'Pending'


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  1. #1

    'Pending'

    this is the first chapter of my second book, 'Lights Out'. any feedback is much appreciated especially about the atmosphere and setting. i don't know if as a first chapter it really explains enough to draw the reader in, and how much of it makes sense to the reader. please let me know

    A place that should be a commotion of noise and life carries a strange feeling when it looks like one day everyone just up and left. Not eerie, not sad. But somewhere in between; like a school during the holiday period or an infusion of memory rising from some experience that hasn't seen light in a long while. I stand on quiet train tracks, my gaze following their direction towards an old railway station.

    Here, a picture of suspension lies undisturbed. Abandonment doesn’t strike me: it seems more left to rest, to recuperate. But an object, a structure of movement, shouldn't need so much time as this to rest. Rusty rails and exhausted buildings patiently wait for activity once more. The overgrown weeds that reclaim this relic stand proof to its age. More prominent than nature as an indicator are the locomotives that stand around the station, their moss lined carriages and trucks nestling in arresting weeds. They too, gather rust, accumulating it like dust. They are old, very old. Steam locomotives - the enormous, chunky, cylindrical locomotives some sixty years out of date. A picture of suspension.

    I wander up the tracks, feeling the ballast rock bed crunching under my feet. Glance around as I approach the station. First building I pass in the oblong shaped area: a soot covered shed; a side track runs into it. The door stands still open, the corrugated iron sheets fraying and peeling away like wet wallpaper. Cool interior. Curiosity pulls me inside to find it empty. The same is said for the junction box, the next building along, in which the ancient levers are swelled to static resistance. Nature has penetrated here and green mould crawls over the grimy glass windows, shielding me from the sun. Tread carefully, head back down the rickety stairs. Same story for every other building I explore.

    An odd occurrence: traversing the first of two platforms and entering the waiting room. Here the wooden chairs are collapsing; the floor cracked to reveal spurts of grass and the roof lets in spears of sunshine. On the walls posters linger stubbornly, advertising products and company brands that no longer exist; hoping to one day be the object of the waiting traveller’s attention once again. The timetable, wrinkled and yellowed, blurred ink, barely legible. But readable enough to understand that the boxes for the train times are all filled in, not with numbers but with words: ‘Pending’.

    Returning outside, my attention switches to the dominant locomotive that sits, carriages adjoined, running alongside this platform – ready for boarding. As with the generality of the surrounding area, the locomotive is rusty. Old. It is the only one that remains in one piece, the only one not sitting in the sidelines. Clamber into the drivers cab, dried leaves render the floor loud to step on. Dials peer back like cataract eyes. Scratchy-brown oven stoke leaning by the stove door, a cavernous mouth deprived of coal fuel. I try a lever. Grating, it moves reluctantly. Nothing happens of course. I return outside to examine the exterior of the locomotive. Solid, it stands, flat bottom holding the stretching cylinder, piping like circuitry, webbing itself all over; fragmented lantern holdings; five enormous wheels on either side; flanking pistons. The thing is enormous, an industrial beast. Without a doubt impressive despite the decay that is consuming it. Buffers at the front, horns of the beast; low smoke stack. Flaking serial number still holding on – 200405. Haul myself back onto the platform, running my eyes over the rivulets along the body. A masterpiece of engineering.

    I enter a carriage; the door stands open to receive me. Smell of damp tingles my nostrils. Once cushy carpet is now discoloured and compacted, elements of the outside world having entered. Again, mould climbs the windows, thick, green, slimy. It tints the inside of the carriage an intriguing colour, calling to mind the inside of a greenhouse. The same earthy smell supplements the illusion. Opening each compartment as I go, I don’t know exactly what I’m hoping for. Exploration pushes me through the length of the carriage and into the next, briefly scanning each compartment as I go. The doors don’t open easily; they’ve forgotten what they are there for. I go on in this fashion, eventually reaching the very last compartment of the very last carriage. Enter. At first glance it is empty but I scan it thoroughly. It doesn’t take a lot to spot what appears to be a soggy booklet or leaflet poking out from under a seat.

    Excited to find a prospect of interest, I pick it up and help myself to a seat. The sponge inside the seat is crispy from age, crinkling under my weight and creating a depression in the flaky leather covers. I decide to stand instead. Looking at the object in my hands, I see it has aged badly. Letters peer out at me through the loosened fibres of the paper. It’s a map. Open it delicately. Tears appear along some of the seams and I spread it out loosely over the seat. It’s completely blank and I wonder if the ink has simply been washed away with years of damp. But no, there is an arrow, marked in red ink, highlighted by more text. It says simply pointing at the dead centre of the map – ‘you are here’. Where exactly? I study it for a minute more before folding it and putting it in my pocket. Exit the carriage again.

    Looking left and right, nothing has changed. Same stillness. Inspect beyond the buildings, it is surrounded by dense woodland. Green is the striking colour here, intense explosions of it. It is not oppressive, but it is impenetrable to my eyes. Above, the sky is summer blue, the sun winks at me, pointing beams of light through the overhanging branches, making the outer leaves translucent.

    This is not a large area, long in shape, the buildings all laid out side by side, with only four separate railway lines, two of which side off towards the sheds on either sides of the platforms. It seems nature is on its way to reclaiming the clearing. It channels the two lines in such a way that I have really only two options, left or right. Based on the judgment that I am right handed, I take the right hand path. If the trains won’t run, I will walk.

    Heat should be a factor as I trek across the overgrown railway line but there doesn’t seem to be any distinctive temperature. Clouds dot the sky but they hang suspended, unmoving. The tracks are near invisible under the weight of grass and weeds, but they are easy to follow. The trees remain channelled along the edges of the line. I look over the remaining sheds, clapped-out locomotives, and trucks as I pass by. The line bends as I leave the area so I can no longer see the station behind me. My footfalls are soft, my legs brush through the knee length grass. Everything is still. I strain to understand what is missing. Again I study the woods on either side. Not so much as a breeze to ruffle the leaves. Walking closer to the edge of the line, it is evident that the woods are not impenetrable, however the darkness isn’t inviting. I stick to the track.

    Time standstill. This doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so I stop in my tracks, it is not until my own sounds cease that I understand what is missing. External sound. I am deep in the woods, why no wildlife? I have not seen or heard a single bird or insect. On such a summer’s day, pollen particles should be floating around to laden the air, but there is nothing. Not so much as a fly. Pondering this, I move on. Round a corner and suddenly here is a dead end.

    A bottleneck where the woods close in, rising in a slope high above. And there, facing me head on lays a solid black hole, ringed by red Victorian brick. It’s a railway tunnel. I approach. Compared with the brightness outside, its darkness is not inky, it is completely solid. I feel if I were to walk into the tunnel mouth I would hit a wall. Not that I would want to. I examine it further; there is no pinprick of light on the other side, suggesting the other end. Merely black. The tunnel must twist and turn through the mountainside. A frown furrows my brow; I cast a glance behind me. Nothing has changed. I’m confused. It is disused, I have nothing to fear of trains coming through it, but, like everything else here, it seems like a boundary.

    I remember the map. Pull it from my pocket and open it out. Still it is blank; there is no reason to expect it to have grown back it's markings. But the arrow has changed positions. It is now off to the right hand side of the map and upwards. ‘You are here’. Where? It is useless, and so I drop it and focus my attention once again on the tunnel mouth.

    Step inside a few paces, smell the soot. Pick up a rock, hurl it into the tunnel. Clatter. I hear it land, but where is the echo? All I hear is a vague rumble. Assuming that it is a sound effect I return to the mouth of the tunnel and stand, one foot resting on one of the rails. It is cool under my foot; I can feel it through my shoe.The rumble from the rock's landing seems to be growing louder. The echo is heading my way, rebounding along, multiplying. Yet it doesn’t sound like the clatter I first heard.

    My frown deepens. Cast yet another glance around. What I am expecting to see, I don’t know. An explanation would be nice. The rumble is growing. Now I can feel the sound vibrating through me like heavy bass. Instinctively I back away from the tunnel mouth. The vibration stops when I remove my foot from the track but the noise doesn’t cease. There is a new sound now, distant, shrill. Leaning my head to the side, I listen hard. Then I hear it growing inside of me. Louder. The rumble grows to a roar. I notice now that the tracks are reverberating violently, humming. Now there is a repetitive puffing sound. Now I understand; back away and wait. The shrill whistle grows and grows, the tracks sing, the air is disturbed.

    From the solid blackness bursts a blur of solid tonnage, knocking me backwards with it's sheer mass. Air currents run wild as the rhythmic clattering accompanies the charge of a train and several carriages powering out of the tunnel mouth and continuing back the way I came. Once the last carriage passes I follow, watching the cloud of steam, and hearing the hiss of pistons, the clatter of the wheels over the track. It sways as it vanishes around the bend and out of sight. Cancel the notion that this line is disused. I’m pleased.

    The scent of burning coal lays the path for me. This train was not rusty and ancient. Again it was a locomotive, of a smaller variety than the one I explored. Counting four long carriages, I noted that the paint was clean and new, no sign of rust in what I saw, a blur of colour and steam. I have found my way out. Solitude will no longer be the order of the day. Stillness settles back quickly but I can still hear that rhythmic clattering far off, squealing of brakes. And then it disappears altogether. Silence again.

    Walking back to the station seems to have taken half of the time it took to reach the tunnel. Round the bend at a jog, not wanting to miss this train. And sure enough there it is, alongside the rusted locomotive, the back end of the last carriage, pulled up at the opposite platform. Something is different though. Something about the colour. The sleek glossiness of well maintained paint seems to have faded. In fact, as I step on flakes of rust I understand that the wood on the carriage is faded and worn. The window at the back, mould infected. I sprint now. Onto the platform and I can see that all of the carriages are equally as affected. At the front, the locomotive is broken. It lies at a lazy slant away from the platform. It's as rusted as the first, as ancient as the first. It was new when I first saw it moments ago. Jumping back off of the platform I inspect the other side. The reason for the slant is apparent as on this side much of the structure has collapsed lower down.

    I reason that, still, there must have been passengers on the train, a driver, ticket conductors. This very train passed only moments ago. And so I begin to search. Enter the carriages but it is in the same condition as the locomotive next door to it, holes rotted through the floor. Moulding and decrepit. Completely empty. I run the length, search the cabin. Empty. The waiting room perhaps? I enter and scan the room. Exactly the same as the one opposite was. Where could everyone have gone? Or had there been no one on the train? When I reappear from the waiting room, I notice that the trains have rusted further, only the bulks left. The carriages skeletal. Put my hands on my hips and look left and right once again.

    I walk towards the ticket booth on the end of the platform, agitated now. There is nothing to see through the murky glass. The plaque in the window says open. Again I peer through the window. There is nothing. Nothing has changed within the station. Clang! The sudden noise makes me jump. I stare. A ticket has appeared in the drawer on the ticket booth. Picking it up, I read it quickly. Platform 2, destination: blank. Time of departure: pending. Frustrated, I look at the map-board by the ticket booth. You wouldn’t know it was a map, just a giant square plastered with small forest symbols. I look closer. Right in the middle of the dense expanse of trees, there are two lines, red and blue. They run a small distance before fading out and disappearing off the map. They don’t come close to touching the sides of the board. In the middle of these lines, a red arrow. ‘You are here!’

    Once again I pull out my ticket. Pending. With a sigh, I help myself to a seat in the waiting room. I begin to wait.
    Last edited by Jon Prosser; March 9th, 2011 at 02:39 AM.
    "The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success."

  2. #2
    Member Once_more's Avatar
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    This was while not difficult to read, not particularly easy either. There is no understanding of why the character is walking along railway tracks; no explanation of what he is doing there or where he came from or even what he is looking for.

    After reading the entire story I sat for a few minutes and considered the what I had read. There is no information - either direct or indirect - that tells what the train station is or even where it was located. I considered several options: it could be some small town outside of Detroit or a post-apocalyptic setting or purgatory. There is no outward indication of its purpose and I found this to be rather disconcerting.

    Throughout I found myself reaching for different elements of the story as a way of retaining my interest. The red arrow; the board with "pending"; the tunnel with no echo; the map found under a rotting seat; I was curious enough about these elements to continue reading onward. However, per your request, I must say I really do not feel that the elements offer enough of a draw to maintain my interest. As it was, the first few paragraphs did nothing to entice me to read on. I rather felt as though I'd come in mid-story and not at the beginning. There are too many elements that remain unknown.

    Your main character walks into the station from where? Is he carrying anything - a bag or a pack? Are there any items of his clothing that might reveal a bit about where he came from so that i want to read on to find out what he is doing sitting in a deserted railway station with a ticket that just says pending.

    I do enjoy your writing style and curiously await your response.


    *A point of interest: moss is usually squishy, it has density and depth. if its slimy its probably a mold or some form of lichen (they bond with algae and some species form an especially slimy coating - interesting to note lichen need moisture to grow, however, in the absence of water they may lay dormant for years. once re-hydrated growth returns rapidly.)
    The mystic dances in the rain, hearing music others don't.
    "Madness," they say, these others.
    If so it is a gentle nourishing sort.

  3. #3
    I find I am very curious to know what is going on. I think that there is a lot left unanswered but that really serves to peak my interest. I also like your writing style and the descriptions are strong. There were a few places where he was talking about his own actions and I had to read it twice because I thought it was going to be a description but it turned out to be an action. A little of that works well but especially in the beginning it is a little hard to read and understand. The first couple of paragraphs were kind of difficult to read but once you get past that the rest is great. I would even suggest swapping the first and second paragraphs, the second is a much stronger hook. I also found I was wondering about his state of mind as he explored, has he been wandering a long time? Can he even remember where he came from? Is he tired? More about emotion and what is driving him.
    Overall it is a great start and I would be very interested to read on, I want to know more about him and his world.

  4. #4
    Once_more,
    Thank you for your review the entirety of the setting is symbolic; i was pleased to see that while you said there wasn't any information, you actually have picked up on all of the key elements. I can tell you, that it is in a sense, purgatory, and that you reached out to all the correct elements. the setting of this chapter is both where the story begins and will end, the end explaining everything. i suppose the problem is, while the chapter does give indirect information, it is not yet relative to anything. would it have maintained your interest more to have been given something more substantial to go on, a solid clue?
    I can tell you, as it is indirectly said in the second chapter, that this chapter is a dream the main character is having. I wanted to maintain the dreamlike, surrealist atmosphere, and enhance it by using first person and present tense; i want the reader themselves to feel like it is their dream. This is why there is no explanation, no external description of the character. I feel this is truer to dreams as well, as in a dream like this, there does not tend to be much confusion over why the setting is so weird, it just is. The actions with no apparent thought processes behind them are characteristic of a dream, as often you feel more like a first person observer of yourself.
    Having read your first chapters beforehand though, I can't help but think that your opinion is partially to do with genre preference. Do you enjoy psychological thrillers? I don't mean to sound defensive, it's just that subtlety is key to this story, and I feel I can't give too big a clue away or the reader may figure out the ending halfway through :p
    I would like to meet you halfway though, and am already thinking of possible elements I can add.
    Thanks for your time Jon
    "The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success."

  5. #5
    bysharonnelson,
    Thank you for your review, it has been most helpful I am glad to hear that the questions interest you more than frustrate. My style is somewhat experimental but I will give it a thorough read to correct the action/description. I read back over the beginning, and agree, the second paragraph would be better as the opener and have changed it.
    I am glad you wonder about his state of mind, because this is what the entire book centers around. The metaphoric elements in this chapter are a condensed mess of hints and clues that will become clear as the story progresses, and they themselves answer your questions. For example, how long he has been wandering is reflected in the age of the station and the trains. In the second chapter, the first is indirectly told to be a dream, and it is for this reason that there isn't much emotion or drive. I chose first person and the present tense, so that the reader will feel that he/she is the one having a dream. Often, you (or at least I do) feel more a first person observer of my actions, and they are out of my control. Things just are, and just happen, and we accept because ultimately our logic seems to know that it isn't real. I hoped to convey this, as well as an air of mystery. I would like to answer your questions subtly within the text but it would be difficult due the confined nature of the dream, but emotion/drive/physical sensation I can do if you think it would work better
    I will be post the second chapter if you like thank you for your review again, it has been most helpful!
    Jon.
    "The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success."

  6. #6
    Knowing now that it is a dream it makes a lot more sense. It is interesting enough to pull me through to the next chapter, if nothing else just to see what the heck is going on. I think it will work well as an opening chapter. There is a lot of great description and the situation leaves you curious.

  7. #7
    awesome well i'll give it another look over and play around with it a bit with your comments in mind. thank you for your time, it's much appreciated! i did have a look to see if i could return the favour and review some work of yours, but it doesn't seem you have any posted.
    "The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success."

  8. #8
    No problem, glad to add my 2 cents. I don't have anything posted and probably wont for a while. I just released a book and am working on two others but I don't usually submit whole sections or anything unless I get stuck somewhere. But thanks for looking

  9. #9
    i did see, i have one released as well but for a first attempt i'm not expecting it to go far. that's impressive that you can write two books at once, that would drive me mad. i'd be getting characters and plots mixed up all over the place :p well if you do get stuck, let me know and i'll see if i can help
    "The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success."

  10. #10
    Member Once_more's Avatar
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    It is helpful to know i picked up on the main elements. That all of the elements are really supposed to be dreamlike and vague. Knowing that this is all indeed psychological really does make a difference.

    I actually like the idea of starting with the first two sentences of the third paragraph and then entering into the second paragraph. By involving the reader immediately the descriptions of frozen time and endless waiting come across stronger. It also has the effect of immediately throwing the reader into the vision. The slow build up description offers, is my stumbling block here; try making an action first then the description.

    From what you said - and the subject of your previous book - I'm guessing this is going to be more of the thriller genre. With that in mind, I think that by rearranging the opening paragraphs, as Sharon Nelson pointed out, and considering a change in the first statement, you shouldn't add any other overt hints or clues, it probably wouldn't fit with the rest of the story.

    Which by the way... do you have chapter two posted?
    Last edited by Once_more; March 8th, 2011 at 08:18 PM.
    The mystic dances in the rain, hearing music others don't.
    "Madness," they say, these others.
    If so it is a gentle nourishing sort.

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