Saturday, 25 August 2012

Writers' Circle Post - August 2012

The Madness of Lyssa

Jimmy had never held a gun before. The smooth wooden shaft, which had at first been so cold to his touch, had now warmed beneath his grasp, until it was almost an extension of his own arm. It felt as though the blood that coursed in his veins also flowed through the workings of the machine, in a kind a perverse symbiosis that had begun as soon has his pale fingers stretched across the hellish device.

Moonlight glinted off the metalwork as Jimmy stood by the empty house. The scene was a study in shades of grey, as unreal as a black and white movie, in which his own eyes served as shutters. He pushed his eyelids shut, and kept them that way for a long time. The continuing weight in his arms confirmed the reality of the situation.

Unlike most in his position, Jimmy had never felt the need to own a gun. His father had a few shotguns in the house, but those had long since fallen into disrepair. Besides the land on which the herds grazed was so remote that cattle rustlers were seldom seen, and any thief foolish enough to creep by the house would be seen to by the dogs. He had locked them in the house tonight, but they didn't bark and whine like they might ordinarily have done. They were scared too. This was not a night for dogs.

Jimmy moped his brow with the back of his shirt-sleeve, juggling the weight of the shotgun from arm to arm as he did so. The yard was still in the moonlight. Not the calm stillness of a summer's evening, but the tense, expectant silence of a narrative yet to reach completion. Jimmy looked about the yard furtively, the gun poised against his shoulder, muzzle pointed out ahead like an eyeless touch. He knew that she was locked in the barn, but the trip to buy the gun had taken longer than he had anticipated, and there was every chance she might have worked her way loose from her temporary prison.

The madness had descended suddenly upon her that day – like a mist rolling in from across the hills – leaving behind little but a familiar husk, empty like the discarded skin of a rattlesnake. She tore through the yard, hissing and snarling, baring sharp teeth and lashing out at the farm hands as they tried to calm her with gentle words. Jimmy had called to her with infinite softness, and seen her turn from him in confusion and denial. It was then that he realised that he must purchase a gun.

He couldn't buy one from the village. He was too well known there, and folks would like it odd that he had chosen now of all times to suddenly acquire a firearm. No amount of explanation would quell their feverish curiosity. It was better to be secretive, and to end an epidemic before it was given the chance to take root. Jimmy was afraid of prison, but he was more frightened of the suffering that she might endure if he failed to act quickly. She had always been loyal to him. It was only right that he perform this final act for her.

So the gun was sought with quivering hands, purchased at a store two towns over, from a man who didn't ask questions and didn't check his cards. The gun was sought and driven back to the barn, which lay still and silent in the twilight, a sharp contrast to the disturbance of his mind.

As Jimmy stood facing the barn across the yard, he shivered, though the evening air was frustratingly close and warm. The house at his back did not feel like a protective cavalry, as he had hoped it might. It was more like an accusatory jury, peering down at him from the darkened windows, judging him before the crime had even been committed. A nervous cough escaped his lips, as he tried to clear the cotton that choked him. The sharp noise awakened her and the inhuman howling began afresh. The barn door shook in its frame as she threw herself at it again and again, trying in vain to escape, and to bite. Snarling, frustrated and increasingly unhinged, issued from the building, like the howling of a trapped animal hungry for flesh. She threatened him through unseen jaws, her unintelligible ranting making Jimmy's heart thud painfully against his chest, willing him to fly and leave her to starve in solitude like rat in a trap.

The frame of the door buckled and sagged against the barrage and Jimmy could see the whites of her eyes, red and streaming, searching him out through the cracks in the panels. Those eyes that had once looked at him with nothing but obedient affection were now so filled with menace and fear, as if she were drowning in her own maddening rage.

Without warning, Jimmy's knees failed, and his legs collapsed like a folding chair beneath him. He landed face down in the dirt, prostrate before the rising tide. The gun pressed painfully against his ribs, cradled between his body and the earth, as if he were shielding it from the horror of the night. He could still hear the bolt straining to contain her as she heaved against it with all her strength. He could still hear her shrieking and howling, her yelps twisted by fear and malice. These sounds seemed fainter now, as if he were suddenly very far from the scene, and all the time moving further away. The earth smelt familiar and comforting against his face.

He did not know how long he lay there, drinking in the heady scent of earth and slipping in and out of consciousness. When he finally rose, shaking, to his feet, the gun still clutched close to his body like a treasured infant, the barn was quiet. Had she exhausted her passions or had the door been broken in weary persistence whilst he slept? The barn remained intact and he stroked the shaft of the gun absently, relieved that the defences had held during his absence.

Without knowing just how he had achieved it, he found himself at the entrance to the barn, looking back at the dark shadows of the house and the scuff marks in the dirt where he had fallen. Now that he was closer, he could feel a low growl emanating from the building, like the grinding of a rusted engine, painful and pitiful in comparison to the sounds of blind fury which had preceded it. She was entering the final stages now, exhausted from the thrashing terror and consumed inwardly by the disease. There was still a chance that she might lash out when cornered, and an infected bite would draw the madness deep into his own blood. There was not a doctor for miles, and the cure was worse than the disease.

His hand stretched out towards the heavy iron bolt, as he struggled to position the shotgun against his shoulder, which was bruised from the fall. In his youth, he had often seen his brothers shoot tin cans, and tried to remember the correct stance. The bolt in the centre of the door was rusted and creaked as he touched it. The soft growl within grew louder. The breath caught within his chest as he wrenched the bolt sideways and swung open the door.

Nothing.

The growling continued, coming now in laborious, racking bursts, almost like sobbing. Jimmy stood motionless on the threshold, waiting for something to happen. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he could see her, stretched out across the bales of hay in the centre of the room. She was panting heavily; her eyes rolled upwards into her skull and her head jerked backwards in painful spasms. Her limbs were contorted beneath her, twitching and flexing in agony as she struggled to breath.

Jimmy steadied the gun against his good shoulder and took aim. He closed his eyes tightly and, conflicted by sin and duty and half hoping to miss, he fired a single shot. All at once, the panting ceased.

He threw the gun aside and ran to her. He couldn't touch her. The fur of her chest was already thick with matted blood and the froth that had blossomed around her nuzzle would still be infected. Vowing to get the rest of the dogs vaccinated first thing tomorrow morning, Jimmy wiped his eyes, and went back into the house.

5 comments:

  1. All through this I was thinking “ It's a woman, it's a dog, no it it's a woman, vampire, zombie, dog... maybe a werewolf?!” You certainly kept me guessing right till the end! Apart from the bit I had to pause and have an Orwellian inspired “2 minutes hate” for 50 Shades of Grey, when your description caught my eye. I do like the description “The scene was a study in shades of grey” regardless. The the way you built the tension throughout the piece with both the mystery and the characters anxiety was thoroughly enjoyable!

    The bit about him fearing prison didn't really sit right after the reveal but it was some help in keeping us guessing.

    There’s a really haunting description of a human contraction of rabies in Slumdog Millionaire, have you read it? I remember finding the fact rabies sufferers become aqua-phobic particularly haunting.

    I’ll have a sleep on it and see if there’s anything further of interest I can contribute.

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  2. I glad I kept you guessing as that was my main intention with this piece! I can see your point that 'the fear of prison' is a bit incongruous given the eventual outcome, so I'll change that when I can.

    I actually wrote this story in 2010, so the 'shades of grey' reference is purely coincidental. I'd hate to think that this image has been ruined by the whole 'mummy porn' franchise. Do you think the passage needs altering because of this?

    I haven't actually read Slumdog Millionaire - but I'll definitely give it a look now, for the sake of improving my own prose.

    A question: do you feel that there is enough detail here for you to sympathise with the character? Do you get a sense of his background and, crucially, is there anything you feel is missing from this piece?

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  3. I enjoyed the story and although I at first wanted a little bit of description of Jimmy I figured that arguably, the story works, so why force in some convention? Was your omission of your narrator’s face/appearance a conscious decision?

    ‘It was better to be secretive, and to end an epidemic before it was given the chance to take root. Jimmy was afraid of prison, but he was more frightened of the suffering that she might endure if he failed to act quickly. She had always been loyal to him.’

    In answer to Kate’s issue with Jimmy’s fear of prison I’d say you can keep it so long as there is a little bit more of a nudge to illustrate some of the understandable illogic that would be streaming through his brain. Jimmy is about to take a life, of course he will think of the authority on life-taking and think – shit – what will the outcome be of my actions?

    ‘Jimmy had never held a gun before.’
    Great opening line! It’s the kind of line I honestly don’t come up with easily and thus I’m glad to read your stuff as it reminds me of the advantage of the instant hit rather than the slow burner. I think I’ve fallen into the habit of leading up to a grabber in the first paragraph. Might have to address this attitude…

    ‘Jimmy looked about the yard furtively, the gun poised against his shoulder, muzzle pointed out ahead like an eyeless touch.’
    I hardly ever use similes and with this one in mind I’ll have to consciously throw some in there – brilliant. However, although your similes are high in expression and quite valuable to your story, try mixing and matching how you introduce them – just so you might avoid sameness in your sentence structure. For example you wrote:
    ‘Now that he was closer, he could feel a low growl emanating from the building, like the grinding of a rusted engine, painful and pitiful in comparison to the sounds of blind fury which had preceded it.’
    How about this instead: ‘Now that he was closer, he could feel the grinding rusted engine growl of the building emanating from within the building, painful and pitiful in comparison to the sounds of blind fury which had preceded it.’

    ‘I'd hate to think that this image has been ruined by the whole 'mummy porn' franchise. Do you think the passage needs altering because of this?’ – Crimson Eblog

    I really don’t think you should let Fifty Shades of Grey have a place in your thinking regarding the story you’ve written. Why? Only because it’s topical now due to its notoriety and success – such a state of affairs is temporary and since the subject matter of your piece is so drastically different to FSOG – ignore it – ignore it completely.

    ‘Do you feel that there is enough detail here for you to sympathise with the character?’ – Crimson Eblog
    Admittedly, I was reading to find out the twist as your short stories always have one (not a bad thing at all)! If you could eek into the story some best laid plans that will no longer be possible (a wedding to be aborted, a project that will no longer be…have your female victim pregnant maybe) then boom – you’d have more sense of involvement invested in the victim and thus vicariously through to jimmy. What do you think?

    Great similes and build up and yeah, the reveal was cool as like Kate, I was thinking zombie, vampire and all sorts until the end…
    I think that I’ll back off for now and see how you reply and please, do reply soon as today, I am in major comment mode!

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  4. Hi John, thanks for the comment. You are right in thinking that I deliberately omitted to give my narrator much in terms of physical characteristics. I wanted to make him a sort of everyman, a template character, onto which the reader could project themselves to a certain extent, and really feel the emotions of the narrator. Do you think this has been effective at all?

    I think your advice on the structure of my similes is very valid ,and I'll definitely try to incorporate some of that variation in my second re-write and subsequent writings. So thanks for that.

    The idea of the dog being pregnant is something I'd definitely like to explore, as, like you say, it would lend and bitter-sweet, unfulfilled element to their relationship that fits in with the ambiguity over the female character. It's a great idea and I'm definitely going to experiment with this.

    Thank you both for your comments :)

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  5. ‘Now that he was closer, he could feel the grinding rusted engine growl of the building, painful and pitiful in comparison to the sounds of blind fury which had preceded it.’

    The above is what I intended to type by the way. Sorry!

    I think that I should be clear and state that it is a style thing (regarding the physical traits of the narrator), I would have placed a few telling details but not a huge large amount. Even then, I'd mention them here and there throughout the story. Seldom do I dump a big paragraph of what they look like unless I constantly remind people as the story unfolds (but this would counteract your idea of the everyman due to shoving more details in).

    Glad you like the idea of the pregnancy as it is the strongest image I came up with after reading.

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