Mountain (Light Language) (2,500 words)

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  1. #1

    Mountain (Light Language) (2,500 words)

    Hello all, I know I don't show my face around here often, I suppose it's because I make less trouble when I don't poke in too often. I've been working on the writing, in bits and bouts, and was wondering how people would feel about this piece. Writing first person was a nice change.


    Miller had a flat card that he flipped between his fingers. It was blank, and white, with a king crudely drawn onto it, and in the corner was the number one. Miller called it his lucky card, I always figured he was a fool. I brought out a smoke and matches.

    “Want one?” I asked. And he took one.

    I brought out a match and handed him one, too. Men light their own cigarettes, I always thought, and Miller agreed with that notion. And I didn’t feel we often agreed. It was hard dealing with someone like him, who always had something smart to say (and often something dim as well), but I made it work, as we had a job to do.

    We both lit our cigarettes and shook the matches cold. The tobacco ends flared and burned and smoked, and I always loved watching that. Something about a cigarette could calm you down. Some people couldn’t take that high, as mild as it is. I once knew a man, can’t remember the name, who never smoked a cigarette in his life. One day, he fell asleep on his porch, and the neighbor kids lit one and put it in his mouth. He woke up in a hussle, started screaming and hollering, then died of a heart attack on the front steps. I’m not sure what to think about that.

    I looked around our small camp. It had snowed again yesterday, and in the night it iced over, so all across the ground was white and grey and slick, nothing fun to walk in, and terrible luck for a truck.

    We had our thick jackets on to fight off the chill, mine was large and denim and stuffed like a grizzly, but Miller kept his Old Red, a sportcoat he’d tailored himself for the winter. Red and Blue, we were. Old Red and Blue on the icecliffs. Old Red and Blue, Robbers of the Pacific. Old Red and Blue, Bounties in the Hills. They could make a play about that.
    “When’s the truck coming?” I asked, as I’d already forgotten. All I could think about was getting some hot coffee to warm my guts, but that wasn’t an option, as the fire would attract too many eyes in the early morning like this. Miller had mentioned that, but unlike cigarettes, I didn’t wholly agree with him.

    “Shouldn’t be long now.” He said, and reached into the satchel sat by the stump he was on, he pulled out a book. “Maybe an hour.” And then his fingers, exposed to the cold, flipped open the book and he hunched over to read.

    “Christ, Miller, it’s practically below zero.” I said. “Put the book away.” It was an old book with a hard cover, and across its edges it was rubbed and battered and bruised like a beaten elk, and Miller kept it in his lap like he cradled it.

    “Never too cold to read.” Miller said.

    “Tell that to your hands.” I said. “Let me stoke some coals and warm some coffee, at the least.”

    “No.” Miller said. “Can’t risk anyone seeing us.”

    “Miller, no one’s gonna see some coals on the fire, they’ll see your goddamn red coat before then.” I said, and got up with my matchbox. Miller didn’t say anything, only hugged his book and hunched over.

    I got out the matches and pulled some kindling from under one of our tarps, it was still dry, and I was able to light it some. The bitch of it all was trying to light the wood that had sat out in the ice, as the freeze had given it some dampness, but after a couple minutes I got it going, and the wood began to smoke and curl, and blacken with it, and then I saw the orange of flame trickle about.

    “I thought you were just stoking coals.” Miller said, peaking around me at the small fire.

    “We’ve got time.” I said. “I’ll kick snow on it when we’re ready to go.”

    “We shouldn’t be risking ourselves like this.” Miller said.

    “Then maybe you should get rid of that damned red coat.” I said.

    “I made this coat.” He said.

    And I sighed. “I’m well aware.” And continued stoking the fire.

    Coffee was made quick. Didn’t taste all that good, but didn’t need to. I brought out two tin cups like little tin soldiers, they were both scuffed and marked, and through the scratches you could see their history, their victories and defeats. I suppose we were much like those tin cups; sitting in the cold, waiting to warm to victory.

    I poured my cup, and I poured Miller’s and I sat back and reached over to him and gave him the cup, he took it in both hands and cradled it closer than the book.

    “You ought to get some gloves.” I said.

    “Next time we’re in town.” He said.

    “That’s what you said at the last town.”

    “I forgot.” He said.

    And I huffed. “Well ain’t that rich?”

    “Rich coming from you.” He said, and took a sip of the coffee. “Christ, you can’t even pour a good pot.”

    “Well feel free to grind your own damn beans through this ice.” I said, and sipped on my coffee. The coffee wasn’t bad, Miller just liked to bitch.

    We passed our time as we do, me smoking and Miller reading, and after a while we got up, and I kicked snow over the fire and we headed down the hill towards the thick tree line. We had no horses with us, and brought little supplies as well; only enough that we wouldn’t miss abandoning, if it came down to it.

    We got to the tree line and stepped through, there was much underbrush that we had to push through. It was all covered in snow and frozen down, so all the trees and bushes were hung low and bent, and as we brushed past, the ice would break and slide off the plants and into the snow beneath. And as we stomped through, the snow would crunch and crack as it was much like ice from the night before. The sun was beginning to show through the trees, and that told us that they were coming.

    Through the trees came the clearing of the road, it was a small road, with hard ground packed hard, and on either side it dipped down into ditches that led along the tree line. We both crouched in the ditch and watched up the road and to the hills where we were expecting it. And not long after, we saw the steady bob and pull of truck coming towards us.

    “Alright, stick to the plan we got.” I said, and pushed Miller forward.

    “If I get run over, I’m shooting you.” Miller said.

    “You ain’t gonna get run over, just get out there.” I said.

    Miller walked out into the road, got down, and then sprawled out in the middle of the path, unmoving. I moved back into the tree line, and watched.

    The truck was jittering as its old tires ran along the uneven ground, and the tires turned every while as the truck slipped on the ice and tried to catch ground. It was an uneven and dangerous path, but if what we were told was true, the drivers in that truck were greenhorns, and they didn’t know that their best course of action was to run Miller over.

    The truck came closer and closer, and soon the headlights like eerie gas lamps shined down on Miller as he lay out in the road. His back was to them, but the red jacket shone back, and sure as I guessed, the brakes sounded with a shriek from a falcon, and the truck stopped, then idled as it watched the figure in the road.

    I waited there at the tree line, watching this scene and etching it into my mind like a damn painting. What were they waiting for? Then I got a bit paranoid. Were they radioing backup? And I started to look around, and felt my heartbeat pick up.

    Calm down, you damn fool. I told myself. There’s no backup in these mountains. And I took a deep breath, and watched the fog light from my mouth, and watched the truck.
    Soon after, I heard the click of a door handle, then saw the passenger door unsteadily open. I was on the driver side, so I couldn’t see him, but I saw the boots of a soldier step off the truck, and slowly come forward.

    And from behind the hood of the truck I saw a man in a grey trenchcoat, the standard for the army, step into the light of the truck. He had an old rifle in his hands, but had it pointed down, and he was taking slow steps toward the lying form of Miller. I could see his breath brighten and misten in the headlights, and the dark shadow of his face still as he stepped forward, and the he spoke.

    “Hello?” He said, and the form of Miller didn’t move.

    “Are you alright?” He called again, and still there was nothing. And I knew this was the time to move.

    The soldier stepped forward again, and as his feet came close to the body, peered over to see the face. At that moment the body stirred to life and the lying form of Miller spun about and grabbed hold of the soldier’s leg, but before the soldier could yelp Miller had twisted the leg and thrown the soldier to the ground. The two were grappling on the ice road. The driver saw all of this and was grabbing the stick and putting the truck in drive before my pistol found its way against his temple.

    “Hand off the stick, boy.” I said, and the driver slowly took his hand off.

    “Put those hands on the steering wheel.” I said, and he did.

    Then I opened the door fully, and I held onto one end and kept the old revolver pointed at his guts. “Step out.” I said.

    The driver slowly reached for the seatbelt buckle and let himself loose, then took a couple steps down and out of the truck. In the back, we could hear Miller and the soldier still struggling.

    “Just shoot him if you have to.” I called back. “He ain’t worth the trouble.”

    The soldier struggling with Miller must have heard that, and of course he did, because he stopped fighting at once and called out. “I surrender, I surrender!” Miller stood up with a shakiness and pulled out his pistol, and pointed it at the soldier.

    “Alright.” I said, and kept the pistol trained on the driver. “Turn around, we’re gonna see what you got.” And he turned around, and I patted him down. I didn’t find much; a pack of cigarettes, an oil lighter and a few quarters. I took most of the pack, but left about four in his pocket.

    “Where’s the papers?” I asked.

    “In the glove box.” The driver said, and I nodded.

    “Now,” I said. “You get on in that ditch.” I said, and gestured to the ditch at the side of the road.

    “Please, don’t do this.” The driver said, and started looking from the ditch to me.

    “Quit being a damn idiot.” I said. “Get in the ditch.” And he must have understood that, because he stepped down from the road, and slipped on the ice and fell into the ditch.
    “You searched the other one?” I called out.

    “Yeah.” Miller said, and the two were still in front of the truck’s headlights, lit up in yellow.

    “Alright, put him in the ditch, too.” I said, and climbed up the sidestep and into the truck. Miller guided the soldier forward and shoved him off the road. I put the truck in drive, and Miller climbed into the passenger seat. He closed the door, and I could feel it was toasty-warm inside.

    “Damn.” Miller said. “Can’t remember the last time I’ve used a heater.”

    “Enjoy it while you can.” I said, and brought the truck forward, and it puttered and went and we were off down the road, and in the mirror I could see the two soldiers coming out of the trench and watching us go.

    “Check the glove box.” I said.

    Miller opened it up, and there was a thick stack of papers. “Which one’s the documents?” He asked.

    “How the hell should I know?” I said. “Look through them.”

    And Miller started sorting through the papers, sitting the bunch of them on his lap and trying to hold them as the truck bounced along the ice road.

    After scrounging through the papers, he held up the documents. “Here they are.” He said.

    “What do they say?” I asked.

    And Miller read through them.” Taking the fuel from Monty to Peroa.” He said.

    “That’s not terribly far.” I said.

    “No, it’s not.” He said. “You think the next town will have an escort waiting?”

    “I doubt it.” I said. “They’re conserving right now, can’t afford using fuel on escorts. They’ve just gotta take the risk.”

    “Everyone’s taking risks these days.” Miller said.

    “That they are.” I agreed.

    It was a long drive out of the hills. The wind had picked up, and shook the truck fierce and strong, and the tires like weary dogs slipped on the road and caught themselves, but I felt it was only a matter of time before they didn’t catch.

    “You said that Ruskie is waiting outside town?” I asked, and kept a firm hand on the wheel. The truck was bucking with the uneven ground, and the metal cabin was groaning as the wind hissed around us.

    “That’s what he said.” Miller said. “Just outside town, by an abandoned gas station.”

    “Why in the hell would we do it there, and not out in the woods?” I asked.

    “I don’t know, maybe their trucks haven’t got off-road tires?” Miller thought.

    “Who in the hell drives without off-road tires these days?” I said. “They might as well just take the damn truck with them.”

    “You know that’s not gonna happen.” Miller said. “The truck’s too hot. They’re gonna transfer the fuel and set this thing to the torch.”

    “It’s a waste.” I said.

    “Of course it is.” Miller said. “But it beats being caught dead with this thing.”

    We were making headway, the hills beginning to slow the descent, and the land coming flatter to us. The looming trunks of pine and brush were now the heavy slumps of sunken bushes covered by the snow. And far ahead, even with the sun beginning to show on the horizon, we could see the sleeping town stirring. The orange lights of the homes dim in the early morning, but we were close, and when the town awoke, they would see a column of smoke in the distance, and nothing else of us.
    Last edited by BobtailCon; November 8th, 2018 at 05:09 AM.

  2. #2
    Hi Bobtail. Well, I see you have put some effort in this, but I must confess at being a little lost. Is this part of a bigger project? I don't really understand what is going on. Initially, the two men seemed a little hapless, sleeping rough and traveling as they can. Then it appears they do have an agenda after all, but I still don't know what it is.

    Formatting-wise there are some issues. Three specifically - the overuse of the word "and," commas, and incomplete sentences. Here's a sample of what I mean.

    Miller had a flat card that he flipped between his fingers. It was blank, and white, with a king crudely drawn onto it, and in the corner was the number one. Miller called it his lucky card, I always figured he was a fool. I brought out a smoke and matches.
    Just a suggestion on how it might read a little better: Miller held a card that he flipped between his fingers. It was white (it couldn't be "blank" if it had a picture on it) with a crude drawing of a king on it. It had a number one in the corner and Miller called it his lucky card. I brought out smokes and matches.

    I can see you are trying to create the dynamic between the two men, but it really falls a little flat because a lot of the verbiage is either irrelevant or makes no sense. Like your MC saying he thought Miller was a fool, but not saying why.

    Actually, though, I think the story might have promise if you can work on it and try to make it more meaningful to anyone who reads it. Some hint of why they are there in the beginning of the story would be helpful and maybe spend more time letting your readers actually see Miller and his critical companion.

    Good luck with this and keep working on it.
    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon is the only light we'll see
    No, I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
    Just as long as you stand by me.

  3. #3
    Hi Sue, thanks for the critique.

    I can understand being a little lost, this was a sort of free write I did, I agree it's confusing going from two men in the forest to a roadside ambush, I'll try to address that.

    As for the formatting, I do tend to fall on polysyndeton and a use of commas to give a vocal feel to the narration, and similar to your comment about the main character not reflecting on why Miller is a fool, I try not to fall on possible overuse of exposition, as I am very cautious with over-describing things. Perhaps you could let me know if the piece works better with this in mind? I know the piece is confusing, it feels like a longer piece cut mid-sentence, as that seems to be what it is at the moment.

    Thanks again.

  4. #4
    Bobtail, this is tricky business. I am plagued myself with providing way too much information, so I, too, am always vigilant about how much I share. It's like walking a fine line - you want to keep the interest, but also maintain an anticipation of what's to come.

    I still think the beginning needs more info, though, or at least clarification maybe. As far as keeping the thought process "conversational," I will confess that it took me a long time to realize that it is very difficult to write the way people actually talk. Unless you are attending a seminar with professional speakers, you will likely find a lot of incomplete sentences, pauses, breaks and "ums." Maybe you could have your MC (does he have a name?) internalize his thoughts, rather than thinking them. Lord, that sounds confusing. Here, this is what I mean.

    Miller had a flat card that he flipped between his fingers. It was blank, and white, with a king crudely drawn onto it, and in the corner was the number one.

    "It's my lucky card," he said.

    Fool, I thought. I brought out a smoke and matches.

    This may not be exactly what you want to say, but maybe you get the idea? Try to find different ways for the two men to communicate, without giving away a lot of information. Give us a feel for them, how they are. Does one talk too much? Are they secretive? Why are they together? What in the world are they planning, these two, out there in the middle of nowhere?

    Keep working on this, Bobtail. I'm beginning to like it a lot.
    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon is the only light we'll see
    No, I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
    Just as long as you stand by me.

  5. #5
    I like that advice, Sue. I'll look into that, and try to find a good balance of internalization and furthering the story. Thanks!

  6. #6
    Wow! Your story had me really engaged! I'd love to read more about these two!

    One thing that stuck out to me as needing work was the dialog tags. Commas should always be used before inserting "he/she/they said." Also, I think you use too many? Since most of the dialog is between the narrator and Miller, you don't always need to state who's speaking. The reader should mostly be able to follow along with sparse need for "I said/he said."

    Keep up the good work, though!!

  7. #7
    Thanks Smoppet!

    I'll try to watch the dialogue tags, it can be hard to determine how little or much you need.

  8. #8
    Bobtail: You have good control of the mechanics of writing. You did a good job of introducing and illustrating Miller, and letting us meet the narrator. It was a good rough.

    But where the story needs more is in the interactions between your 2 characters. Basically their conversations were boring. Spice it up, make their interactions fun, amuse the reader. Mebbe do something like Tremors (the interaction between Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward) where the lead characters are always messing with each other or settling their disputes with rock/paper/ stuff like that.

  9. #9

    I appreciate the advice, and I think you're right, the character interaction could use more personality.

  10. #10
    I see that others have commented on the opening line(s) but I had the same thought.

    Miller had a flat card that he flipped between his fingers. It was blank, and white, with a king crudely drawn onto it, and in the corner was the number one. Miller called it his lucky card, I always figured he was a fool. I brought out a smoke and matches.

    Sometimes, once an idea is sketched out, I find it useful to think of the various ways it could be ordered differently, illustrated more concisely, or stylized with a bit more flair. Your mileage will, invariably, vary.

    I fired up a smoke as that fool Miller flipped his lucky king of spades, which was really just a piece of white paper he'd scribbled a crude king's face and a number one in the corner, but who am I to argue.

    I brought out a match and handed him one, too.
    You had already brought them out, just prior to this.
    I’m not sure what to think about that.
    Missed opportunity for flavoring. "Pissed me off!" Or something like that. Dude jumped up and fell to his death on the stairs! Some kind of reaction could be useful to build the narrator's characterization.

    Miller didn’t say anything, only hugged his book and hunched over.
    Just a thought - these kinds of verbiage-heavy stage directions can be tiresome. "Miller turned away, hunched over his book." - We get more of a 'hmmph' - may not be what you were after but always look for places to do more than tell the reader what action a character is taking. Build in some subtle intentionality sometimes. Like when Miller says he made his coat. That's a quirky little detail that sticks, and gives the story some traction, making me want to read on to find out what temporal setting we are entering into, what other quirks Miller may have, and what factors drove him to either decide to make a coat or whatever. But I digress.

    This last bit of the story got a little confusing for me. Why were the soldiers going to torch the truck?

    “Who in the hell drives without off-road tires these days?” I said. “They might as well just take the damn truck with them.”

    “You know that’s not gonna happen.” Miller said. “The truck’s too hot. They’re gonna transfer the fuel and set this thing to the torch.”

    “It’s a waste.” I said.

    “Of course it is.” Miller said. “But it beats being caught dead with this thing.”
    I thought it was a good read, just needs a bit more spice and flavor. I think you have a bit more to flesh out, and hope to see you re-post.
    It all starts with a name and flows from there. A ridiculous moniker springs to mind and it launches like a multi-lubed slippery-sloop down chutes made of buttery-floops. Down, down, down. We watch, spellbound. Rapturous. Glockenspiel. We do our due diligence with penitence and penicillin. Do what’s due, then dew drops on your moon-pops.

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