View Full Version : The Village (768 Words)

August 17th, 2015, 11:48 PM
They were drifting in their canoe at Pleasant Lake. Their fishing rods were staked in the water like miners staking for gold. The sky was dotted with little clouds but the sun shone through them, sending rays of mild heat through the cool, gentle breeze. Land was not far. They could see the rocky coastline where they had brought their canoe and the dazzling trees of the forest were gently swaying back and forth. It was the type of calm that can drift one off to sleep.

"Carmen?" the thicker of the two said. He was wearing a checkered shirt from which his stomach was pushed out, like an impressive mountain. On his head was a baseball cap that was torn and frayed along its edges.

"Jerry," the tall one said in a deep voice, mimicking Jerry's own. Carmen had faded blue jeans and a bass t-shirt whose pattern was beginning to chip away at itself.

"Do you ever think of My Lai?"

Carmen turned to look at him. Jerry had that look of intense seriousness in his eyes. He had seen that look only a few times in his lifetime, since when they had met in Vietnam, and he had always been sure to walk on his words when they turned towards him, as if he was heading through a field full of landmines.

"I try not to," was what he answered. He looked away from Jerry, into the water and hoped that something would tug at his line for a reason to excuse him from the conversation.

There was a period of silence. The two men had served together in Vietnam, so long ago and Jerry remembered that sometimes there was that healing power of silence where just having someone next to you, alive and breathing, was one of the best things in the world.

"My Lai," Jerry said. "Reminds me a lot of that little village... I can't remember the name... that we once came across. Lieutenant Fielding ordered us to scout around the perimeter of it.There were all those dream-catchers all around the perimeter of it. Do you remember?

Carmen tugged at his line-- nothing. It was not warm but he wiped a small bit of sweat from his forehead. He nodded at Jerry, keeping his eyes down.

"The village was deserted," Jerry continued, putting his line down next to him on the floor of the canoe. "Or at least we thought. We found tunnels underneath some of the huts that were there, but even when Joe Koonish called out in Vietnamese, no one answered."

As memory closed in around the sides of his brain, surrounding him, Jerry closed his eyes.

"The lieutenant told us to burn all the huts down and we followed his orders with precision. We did not know that there were families hiding down in the holes. As soon as we set the huts ablaze we could hear them, struggling to get out of the hole. They were being smothered to death by the smoke. When the fire was blazing we could hear them screaming but by then it was too late. They were going to die."

Jerry took a moment to wipe his own sweat from his brow. When he continued speaking his face was in his hands. "The boy..." he stammered. "There was the boy that made it out of one of the tunnels. But it was too late. The fire scorched his body, his clothes, his hair... He ran out in front of us, screaming, Fielding was horrified. He kept looking at us, and then the boy, and then back at us, wondering what the hell to do. All the while, the boyt withered in pain. I remember us pouring our canteen water, the lot of us, all over him, but it did not stop the blaze, it was too far gone. The flame would not recede. We watched him burn, Carmen. He was screaming and he was dying. We did not need Joe Koonish to translate for us to know that he was pleading with us. The boy was looking right at us until he crumpled into a pile of death and receded from his existence on the earth."

Carmen looked at Jerry. There were tears in both their eyes.

"I still dream about him sometimes. He's always crying out for me to save him. I always try, but it's no use. I can't get it out of my head."

Carmen put his line back in the canoe.

"I'm sorry," Jerry said, softly. "I'm so sorry."

Slowly, in near silence, they rowed themselves back to shore.

August 18th, 2015, 02:56 AM
I think you've a good structure idea here -- idyllic setting, the intrusion of horrendous memories, and how the mood changes.

In executing it though, I think you've a disproportionate and distracting amount of descriptive content, some odd phrasing, a bumpy flow, and a distracting setting.

I mean odd phrasing, to me, like "fishing rods were staked in the water" and "walk on his words."

Then there's the details of the story itself. Whether two old friends that were both involved in a horrendous act would get into such a discussion, I'll leave to the reader as everybody differs. Maybe one could sense the thoughts of the other and recall the event in his own mind -- your show. Also two such participants would think of the setting as simply Nam in GI parlance, not Vietnam.

I also think invoking My Lai specifically and altering the actions may cause loss of credibility and reader interest, whether the reader is old enough to have been in the theater, or otherwise is familiar with the actual occurrence.

Beyond that, using the "hiding holes beneath the huts" scenario may cause further loss of credibility and reader interest. Beginning in the 1940s, during the war against the French colonial forces, the Cong created extensive underground tunnels which expanded over the years with villagers' aid. In such the villagers could easily have escaped the effects of the fire. I point this out as it's a weakness in your story.

Just an old fart's take, that I hope helps in some small way :-)

August 18th, 2015, 03:40 AM
Woah. I didn't realize there were that many flaws in my story.

Thanks for pointing them out. The only way to learn and better myself is with criticism.

Looks like I need to brush up on my storytelling skills.

August 18th, 2015, 08:36 PM
I found this very well written, and very terrible. Terrible in the way that war is always terrible. I did wonder why the one was telling it in such detail, when the other had been there as well. I'm sure there are a dozen possible reasons, but have you thought about them? The question to ask yourself then would be is it worth reworking it to make whatever the reason is more apparent.
Just my two cents
Thanks for sharing.

August 21st, 2015, 08:31 AM
Very haunting tale, and I loved the part from where he started describing the events onward. I don't know much about history so it was credible enough to me. I do agree that some of the phrases, especially at the beginning, were off putting but other than that it definitely tugged at my heart strings and made me feel something. Which is a success in my eyes.

August 21st, 2015, 04:46 PM
I failed History so many times it's not funny. So I was able to digest the story without taking a double take at the plausibility of the scenario--at least to an extent. What made it concrete is Jerry and Carmen both have horrific experiences of what they did in Vietnam that the reader has an easier time sympathizing with them.

I just hope you don't run into a aggressive History buff because I think he would tear you to shreds. :livid:

Now--as it was already pointed out--the descriptions were off. The word choices, the way they kept going on and on, all contributed it to being a cohesive mess. Particularly, the beginning because every sentence seemed vital and necessary when they weren't. With a short story like this, it's important to trim the fat and focus on the important stuff which you did when Jerry started talking at length.


August 21st, 2015, 11:28 PM
Hey daniel, an interesting story, these sorts of atrocities always leave a strong impression. It's already been said, but careful on descriptions, in stories like this less is often more ^^

One thing about your subject choice is something my creative writer teacher once told me and that's if you are going to write about something huge and traumatizing (death, rape, abandonment, murder etc) it is often nearly impossible for an outsider to even begin to comprehend it. As such, when, as an outsider, we try to write about these acts we miss huge parts of it. These subjects are very important, and deserve to be discussed, but its important to remember you have to discuss them in a manner that you personally can relate to, as that will come across in your writing ^^

Another method though is to research the hell out of the subject, which is something all writers need to do eventually anywho ^^

In terms of this story, what might be nice is if there is another character, perhaps younger, and the old gents are explaining 'Nam' to him. that might make the re-living of the experience more plausible, but may also take away from the enclosed feeling you were going for in your opening description....

It was a very ambitious story, and you handled the action of it very well, looking forward to your next piece ^^

August 23rd, 2015, 11:18 PM
He was wearing a checkered shirt from which his stomach was pushed out, like an impressive mountain

I think you should switch it up. Like

"His stomach was pushing out from his checkered shirt like an impressive mountain"


"Like an impressive mountain, his stomach pushed out form under his checkered shirt"

I like the second one. But I just think the options I suggest work better. The "from which" sounds too poetic to me, and I do not think that is right here for describing a guy with a beer belly. It works for describing mountains, etc, but not a beer belly!

since when they had met in Vietnam

Typo or grammar error. "Since when". I think you are either trying to say "when" they met in Vietnam, or "since", etc.

remembered that sometimes there was that healing power of silence where just having someone next to you, alive and breathing, was one of the best things in the world.

You certainly need to keep the idea because it helps understand the characters and their relationship. But "healing power of silence" sounds cheesy and sentimental, as does "one of the best things in the world". So I'd try to express the idea, but in a more original way.

Otherwise, very good after the comments I made, and moving. I could find nothing wrong after that, so I would say work on what I suggested, and you're good. Even made me tear up a bit, if that's worth anything.