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Jumping to conclusions

by nearandfar 

Posted: 15 September 2003
Word Count: 1506
Summary: This is the first short story I wrote - it was for a course I did earlier in the year. The word limit was 1500 words, so it's a little more concise than I would have liked. But I'm very interested to hear your views - e.g. does it work, should I flesh out the characters a bit more?


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When I was still living, breathing and occupying my space in the world, I had no concept of anything that was not life. Although death grew closer every day, it was as inconceivable as it is inevitable, and no more occupied my thoughts than the doctorís advice to watch my diet or get more exercise. Even at the age of 62, I treated every day as the first of many more, and refused to entertain the notion that time was slowly running out.

The day that changed all this began unremarkably. As usual, I was in the office at the small printers that I run by 8 am, going through e-mails and faxes from suppliers and customers to see if anything required urgent attention. This quiet hour, before everyone else arrives in the office, was always my most productive time of the day. I had the phone on voicemail, no meetings scheduled and I was looking forward to lunch with my daughter, Phoebe.

And then out of nowhere, a young man Ė short, wiry, with long black hair and dirty jeans Ė appears in front of my desk. I stand up, more annoyed than shocked because Anne, my PA, knows full well that I donít want any appointments with employees today, and then he pulls something out of his pocket. At first, I have no idea what it is even as he starts pointing it at me and squeezing the trigger. Guns are so removed from the realm of my experience that I still donít know whatís happening when I hear the deafening crack, crack, crack and feel an excruciating pressure in my chest that bowls me backwards over the leather armchair and topples me face first onto the thick, cream carpet. And even then, Iím so shocked that Iím still trying to catch up with the chain of events. I lie there for a couple of seconds, breathing heavily as a burning pain spreads across my chest and down my arms. I manage to lift my head and bend my neck slightly, and itís then that I see a frighteningly large pool of crimson spreading across the carpet. For half a second, the part of me that canít comprehend what has happened is more worried about the cleaning bill than anything else, but then, as my breathing becomes more shallow and as my remaining strength seems to leak into the floor along with what looks like several pints of blood, Iím left in no doubt that these could be the last few minutes of my life. Those three crack, crack, cracks were gunshots, fired at close range, and each one seems to have found its target.

At that moment, despite the pain, the shock and the fear, my overriding emotion is anger. Iím just unbelievably, completely furious that someone Iíve never even seen before has had the gall and the presumption to storm into my office and stop my life in its tracks.

But soon the strength to be angry fades too, leaving a lingering seed of a struggle, fighting against the spreading darkness and the rising panic. And underneath it all, thereís the growing realisation that the ambitions Iíve put off or not had the time to achieve will never be realised, and that the millions of little things, like lunch with Phoebe or solving the last clue in a crossword puzzle, have in a single moment been erased from any possible future.

And there was no tunnel of light, no sensation of floating above my body, just an abrupt switch from overwhelming extremes of physical and emotional pain to . . . here Ė although where that is, I donít know Ė without a body and without senses and with only my thoughts and memories left to remind me that I am still, in some way at least, me.

Itís very quiet. Thereís not even the rush of blood through my veins to mask the overwhelming silence. If there are any other dead souls around, they certainly havenít been in a hurry to introduce themselves. The only company Iíve got now is the clamour in my head as I try to come to terms with this appalling sequence of events. Iím so overwhelmed with fears and uncertainties that I canít seem to think logically. Iím trying to stay calm Ė to become calm Ė because I know that my only chance of getting to grips with all this is to think rationally. Is this some terrible nightmare, or has this really happened? And if it has happened, is this all Iíve got to look forward to for the rest of eternity? Who killed me, and what did I do to find myself on the receiving end of this violence?

The longer Iím here, deprived of any human contact or sensory validation, the more cut off I feel from the events of my life and the incomprehensible circumstances of my death. The fabric of the world that I took for granted when I was alive has receded to the point that it has become meaningless, making it almost impossible for me to analyse the events leading up to my death. There are dozens of images and events spinning through my mind Ė the killer, my drive to work that morning, the pool of blood on a cream carpet Ė but I canít put them into any kind of context.

But rising through this chaos is a memory of my eldest son Philip coming to the house one night. Heís distant and agitated and keeps repeating: "Dad, if you donít do what I say, youíre finished."

The image refuses to sink to the bottom of the thoughts swarming through my mind. Every time Philipís face comes into focus, I try to read the features I know so well, that I have seen grow into a handsome face in the 24 years since I watched him being brought into the world. Is that a harshness around his eyes, and are those nostrils flaring in contempt? I just donít know any more, just donít know . . .

. . . but Philip had always wanted control of the business, had always been the ambitious one who was full of great ideas. And although they were great ideas, no denying it, I just couldnít agree to them at a time when the printing industry was going through such a major recession. I kept telling him that we had to focus on our core business, but he thought that I lacked imagination and was stuck in my ways.

He wanted us to diversify, move into web production, direct mail and god knows what else. In the end, I sent him off to complete an MBA, thinking it would give him a better grounding and hopefully help him to understand the constraints of the business. But Philip didnít trust my motives and thought I was trying to shut him out.

Now I remember - there were arguments, lots of them. Or at least the way was paved for arguments. But Iíve always tried to avoid confrontation and more often than not I would walk away leaving Philip seething with no outlet for his emotions.

That face surges up at me again and this time I can see the contempt as clear as crystal. And itís true Ė I never listened. Just let his frustrations build up and up. Oh, God, I drove him to this. It was the only way he could regain control. It must have been Philip, Philip, Philip . . .

* * *

In a sunlit hospital room, an old man lies propped up in bed, his chest swathed in bandages and his body hooked up to a bewildering array of machines. His eyes are taped shut and in the background, the rhythmic hiss of a ventilator causes his chest to rise and fall in a regular pattern. A young man with the crumpled look of someone who has been sleeping in hospital corridors enters the room carrying a cup of coffee. He sits on a chair by the hospital bed, picks up the old manís hand and grips it tightly.

It has been three weeks since a former employee of Silk & Sons Printing, who was sacked for misconduct, entered the office of Derek Silk, the chairman of the company, and fired three shots at close rage into his former employerís chest and stomach.

The young man looks at his father, who has been given little chance of survival by the many doctors who seem to drop by day and night. And then he notices it Ė his fatherís mouth moving slightly, as if heís trying to say something. Could he be emerging from this three-week coma? The young man jumps up and leans over his fatherís bed, then smiles with relief as he understands the single word his father is repeating.

"Yes, Dad, thatís right. Itís me, Philip! Iím standing here right beside you. Donít worry Ė everything is going to be alright."







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Comments by other Members



JohnK at 08:06 on 16 September 2003  Report this post
Hi Robert -

The poor old man could die of shock, with the supposed murderer actually holding his hand as he comes around. Nicely told - great concept. I wouldn't change a thing. The situation and the characters are fine. As you say, you could flesh it out, but really the story stands well the way it is. I like it.

Regards, JohnK.

Bobo at 09:41 on 16 September 2003  Report this post
Hi there Robert -

Echoing John, this works so very well as it is. Fantastic idea, well told. Yes, a bit of fleshing out could make it even better, though is no way essential.

;0)
BoBo x

nearandfar at 10:27 on 16 September 2003  Report this post
Thanks very much for your comments. It's always so difficult to know if a story works or not when you've been looking at it so closely! Pleased to hear you think it stands up as is - means I can move on to the next one!

Account Closed at 19:23 on 16 September 2003  Report this post
I really enjoyed this story. I was with him all the way - I thought you were going to reveal to us what happened after death , I was rivited and the ending wasn't disappointing
Bravo
Elspeth

Becca at 20:57 on 19 September 2003  Report this post
Robert, this is a brave experimental piece, but never the less when you change perspective after the three dots, it, well, works less well than you need. If you start with the perspective of the old man who has been shot, continue it through. Maybe he can reflect a little more on who shot him and realise it wasn't his son. But one other techno is that while he lies bleeding your reader is conscious of his life running out, and his reflections after that point are frustratingly too long. This is definitely 'short story material' but, pick up on the high emotional points and let them guide you with this story into another shape.

nearandfar at 10:13 on 22 September 2003  Report this post
Beca,

Thanks for your constructive comments. The change of perpective was something that worried me, as I know that this is not typically encouraged in short-story writing. The hope was that the reader would think that the character had died and that the long central portion were his reflections on the state after death. The idea was then that the change of perspective would reveal the twist in the story, that a) he's not dead after all and b) that it wasn't his son who shot him.

But, I agree that it needs reworking - probably more "story" and less reflection, fuller character development and getting rid of the switch in perspective.

Thanks again for taking the time to read it!


Rob

old friend at 19:40 on 23 September 2003  Report this post
Hello Rob,

I liked the idea but not the structure. All the most sensible and useful advice you will find above; I can add little to what has been said except to suggest that you look again at the way the main character 'develops' through his own narration.
There is a strong influence of Jonathan Swift in your writing (look at para 8) but this tends to 'date' the work (set in a modern world of e-mails and faxes) rather than giving the main character a mature and perhaps out-dated persona.

As a first short story it is very good but I suspect that a far better one will emerge if you relax in your writing and just let the story 'flow'.

Congratulations on becoming a Daddy... just wait until the little ones 'demand' the story at bedtime!

old friend, Len





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