Throughout August (and a little beyond), Writer in Motion is challenging writers to write a <1000 word story based on a prompt, and I’m taking part! If you want to find out more about Writer In Motion, click here.
So I got a little confused about the rounds of edits. I’m not sure if there are meant to be 2 revision rounds or three across this week and next. However, as I’m also trying to wrap up edits on my book, so I’m only doing rounds.
My first reaction when thinking about editing this was how do you structurally edit short fiction? A first edit is always structural – which either bloats or drastically reduces word count. And I need to trim off a third of all words.
I’m used to long form fiction, to critically examining over 120k words of plot and seeing where the holes are, where needs more explanation. I replot then redraft to pull it into line with the new plot.
But this doesn’t have plot in the same way. It’s not a series of scenes and chapters following plot lines that weave together. It’s one scene, following one idea. I had absolutely no idea how to adapt my process, how you start structural edits. So I gave it to a bunch of friends and went back to finishing off my novel’s edits.
Luckily, they seemed to like it – said the second half was the more emotional, so to focus in on that and trim the first half. There were very few chunks of any real size they suggested cutting, so it became a matter of just going through again and again to trim away a word here, rearrange a phrase there, slowly bringing the word count down and hoping I hadn’t gutted it emotionally.
Structurally, the biggest thing I’ve done is add a scene break. It felt like a natural pause, so I made it one.
It’s not quite down to 1k yet (1089 words), but it’s almost there, and I have another round to go, so this is good enough for now.
CW: grief, loss
Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink
You approach the cabin with the setting sun. It’s always setting on arrival; a place frozen in time, needing witnesses to fall back into the march of hours, days, seasons.
Thighs cramping from the long climb, you pause. Sun on your back, air chill with approaching night, shadow lengthening before you, darkening the gorse.
The cabin is dirty gold, squatting among blue and green. Dark green plants, duck-blue hills, grey-blue sky. Time weathers its concrete sides like a toddler’s inescapable handprints. The shutters, once a bright red, are dull maroon mottled with pale wood where it’s been repaired.
You trudge the last fifty meters, feet acting on instinct. The lock rusts as you fight it. Shoulder the creaking door open and sling your bag onto the bed. The springs squeak in faint protest, too tired to complain.
One worn concrete floor, four concrete walls tacked with faded pictures of family. A corrugated metal roof rising and falling in frozen waves. Noisy when the rain comes. You’re not sure you’ll notice. A table and some rickety chairs, an empty water filter and no tap. There’s a spring somewhere about – you’ll deal with that tomorrow. Wooden shelves carrying dusty tin mugs and battered plates.
That’s it. No sheets, no curtains – nothing soft. But it’s quiet. No one asking how you are, if you want anything, their well-meaning thoughts drowning out your own, deafening in their persistence.
You trudge back out, open the little shed and peer at the generator. There’s a full jerry can of petrol, like uncle promised. You tip some in and cough at its sharp smell. Look for a switch, tug the cord, turn a few dials then yank again. It rumbles to life.
A few sleeping bags lie in the drawers under the bed. They smell fusty, but you make a nest, shuck your bra, glasses onto a shelf, and climb in. Single bed – good. Did you ever bring–?
You stop the thought. Turn to face the wall so you can’t see the empty room.
It’s the cold that wakes you, and the pressure on your bladder. You grab a jumper, stuff your feet into boots, stumble to the outhouse – a wooden bench over a hole in the ground. You should wash – that’s what people do – but that means trekking the next valley over for water. Cousin’s been talking about laying pipes to bring water but Ti– You stop again. Can’t think the name.
Now what? You’re not hungry – you forgot to pack food.
You dig through your bag, a random assortment of clothes. Your phone winks sleek and grey, but you forgot the charger and the socket dangles from the wall. No signal anyway and the point was to get away, a respite from sympathy you can’t handle. The family didn’t think you should come alone – they want you close, in hug-reach.
Your finger hovers over the power button, but you stop. The orange edge of a ticket pokes out the case. Dad set an alarm to ensure you leave on time. If you don’t get catch the right train, they’ll send out search parties, never trust you alone again. So you turn it onto airplane mode and stuff it away.
A few old books sit on a shelf, colours bleached from the spines, pages yellow and sagging. Bird-watching books and a bible. Better than nothing. You drag the old rocking chair out into a tree’s shade. It’s windy today so you cocoon yourself in a sleeping bag.
Rolling hills misted in grey undulate as far as you can see. Sun behind you, sky pale blue. A few birds wheel overhead, swooping and diving in pairs. You drift off.
When you wake, the sun is overhead, mist burnt off and shade gone. You might be too warm, but you can’t tell.
There’s a head bobbing up the slope. A man, a bit older than dad, with stout boots and thick trousers. You know him – you know everyone in the hamlet– but you can’t recall his name. He smiles, that soft, sad smile everyone’s been giving you. “Hello,” he says gently. “How are you?”
How can you be anything when you’re missing half of you? Feels like more – like everything but this little sliver keeping you going whether you want to or not.
“We were so sorry to hear it. So young.”
You can’t muster your own smile. Lips won’t bend. Can’t find the words – haven’t found a suitable response in the last three weeks. So long already?
He nods awkwardly, then removes an obnoxiously lurid pink coolbag from his backpack. “I brought food. Marjorie made sure to include potatoes pasty – your favourite.”
Your family probably asked him to check on you, come every day.
When it becomes clear you have nothing to offer, he sets the bag down and goes home.
A dry throat drags you from the cocoon and you open the food parcel. You ignore the paper-wrapped objects and Tupperware, but down half the apple juice before realising what you’re doing. It’s too warm, so you chuck the sleeping bag on the grass, hoodie following. Move the chair into the shade and fetch the water container. Once it’s cooler, you’ll get water and eat this evening.
Sit back in the chair and grab a book. Open it randomly – psalms – pages wafer-thin and slippery under your fingers.
Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink into the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.
There’s more, but you can’t go on. Not when it speaks exactly of the tides lapping over your head, the dull weight dragging you under and stealing your air. A splodge of water on the paper, turning it transparent. Another tear follows and suddenly it’s a blur of black and white as you sob. You cried when you first heard, and then at the funeral – more water pushing you under. This time… it just comes. Doesn’t add, doesn’t diminish. Just expresses something that numbness can’t.
The sun lowers and you close the bible. There’s more – much more – beyond the desperate cry. But you can’t read it now. You get to your feet and pick up the water carrier instead. It’s only the other side of the hill and then you can nibble that pasty.
Maybe tomorrow you’ll read a little further. Maybe it will take a few days, weeks, until you reach the next verse. Not today, though, but it will come.
Read the rest of this series:
- WEEK 1 – Thoughts on Prompt
- WEEK 2 – First Draft
- WEEK 4 – Second Revision
- WEEK 5 – Final Draft
- WEEK 6 – Reflections
The Bible verses used above are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.