the second inevitable question:

So, where are you from?

I paint the picture of my past with a faint brush, faded with intentional effort. I leave out the children, the wife, the house and dog, all things I have left behind to another person who stepped into my shoes without even waiting for them to cool. Sometimes on rare occasions the driver will offer a job, or perhaps a place to stay for a few days, but mostly they will use my words to talk about their own life, as this driver does. His turnoff is coming up, and his words blur together. Proud words about his own family and their recent brush with a drunken driver who ran a stop sign and totalled their car. By a stroke of good fortune, they were uninjured, and as he praises a cold and unfeeling God about his luck, I remain silent to him, keeping my face stoic and my breathing regular. He offers to drive me to the next highway turnoff, but I decline in as few words as I can, stumbling out of his van and mindlessly taking the money he presses into my hand as the rain once again begins to soak my coat. It is as much as I am able to thank him despite the bitter taste of ashes in my mouth, and to put on at least an attempt at a smile as we exchange waves.

Then he is gone, and I am once again alone on the side of the highway. The rain pours down just as hard as before, forming little rivers under my bag as I rest my weary body by the side of the road and let the tears flow. I can still see the mangled car, taste the dust of the airbag on my lips, feel the rain from that horrid night soaking into my suit, hear the anguished wail of the child in the back seat of the twisted wreckage as I threw up into the ditch.

No matter how far I travel, the memories follow. Twelve men and women denied my fault and set me free, but I carry the prison I have constructed with me, like some tortoise by the road who can never set himself free of his own shell.

Then another vehicle brakes in the rain, a truck this time, and I hustle to it. Maybe this time I can be carried away from my past.

Maybe I can live again.

Maybe…
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#1 ·
· · >>Icenrose >>The_Letter_J
The writing's good, but I'm having trouble sinking my teeth into this one.

So if I'm correct, this is someone who is running away from his life. He got in a car accident that was his fault and feels guilty for it. But if that's true, why does he say someone "stepped into my shoes without even waiting for them to cool"? Was this a witness protection program or something? Some Breaking Bad type dealio?

He says "maybe this time I can be carried away from my past", so I'm not sure if he means he's had more than one accident, or if this new driver will carry him away, when the previous drivers couldn't? Which doesn't make sense on a functional level, because a car is a car is a car...

I'm speculating because I don't know quite understand what's happening and what the narrator's feeling. I think I'm taking issue with the sort of mysteriousness of the narrator, paired with the lack of clarity on what's going on. It doesn't help that the driver is general, and I'm not really getting a vivid picture of the driver or his car's interior, which perhaps that's the point, not to focus on the driver and focus on the passenger, but when the passenger's tale and thoughts are blurry, then I have trouble focusing period.

Maybe. I dunno. Point is, I wasn't quite engaged with this one, but I felt like it's close to a point where I would be engaged with it.
#2 ·
· · >>The_Letter_J
After reading the story in full, I have to say I'm not terribly sympathetic to your protagonist, Writer. If you're running away from a wife and multiple children, you don't get to be bitter about someone else coming along to pick up your slack (as the line "all things I have left behind to another person who stepped into my shoes without even waiting for them to cool" seems to imply).

I get that the dude is wracked with guilt over killing a parent - possibly both parents - of a kid, and is constantly haunted by the crying child's voice. But by walking away from his own family, he's compounding the error by depriving his own children of their father. At best, he's horrifically misguided; at worst, he had one foot out the door already. The vagueness of the descriptions of his past leaves the veracity of these scenarios up to the reader.

I guess I'm not feeling terribly charitable towards your narrator, which may not be entirely fair. Bear in mind, this is my only real hangup with the story, and it may not even be a hangup at all - if your goal was to create a not-terribly-endearing protagonist, then bloody well done. ^^

All that said, this is well-written. I like the subtle foreshadowing at the end of the first paragraph, that was a nice touch. I certainly had an excellent idea of how cold and miserable your protagonist was throughout. As I said in my comment for Ringer, I like it when vague descriptions guide your focus in a story - as >>FrontSevens points out, the driver doesn't matter, nor does the car. All that matters is the cold, and the wet, and the rain, and the reasons for running.
#3 · 1
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This story is really good.

I agree with >>Icenrose that leaving behind his family makes this guy rather unsympathetic. So I'm not sure why you chose to include that, except maybe to emphasize just how much the accident affected him. But I don't see any reason why you wouldn't want the audience to be sympathetic to the character, so it might not have been the best choice. Personally, I would have considered making his family die in the car crash too, because that keep him a sympathetic character and give him even more reasons to be depressed.
But really, this is a minor point, and I think this story is still great how it is.

>>FrontSevens
To explain, you're right about him feeling guilty about the accident. I think the part about someone else stepping into his shoes means that he left his family and his wife remarried or otherwise replaced him with someone else. (Come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure how he would have even found out about that if he's been wandering the country ever since he left, but I suppose that's not too important.) When he talks about wanting to be carried away from his past, he means emotionally and mentally, not physically. He's trying to forget what happened and escape the guilt, which wasn't exactly easy to do when his previous driver was talking about a car crash his family had been in.
#4 · 1
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Okay. Not sure what to say here. Also very unsure if I got a story here or a small passage of something. Overall I tried taking a bite out of this one and ended up asking where exactly was the filling to this creative nice looking sandwich. This felt more like a teaser than anything and really didn’t give me much to enjoy or remember. So this one is gonna be short.

POSITIVES
-Simplicity
It’s hard to make a read effective by keeping it short and sweet. It really is. Also making it too complex can kill the mood. What this story brings is a sweet subtle storyline that can draw a person in by just sheer curiosity. Who is this man and what exactly happened to him? Is he just a road bum? Why is he out in the rain? You give us a short story, but you rattle our minds with simple questions that end up having complex answers to themselves. The only injustice here is that the length of the story doesn’t seem to fit what you had going. It was all rather short fused with a tiny boom.

-Realism
The fact of the matter is, this character can portray a lot of people. Guaranteed that there are people out there who ended up just running from their troubles and moving from place to place. It’s possible and most likely have happened to someone out there. The obvious actions from the hitchhiker and the kind driver were also very much logical and realistic. Which in turn adds this genuine feel to the read of this story. Which is a style that is very hard to contrast into a proper enjoyable read. Now what could have helped this even better to make it touching, would have been character interactions and several more scenes. Probably points of the end of the night where this sad man has to find shelter and food before he ends up finishing the night only to have nightmares haunt him as he tries to find slumber. There was a lot you could play with here, that we just never got to read.

NEGATIVES
-Interaction
The length of the story could easily have been overlooked if you added one more feature to your piece. Simple interaction, such as banter and character mannerisms, could have lighten up your story. To add the pop and flavor which we’ve originally come to indulge in such sad tales. It would have highlighted this man’s sorrow even more and how awkward it was having such a person to be around with inside of a vehicle. The sympathy card was played a lot here, but didn’t have a good presentation to it. Therefore leaving us with very bland taste in the end. If something is to make a grand impact you need to have a good enough setup.

-Length
This one I cannot get over with. There was a lot of potential with this story that could have easily been written with a quarter more of content. To make it more appealing, so to speak. Maybe several more scenes would have been able to lift this story as something. The wording, idea, and plotline work fantastically but is very short lived through how fast of a read this was. I can’t say it was a read pass my school days reading passages in textbooks. I read and was done with it in minutes. You took me on a journey author and brought me only across a street. When it could have been a river. I’m gonna blame time on this one as I know sometimes people cannot just write like a madman all the time. And that life can always be a daunting concern.

So my final thoughts is, this was a good read. It is definitely something I wanna continue reading and would like more of. As of right now. I have no idea where it is headed. What the intent was or what I was suppose to feel. I didn’t get much for my time spent reading this and so in turn my review is not gonna have much. Since I didn’t have much to pick at anyways. Compelling idea and great use of your sentences, but it falls short and can feel like a sudden drop of a story with how quickly everything just seems to leave my head. So for now I’ll leave you with four traits of the story to be reviewed as finding a fifth one is difficult. Continue writing and my best advice is to just let it flow out. If you spend too much time trying to make everything perfect you’ll only hurt yourself. I guess for me, constructing the plotline and words for it are much easier than trying to edit and proofread it all.
#5 ·
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Given the economy of language that one has to work with in tales of this size, this story manages to be remarkably well-balanced. None of the parts here feel overwrought, and they all turn together very well to bring the reader to its rainy conclusion.

If I have a quibble here, it regards the characterization of the protagonist. The story does a fine job of filling in the necessary amount of background material to let us know why he is in the position he currently is, along with informing us of his bleak hope of what he wishes to move towards in his future. The now, though, is left somewhat undeveloped. What keeps this man going in the present moment? Or, to put it the question in much more ghoulish terms, why hasn't this man, instead of thumbing a ride from a truck, not attempted to step out in front of one? The ending of the first paragraph (which dovetails with the memory of his own trauma) also seems to indicate that he has no desire to end his life, even though he would seem to have many compelling reasons for doing so. But what are those reasons? Is it the memory of his children? Is it that he knows someone, a person he can actually trust as a friend, who is waiting for him somewhere further down the winding road he is travelling? Is it that he will be able to use the money he acquires towards the end of the story to finance his next opioid high, and bring himself a moment of narcotic tranquility? Some explanation along those lines would have been welcome. Not a full exposition, perhaps, but a few crumbs here and there to enable the reader to read between the lines would have, again, been welcome. It is not a deal-breaker, but given how well-crafted the rest of the narrative is, it seems like an oversight.

To weight in on the segment "all things I have left behind to another person who stepped into my shoes without even waiting for them to cool," which, as many have mentioned, is a bit vague, my own take on it was not that our protagonist had left his wife and children, but rather that his wife left him, and took the children with her. This happened either before or during the trial, and, after his acquittal, he was too depressed and traumatized by all that had happened that he simply did not have the stomach to try to fight to get them back. She went on to a new husband, one not guilty of manslaughter, and he went out on the road. The memory of that perceived betrayal is something that fuels much of the bitterness he feels.

One last thing (and I concede that this is more a nitpick than a legitimate criticism): I'm not sure a story such as this can be considered to fall under the aegis of time healing most wounds when the wounds in this man's head are still running as wetly as the rain falling out of the sky.

All in all, this story left me with a feeling I can best describe as delicious melancholy. This man is not an evil man, even if he did something that cannot be easily forgiven, and he labors alone with his ghosts. For all his sorrow and real guilt, I do have a slim hope that he manages to find some kind of peace someday. That, at some time in his future, the sun can break through the clouds.

Thank you, author, for writing this.
#6 ·
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Eloquently written, and does a good job building a somber tone, but the reveal of the reason is a bit weak and it's too late by then for me to really feel for the narrator.
#7 · 1
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It isn't clear to me why his family left him if he was not guilty. The story makes me wonder how his family could be that non-supportive toward him, and if not, that he could walk away from his main social support mechanism. For that reason, I wasn't able to believe the payoff.

The last two paras are unnecessary.

I don't think it's what I'd call a coat if it isn't waterproof. It might be a jacket or hoodie.
#8 · 1
·
The hitchhiking parts are well described. The angst felt overwrought to me.

This is a kinda nitpicky problem on the whole but seriously broke my engagement, as someone who has both hiked and hitchhiked: the story kind of needs him to be on the move continually to work, but this dude has got to be some sort of robot, to be hitchhiking in the rain and dark, and to get out of the van into the rain again in a coat that's not even waterproof. Where's he sleeping? How is he not dead of hypothermia? Any more than a day or two and he'd have to fall into some sort of rhythm where he's got down time, and if he's trying to score hitches it makes a hell of a lot more sense to sleep at night and hitch during the day.

Eh I dunno? Middle slate. It holds together pretty well, but it's not as good as the good stories I've read and its problems aren't as big as the problematic stories I've read.

Tier: Almost There
#9 ·
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This is probably the last story I will review for this round as the Sun has just risen in my time zone. Several hours ago actually. I must say that I'm not disappointed. The prose is really neat. I could envision the highway and the rain and the traffic going past.

It's a little hard for a reader to feel strongly for or against the main character if they don't know what his problem is, which I did not get until I read the other reviews. His feelings are only shown as they are, not backed up a whole lot, which I believe is why so many people commented that those are overwrought (which is probably true) or that the protagonist is unsympathetic (which I did not experience personally). The story makes up for the vagueness of his background with a lot of atmosphere, and I didn't have a problem with it while reading, but that doesn't change the fact that it's vague.

On a side note: you know you read too much pony when "washes through my thin coat" makes you think of equine hair rather than a piece of clothing.
#10 ·
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This is decent, but the two halves of the story – him running away from his family that no longer needs him, and him running away from his accident – don’t fit together. I’d choose one and stick with it, because the combination of the two feels confusing in this small of a space.
#11 · 1
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You know, I really need to write these things ahead of time.

The Prison Of Our Minds is mine, and flows from the time I picked up a hitchhiker on I-70 just outside of Topeka in a driving rainstorm. No, nothing about the hitchhiker I picked up and the one in the story have anything to do with each other except the pickup and dropoff points, but I have this annoying tendency to pick apart events and generate absurd hypotheticals about them. I’m a quiet house-mouse, and the concept of traveling across the country with nothing more than my thumb in the air would scare me to bits. So I thought about it over the last few years, wondered just who he was and what he was doing, and stored the resulting musings in the big mental closet marked ‘Experiences.’

The original of this story ran 950 words, so I had to trim and prune and sand away rough corners to get it down to 747, or three words under the limit. Generally, I think that was a good thing, because it made me examine every word and throw out anything that did not fit the narrative I wanted to cover, and in particular, *how* I wanted to cover it.

I had a few criticisms I wanted to address that mostly fall along those stylistic lines.

Vagueness: The reason why he no longer had a family was kept vague intentionally, much like adjusting the focus on a movie shot so the main character is in focus and the rest of the scene somewhat fuzzy. It doesn’t matter if they left him, he left them, they drifted apart, she was fooling around, etc… He doesn’t have them any more. He’s not trying to get them back. They only remind him of his mistake, which is one reason he is running away from them too.

Time issues with the family breakup: Note that he stood trial: Twelve men and women denied my fault and set me free. It takes about a year to be dragged through the insufferable hell of a jury trial, being accused of horrible things by the prosecutor, and winding up considerably impoverished even if you win, which he did. Families have broken up for far less, and this one broke up before he even left: all things I have left behind to another person who stepped into my shoes without even waiting for them to cool. Keeping the exact time and circumstances of the breakup vague was also intentional, as the focus should (again) be on the hitch hiker.

Low environment detail, no/little dialogue: Again, keeping the focus on the hitch hiker and his emotions. It doesn’t matter what color the car was, who the driver was, what exactly they said, etc… The only thing that should jump out and stay with the reader is his attempt to flee his past and the cold rain, which is the thread through the whole story.

Turtles as a metaphor: The turtle carries its home as it travels wherever it may. They cannot ‘slip their shell’ as in a cartoon, because part of their spine is actually in the shell. Therefore, turtle. Or tortoise. Besides, the Box Turtle is the Kansas State Reptile.

Protagonist was not very sympathetic: Again, intentional. He is running away from something he sees as his own fault. He’s guilty, at least inside his mind. Trying to portray him as an innocent running away from something he didn’t do would go straight up against that. Note the cues about drinking, driving, his accident, the wailing child in the car he had hit. I did *not* consider having his own family die in the accident (Sorry Letter_J) because A) That’s more cruel than I like to write and B) Seriously? No.

Length: Yes, it could have been longer, and I’ll post the original later in Written Off, my complilation. To be honest, longer was not really that much better and possibly a little worse, but I’ll post it anyway for the curious.

Motive: Really, people. He’s running away from his guilt over the accident he had. He can’t really get away from a mental trauma like that by physical distance, so he’s screwed. He won’t admit to it, because he would have to *face* his fears. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes the monster we fear the most is the one in the mirror.