Friday, December 2, 2016

New Story Beginning?

Indulge me for a moment, please. After a long hiatus, I am taking up the short fiction pen again. And I need to know, since I am rusty, what you might suggest as a potential improvement or improvements to the following. Please note that I might have to take it down in the future, as I get closer to finishing the story and submitting it for publication. In the meantime, what is your reaction, and what do you think might improve this (admittedly incomplete) piece? Please be specific in your comments, and thank you!!!


Work in Progress:

Death masks are the strangest of all mementos, not because of the occasion that precipitates their creation – after all, death is common to all, banal – but because of skin.
                Upon the death of the central nervous system, skin cells continue to live for up to twelve hours, long after nerve cells have gone dark and the other major organs have begun their spiral into eternal decay. Desiccation sets in quickly, which creates the illusion that hair and fingernails are still growing on a days-old corpse. Not so. It’s the recession of the skin, due to dehydration that fosters this folk myth. The proteins in hair and nails, like the perceptive organs of seeing, smelling, tasting, and hearing, are effectively dead soon after synaptical shut-down, but the skin – the organ of touch – lives on for hours.
                I wondered, as I looked at my own death mask – a faux affair made as I slept once, a long, long time ago – if the wet plaster applied to the face extends that life further beyond death by giving it the sustaining water of life. Or does the mask, becoming mummified from its very inception, more quickly draw life from that boundary that once simultaneously separated the self-conscious being from, and acted as interface with, the rest of the universe?
                And when does that “soul,” the breath of life, that is, actually, finally, leave the skin? Does it pass through the death mask, dissipating into the past, evaporating into memory, or does the wet mask prevent it from slipping through, barricading it in that liminal space between pore and plaster? And then what? Where does that essence, that energy, go?
                At some point, the end must begin.
                Or so I thought.
                Until the eyes flickered open, filled with void.
                My fingers gripped the edge of the mask, paralyzed. I could not un-clench them. And like the mask itself, I could not, though I tried . . . I tried to shut my eyes. But the panic that seized me forced them open. I stared through those open eyes, and they stared back through me.
                This is what they saw . . .

8 comments:

  1. Pretty good. I would change "that precipitates" to simply "of" in the first line. That second paragraph comes on a bit heavy (at the least remove the comma in "but, due to dehydration"). It was a little unclear as to whether he was looking at the deathmask or wearing it (I'm assuming that by the end he was wearing it).

    I do like the way it ends. There's a definite jump in the energy in the writing after "At some point the end must begin" and that is what would probably keep me reading if there were more to read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent. Thanks!!! I really appreciate that!

      Delete
  2. "...skin cells continue to live for up to twelve hours, long after..."
    followed by shortly
    "Desiccation sets in quickly"
    has a contradictory ring to my ears, so I might add "Yet" before "dessiccation".
    Kudos btw for spelling that correctly.

    "Or does the mask, becoming mummified from its very inception, more quickly draw life from that boundary that once simultaneously separated the self-conscious being from, and acted as interface with, the rest of the universe?"
    Sounds about as awkward as one of my own first drafts :-) You know what to do!

    "And when does that “soul,” the breath of life, that is,"
    Despite the presence of "that is" immediately after, I might swap "that" and "the" because I like "that breath of life" as descriptor for "soul".

    "Until the eyes flickered open, filled with void."
    Woo-hoo!

    "I could not, though I tried . . . I tried to shut my eyes."

    Ymmv as it might sound too cliched, but I would probably risk "I tried - oh how I tried - to shut my eyes". I just like the rythm more, where you might be going for a more jarring, uneasy sense.

    I enjoyed this peek and also virtually rewriting the scene for you :-) A bit more than any critiquer should offer, I'm sure, but I'm in edit mode on Crux Passages this month, and I fear that's carrying over. Overly :-)

    Occurs to me this could be just that sort of exercise, however: a way for you to get us to pour a bit of our souls out so you can fashion death masks for people out of your physical reach...ohhh, *there's* a story idea!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. These are great suggestions. Thank you! Yes, I thought of the "oh how I tried" construction initially, but I wanted to make the reader a bit more uncomfortable. I'm fine with using awkward construction, so long as it serves a purpose and doesn't push the reader *too* far out of the narrative.

      And I'm not too proud to admit that I had to look up how to spell "desiccation". I use the word in conversation all the time (yeah, I'm a bit weird that way), but rarely spell it out!

      I love switching "that" for "the" because then it reads: "And when does the “soul,” that breath of life, that is, actually, finally, leave the skin?" The thing that strikes me as so cool about this sentence is "that is", which echoes with the biblical "I am". It really ratchets up the evocative nature of the word "is", tapping into the deep parts of the brain that question existence. Awesome change! Thanks again!

      Delete
    2. To clarify, "that is" doubles not only as a a clarification in definition (as in "i.e."), but it also might refer to "that breath of life" "that is" (in other words, "that exists"). I love the slippery nature of the term there. Wow. Thanks yet again!

      Delete
  3. Laughing rn at my own errors, "followed by shortly" and - especially - misspelling "desiccation" in the midst of congratulating you for *not* doing that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A writer's life is a series of errors, hypocrisy, and lies. :)

      Delete
  4. I would agree with JD McDonnell on his suggestion regarding the first line. I'm a big fan of a strong first line. Maybe even take out the – after all, death is common to all, banal –? Or tighten it up? But, 'after all, death is banal' doesn't work because of the inadvertent rhyme. I don't know. I would try the first line without the phrase and see how that works.
    Other than that, it's a good beginning, strong with creeping dread.

    ReplyDelete