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Old 13th Apr 2010, 19:21   #1
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Default This Must End (work in progress)

And so, when she’d woken up, and had showered and dressed and had her coffee, she went down to the park. There, the grass had been freshly shaved, and the air smelled of its clippings. Children snickered all around her, and threw things, and then fell down. The parents stood around looking bemused. One sensed that they would had looked appalled, had this been going on anywhere other than at the park. She, on the other hand, could barely take it all in, as was often the case when she came here. The snickering children, and the things they threw, appeared to her as a series of blurred motions, like very fast bugs that she could never lay her eyes on for very long. This was due not to a problem with her eyesight but, she believed, rather with her whole self. And it was nothing to do with the fact that they were children, specifically. In truth, she didn’t know what it had to do with.

She sat on a bench and began eating a granola bar she’d brought with her for breakfast. It was dry in her mouth; it felt almost dusty. But she finished eating it, as it was all she’d brought with he, not just to eat, but to do: she’d brought no book, no newspaper, no crossword puzzle, nothing to occupy her mind or hands. As a result, she was beginning to feel a little hopeless. She tried to remind herself why she’d bothered coming to the park in the first place, since her current state of mind was one she often fell into while there, but she was unsuccessful.

Then a man sat down on the bench beside her. He was in his 30s, probably in the middle somewhere, and he wore a suit, a gray one that was very neat and slick, with a plain white shirt and a soft blue tie, the kind you think you might be able to swim in. He wore glasses with thin frames, and when she looked at his eyes, which were green, from a certain angle, the distortion in the lenses was negligible.

He said, “Good morning. Boy, it’s nice out today.”

“Yes, it’s nice,” she said. “The air is very nice.”

“Because of the grass?” he asked. “Because of the grass they just mowed?”

“That’s nice, too. But also it’s fresh.”

He nodded. “Well, that’s the time of year it is.”

She thought that was a strange way of putting it.

“My name’s Ben,” he said. He held out his hand.

“I’m Lauren,” she replied, holding out her own. They shook, and he grinned.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” he said.

“No, I guess not. I guess it depends. No, maybe not.”

“It’s nothing bad,” he said, laughing. “Or weird. I just wondered why you came here. This park makes you miserable.”

She looked at him quickly, and then away. Then back. She realized she’d just done a double-take, and felt stupid.

“No it doesn’t. I like the park. Maybe I’m just having a bad morning. But anyway, I’m fine. Plus, how do you know? What do you know about how I am?”

“I’m observant,” he said. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a little booklet. He handed it to her. “Here.”

Lauren didn’t take the booklet right away, but she did look at the cover. It was a soft blue again, like Ben’s tie, but a paler shade. Written across the top, in black letters, were the words THIS MUST END. Below that, it said BY DR. RICHARD SEABRIGHT. Below that, there was a picture of a millipede.

“What’s this?” Lauren asked. “Is this something religious?”

“No,” said Ben. “Just the opposite, actually, although less related than that makes it sound. All it is, is something I think you should read.”

He made her take it by placing it on her knee.

“I don’t want it,” she said.

“But it’s yours now. And anyway, after you’ve read it, you can do whatever with it. Throw it away, burn it, tear it into a hundred strips and eat it. Once it’s been read, nothing else matters.”

“I’m not going to read it,” she said, and she brushed it off her knee, into the grass, as though it were a crumb or a dead leaf.

Ben smiled and said, “Of course you’ll read it. You’ll see. You’ll read it, and you’ll see.”

“And then I’ll want to thank you, I suppose?” Lauren said, not looking at him, but instead out across the park where children still zoomed by, now with dogs here and there, snapping their jaws at dragonflies.

Ben laughed a small laugh. “Well, I don’t know about that,” he said. Then he stood up and stretched his back, squinting at the sun. “All right, well, I hope your day improves. I sincerely do.”

After one last grin, he turned away from her and walked towards the park exit.
* * * *
At that exact moment, when the man named Ben was walking through the park’s West exit, another man named Sidney was leaving through the South exit. He’d seen something he hadn’t liked, and it had spoiled his attempts to enjoy sitting in the sun with his newspaper spread across his outstretched legs. Although he did find that nature that was to be found in municipal parks to be at best a ruse, and at worst a trap, he was able, most times, to push that cynicism out of his mind and appreciate the trees he sat under as trees – it was no fault of theirs, after all – and the leaves that skittered around him in the breeze, or spiraled down into his lap, as leaves. If an ambulance, or a fire engine, happened to blare past, the spell was broken, and so the spell was usually broken, as people were frequently being hurt or setting fires in this city, but Sidney nevertheless found himself drawn to the mirage of this park for his peace of mind, to whatever degree he could achieve it, as the only haven on offer.

Sidney had been doing well this morning. He’d been reading the sports page, taking a painful comfort in the various analyses of his team’s thus-far nightmare of a season, and listening to dogs barking (the dogs themselves were part of the park’s ruse, being whisked from nature God knew how long ago, the same as the tree Sidney now sat beneath, but he still enjoyed their company). As he reached the end of the last column of print, he made to not so much turn the page of the newspaper as swing it over, when was stopped mid-action by seeing the thing he hadn’t liked.

It was happening down the slope, at the top of which grew Sidney’s tree, at the bank of the pond. Two young males, perhaps 18, or 19, or 20, or older, sat with their backs to Sidney, with their shoulders and heads hunched down so far that they appeared, at first glance, to be headless. But every so often, one of them would twitch, and their shaggy heads would bob into view, before lowering again to gaze at what the two of them were doing in the dirt in front of them. There was something there on the ground, Sidney could see, or rather sense. The boys were doing something, their arms grinding so powerfully into the earth that a tan dust would cloud around them every so often, before being whipped apart by a passing breeze. Sidney could see, without quite seeing, that it wasn’t just dirt they were digging into, because the way the boys moved – fast, sometimes, their arms grabbing out – indicated that they wanted to keep something there, to not let it get away, to hold it down. And each boy, as if taking turns, would occasionally look around suddenly, scanning the park and the people in it, for someone who might try to make them stop.

The boys were too far away for Sidney to hear what the boys were saying, if indeed they were saying anything at all. They were also too far away for Sidney to hear any other noise – those of a pained animal, for instance, or perhaps even (Sidney’s mind rebelled at this) a tortured baby – and though he was far from the bravest man in the world, or even in the park, he felt a strong compulsion to stand up and march down the slope, to demand to know what they were doing, and kick them in the ribs until they stopped doing it. When the boys glanced around anxiously for unsympathetic observers, they were too stupid and myopic to think about who or what was behind them, and therefore didn’t know about Sidney. He could surprise them, bring the shock of his outrage down like an axe blade on their combined, youthful strength, causing them to split apart and scatter in panic.
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Old 14th Apr 2010, 15:04   #2
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Default Re: This Must End (work in progress)

Hi Bill.

I'm certainly intrigued by your story. In what way is it a work in progress? The first line seems to indicate we've come to the story somewhere in the middle, and we don't see Sidney's confrontation (or not) with the boys, so is this a middle section of something larger?

You have a good eye for telling descriptions. I especially liked the fact Lauren had brought the granola bar to the park as something to do, rather than something to eat. Sidney's struggle to overcome his realisation that the nature of the park is just a ruse is also well-observed.

I wouldn't mind seeing more of the conversation between Ben and Lauren. It's good as it is, but I think you could get a little more mileage out of his benign intrusiveness.

As a result, she was beginning to feel a little hopeless. She tried to remind herself why she’d bothered coming to the park in the first place, since her current state of mind was one she often fell into while there, but she was unsuccessful.
In the extract you've posted, we don't see her being anything other than hopeless. The park seems to have nothing to do with it. But I assume there's some material preceding this part?

Like I said, I'm intrigued and would like to read more to see how the stories of Sidney and Lauren intersect. Your writing is very easy to read.
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Old 14th Apr 2010, 16:12   #3
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Default Re: This Must End (work in progress)

Thanks, Fanshawe. This is the beginning of the story. The "And so" is a sort of spur-of-the-moment affectation that I sort of liked, but which, if you're going to press me, doesn't mean anything so much as, I hope, set an off-kilter tone.

The confrontation with Sidney and the boys is pending. I'm working on that. I hope to have something soon.

I agree that more could be done with the conversation with Ben and Lauren, and I'll probably go back to it at some point. I can get sort of lost when writing dialogue, and so I made a concerted effort to cut this one off before that happened, but I think you're right that I cut it off too early. Obviously, there will be more with Lauren and Ben down the road anyway, but this initial contact could use some fleshing out.

Thanks for the comments.
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