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To Those at the End · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Draw Your Own Conclusion
I had almost reached the end of my journey. Tears welled in my eyes and dripped forth. I hadn’t thought I had the ability to feel in this limbo, yet I felt joy well up in my chest, long forgotten.

As I drew closer, I made out a small form sitting underneath a halo of light the glass produced. It sat slumped, and for a while my heartbeat thought it dead, but just as I grew close, it shifted and brought a cup to its lips.

“Hey.” It nodded at me. “The name’s Natasha. But my friends call me Tasha.” She stuck out a hand.

I stood, as one could say, dumbfounded. She took another swig of her drink titled ‘Monster’, a claw running down the sides. Stumbling over my words, it hit me all at once.

“Are you the Devil?”

She burst into laughter, the liquid of hers bursting forth from her nose and painting the delicate glass green and fizzy. She wheezed and at one point no air- or whatever substitute there was for it- came out of her lungs.

She regained her composure, then threw herself into fits once more after her first bout was done. It took awhile for her to stop, but I could wait.

“That’s the funniest fucking thing anyone’s ever said to me, and I’ve heard a lot of things. What’s- what’s your name?” She wiped the snot and liquid from her face.

“Thomas.”

“What a name it is, Thomas. There was Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, Thomas Goldenstein who I don’t expect you to know because he was my ex boyfriend. What a bastard.” She sat up and waved her arms about like a mad man. “Did you know he keyed my car and set fire to the passenger’s side? Did it using a cigarette.”

“If I may-“

“Yknow, I admire him a lot for that. Takes guts and time. If he wasn’t in the slammer for bank robbery with a crowbar and two laser pointers, I’d’ve loved to ask him about how he got that to work. Seems like it would have taken a lot of time and effort just for one fucking cigarette.”

“Please ma’am. Where is the path to-“

“One! Like, okay. I understand that those things are hot- got a cigarette scar on my ribs from another ex-“

She lifted her shirt all the way up. I lifted my eyes all the way up the hourglass. And no, not the bigger, shinier hourglass.

“Man, did that bitch hurt. I should have kicked his shit in while I was ali-“

“Heaven! I need Heaven.”

Slowly, she stopped and stared, straightening her cap and brushing off her shirt although nothing was there.

“Sorry Tommy boy, can’t do that.”

My eyes widened. “What?”

“You see that hourglass up there?” She pointed up.

“Of course I do.”

“Yeah. It never stops. Therefore Heaven is never created.”

“Wh-what do you mean Heaven is never created?”

“What do you think I mean, dipshit. Heaven is a no-go. Once the sand runs out, it flips. Time is really more of an etch n sketch than an hourglass. You make something and then start all over again once you’ve run out of things to make with such little material. Heaven isn't necessary when you’re just going to rearrange my atoms into a rat’s anus.”

I guffawed. “Then why do you sit here, mulling about?”

“It passes the time. Plus, every once in a while, Hunter throws out a drink for me.”

“Hunter?”

“The forest. It’s named after my last boyfriend. He was a real sweetheart until he murdered me in cold blood.” She shook her head in mild disappointment, taking one last swig of the drink and crushing it between her palms. It crinkled.

I placed my head in my hands, smoothing out my furrowed eyebrows. “Why don’t you just give up?” I said, exasperated.

She huffed. “Cause.”

I screamed at the… not Heavens. “I have climbed through Hell and crawled through purgatory and this is what I get?

“Why isn’t there more? Please, I need there to be more!”

She shrugged and brought out another can. This time it was labeled ‘Sprite’.

“Happens to the best of us, pal.”

I eyed her and she eyed me back, patting at the black gravel she sat against.

I choked on a few questions, one finally bursting from my mouth from all of the chaos and swimming thoughts of my mind.

“So, Tasha… about those exes?”
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#1 ·
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I'm not:

Getting this one at all, I'm afraid. The word "limbo" made me think this was maybe a white, blank, emptiness, but then Tasha is "sitting underneath a halo of light the glass produced." My first thought was that this was a sheet of glass separating the two of them 'cause when she sprays her drink out laughing, it covers the glass even though she's facing him. Later, though, there's references to an hourglass, but even then, I couldn't quite make it work. I mean, she's sitting when she sprays the glass with her drink, but then she points up to where the hourglass is. She also says near the end that she gets her drinks from the forest, but I haven't been shown any forest anywhere around them.

So I'm afraid I just don't have enough information to draw my own conclusion...

Mike
#2 ·
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Well, author, since you encourage me to come to my own conclusion...

Something I liked:

At the heart of this entry lies a fairly chuckle-worthy comedy. The protagonist is on a Dante-like quest and wants to get to Heaven, except he can't. He confronts Tasha (who I want to think is Tasha Yar from Star Trek), and she's basically in the same position as him but not quite. I guess purgatory is where all the soft drinks go. For some reason I find the mention of soft drinks to be the funniest part of this whole thing. The dialogue side of things is pretty well-realized, even if the author used hyphens in place of em dashes like a fucking heathen. Tasha herself is quite an entertaining character, and I too am curious to find out more about her Ramona Flowers-esque history of exes.

Something I didn't like:

As Mike pointed out, there are some serious lapses in description here. A forest? Where? Since when? How does the hourglass work? Speaking of which, that line about the "shinier hourglass" is the fucking worst, unquestionably the worst line to be found in any of these entries. It's got everything you could not want in a comedy line: it's awkwardly phrased, it's needlessly obtuse, it's not funny, and it honestly borders on misogynistic. The author might've thought they were being clever with that zinger, but just because a line is written like it's meant to be clever doesn't necessarily mean that it'll be clever. Anyway, more generally speaking this entry suffers from a severe lack of polish put into the descriptive side of things, not to mention the narrator is kind of a bland slice of wonder bread who could well be anyone with a sexual interest in women I guess.

Verdict: Too awkward, too vague, and I'll never forgive that one line.
#3 · 2
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In which "time is really more of an etch n sketch."

Throughout the whole story, I imagined this whole thing taking place in black nothingness. With the descriptions given in the story, I am not sure if this is the effect you were going for, though the revelation that there is no heaven even after getting out of Hell and purgatory probably helped, whether for good or bad. I'll chalk this impression up as "questionable" because while the story did work for me in a setting of nothingness, it seems the other commenters here were dismayed at the lack of enough descriptions to have the setting stick or make sense to their heads. For example:

“You see that hourglass up there?” She pointed up.

“Of course I do.”


The bigger and shinier hourglass is not given much focus even though it is the subject of important discussion in the story. That the hourglass was just given that description plus this exchange without any description relating to it like Thomas looking up to it or having Thomas' thoughts about it and so on... it all leaves the most important object of the story in the background, which isn't good when the hourglass relates a lot to the story's revelation.

Much of the dialogue here also seems like filler even though I believe you were going for characterization here, though there is the danger of too much characterization when writing a short story or a minific. I sympathized with Thomas when he got confused with Natasha's over-spilling story about Mr. Goldstein—they may be fine in a longer story, but with 750 words being the cap, you could have cut Natasha's gushing about ex's here and there, bringing it down to one-liners and things like that.

I am also concerned about Thomas' reaction to the revelation. Maybe it's more of a your mileage may vary sort of thing when it comes to reacting to such big things like this after the huge struggle he went through to get to the point he was at the beginning of the story, but still, I find it incredulous that his reaction to finding out that there is no heaven after all, at least for now after all he's been through is to just sort of blank out and make small talk with Natasha? It seems more likely that he would have gone a more dramatic route considering his struggle to get here. Maybe Thomas is different from the average person, but not much if any in the story indicates that Thomas has had something that makes his attitude different from the average person.

In the end, this is a story that could have reached its destination but needs some description beef-up an a better, more realistic ending. Would make it to the middle if only barely.
#4 ·
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JFC, what can I add after three eminent colleagues have already squeezed the story out? Have I come this far to be left with so few to write?

Alas.

I agree I was turned down, first by the mumbo-jumbo about Heaven and hourglasses, and then by the sudden change of mind of the character at the end. That kind of twist tastes really tired to me. Something like “This is so boring, where’s the elevator back for Hell” would’ve been much punchier for me. As for Tacha, she didn’t strike me as particularly memorable. I’m still wondering what her presence adds to the story.
#5 · 1
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The general tone of this is really easy-going, which was a really good decision that helps make the story as a whole feel more digestable. And while Thomas doesn't really get the chance to get much spotlight, Natasha felt strongly characterized, even if you had to use broad strokes to do it quickly.

Now, I have to admit that I'm generally not a fan of drawing my own conclusion. I'm usually in the camp that the message/payoff of a story should be pretty clear to the reader, even if some details aren't. So when I get to the end of this one, I'm kind of left feeling unfulfilled. The only thing that the story seems to be saying for sure is that idle conversation is probably better than Hell itself, which doesn't feel like a very interesting point to make.

I think the vagueness about what exactly happens at the end of the hourglass's time is really what's killing you, here. If we know for sure that, say, Thomas and Natasha are going to cease to exist when time's up, this knowledge reframes the story into being about what is worth doing when you know you have limited time. Or, if we know that Tom and Nat are just going to sit here forever, the story becomes about what kind of company is worth keeping, and what would people rather do than talk forever. But the fact that the story doesn't really make a commitment about what the stakes are for our two characters really hamstrings how a reader can emotionally respond, IMO.

I know that ambiguity is part of the point of the story (hence the title), but I strongly believe that the one thing that a story should not be ambiguous about is what the story is actually about. An example that I can think of off the top of my head is the film Inception, which handles its ambiguous ending well because the audience already knows that the film is about the difference between waking life and dreams. Asking the central question one last time and not answering it reinforces its message, in this case. But with this minific, I don't think we even know what the central question/theme is.

So when I get to the end of this, I'm having trouble emotionally reacting to any of it. What am I supposed to feel for Tom and Natasha? Sadness, because they don't get a heaven? Relief, because they escaped Hell? Wry criticism, initially believing in heaven at all? Telling me to draw my own conclusion doesn't make much sense to me, because I don't have enough context or data to come to a conclusion in a satisfying manner. Yes, I can guess what the story is about, but when all my guesses feel the same, none of them have emotional impact to me.

I do appreciate that you're keeping some things vague, like where Natasha gets her knowledge from, and information about Thomas's living life. Keeping their past circumstances unknown is a smart move, but I do suggest giving us more information on their current situation. That would really go a long way towards letting the reader know what this piece has to offer.

Thank you for entering!
#6 ·
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Don't really know what to take away from this one if I'm being honest. I read it through a few times and still can't quite figure out what's happening, but I'm guessing the plot has something to do with a heaven and a hell. I appreciate the author going for a lot of symbolism and imagery but it just kind of gets muddled and confusing in the end.

The ambiguity is most likely intentional, giving the reader room to "draw their own conclusions," but in turn I don't feel like I have enough information to make a conclusion. Also, the last line seems to be a 180 from the character's original personality and I don't know how to feel about this. Still a well constructed piece, but I don't really follow the plotline at all and just feel confused by it.