Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Beginning 738

Ralph looked out across the pond from his seat on the swing. The summer afternoon was dying down. The sun was sinking below the hills and everything seemed to be cast in a dim orange light. He reached down, picked up a particularly smooth, flat stone. Then he stood up and tossed it across the pond. Ralph watched as it hit the surface of the pond several times before finally being dragged below the surface and creating a mosaic of ripples sprouting from that spot in the water. Ralph liked skipping stones. For some reason it helped him think. He supposed it had something do with the quiet of it all down here by the pond that cleared his mind.

Tonight, Ralph was down here because of the fight with his parents that had just occurred about ten minutes ago up in the house. Ralph grimaced, he could still hear his mother’s screams at him echoing in his head. There had been a lot of fights like this lately so Ralph thought he would have gotten used to it by now, but each one seemed worse than the last. The reason for all the screaming matches going on in the Stillwell house stemmed from Ralph’s lack of interest, attention, behavior, attendance, or really anything that required effort in school. His parents went berserk and screamed all kinds of things at him like how he was never going to be anything in life if he didn’t try in school and junk like that.

All the usual crap about how unfocused he always was, forever babbling repetitively about mundane details, taking forever to get to the gist of the matter. Over and over again she yelled at him like that; sometimes he thought she was going crazy, the way she carried on at the top of her lungs. And it wasn't getting any better. The next time would probably be worse. Just like at school, where his mind also tended to wander, the same as when his mother was berating him loudly. But Ralph had developed a way to deal with that, too, the same way he dealt with his mother's frequent shouting matches when she'd start dumping on him about his poor school work. Times like that he'd think about the pond, about just the right kind of rock, the ones that if you threw them across the water just right they wouldn't sink, but skim along making these really interesting wave patterns, and if you'd thrown it at just the right angle it might never stop, might go on skipping forever. That's what gave his thoughts direction, cleared away the distractions, let him zero in on the important matters, kept him from going off on the same old things over and over again. Like that stuff his mother was shouting at him about a few minutes ago, when all he could do was think about going down to the park and look for some of those rocks, you know, the ones that...

Opening: Ljmaleh.....Continuation: Paul Penna


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

Kudos to everyone for such funny continuations. Wish I could have chosen about five of them. In the end I rejected some for no reason other than they had similar punchlines to one of the other 700 New Beginnings.

He’d read about places where you could go where magical things happened and now that he was walking away from the swing, he could almost see where one was. It seemed there was a purple light from between the trees which entranced him. Then he remembered how his parents shouted at him for his lack of interest, attention, behaviour, or really anything that required effort in school, and he went back home remembering the mosaic of ripples by the pond he was particularly captivated by and ate several burgers he liked.


They didn't understand Ralph, didn't realize that four units a semester meant a whole hour of work every Tuesday. Sometimes even two hours if Ralph felt like doing the homework or the reading. It took too much time away from the important things in life, like nature. And sleeping.

Ralph straightened with a twist, feeling more at peace already as the sunset flared gold on stilling waters of the ponds. No, he wasn't worried. After all, if his parents hadn't kicked him out of the house yet at 28, what were the odds they'd do it tonight?

--Sarah from Hawthorne

Well, no more. Ralph sent another stone skipping across the pond. It sank inches from his parents' bodies, or rather from the old hot water heater he'd used to hold them. They'd paid no attention when he got the shotgun from the den, and now they were sunk into the ooze at the bottom of the pond.

Ralph picked up another stone. He was sixteen now, and no one could make him go back to the fifth grade. Yes, life was going to be good.


When he felt calm, he stood up from the swing and walked over to where mother and father were lying. Her eyes were open, and the ruddy sunlight covered the bruises on her throat and painted life back onto her cheeks. 'The magic hour', photographers called it, when the perfect light hid flaws and made everything luminous, ethereal.

It wasn't doing much for father. Even the day's last hour didn't have enough magic in it to undo what the fireplace poker had done. But it didn't matter now. The pond would wash it all away. A splash, some ripples, and then stillness.

Ralph filled their pockets with smooth stones. He folded his clothes neatly on the swing and carried father out until the water was chin deep, then pushed him away and watched him fall into darkness. Mother was easier to carry, but harder to let go of.

Afterwards, he sat on the swing until he was dry, listening to bats flicker through the night air. He thought about mother and father, which led to thoughts of school, of Mr. Livoti's sarcastic little jibes and Allison Carter's sneering silence. That upset him, so he found some smooth stones and skipped them until he was calm again.

The pond was so deep. He felt like he could throw stones for a hundred years and never fill it up.


Evil Editor said...

More unchosen continuations:

Ralph sighed again. Same tired tirades, same old arguments. "How, just tell me HOW do you expect to get into Harvard when you can't even stay inside the lines?!" Jesz, a kid can't get away with anything anymore; the abuse would never let up, a fact made more clear by the unvarying inclusion of wheat bread for his peanut-butter-and-jelly in his lunchbox.

Still, he knew he'd better get used to it. It's not like the old days when he was in preschool, or even last year in pre-K. This was Kindergarten, so he'd been reminded, and it was time to grow up.

--Panda Rosa

But Ralph had his own plans, his own dreams, and he didn't need a diploma from some idiotic high school to follow them. Maybe someday his parents would understand that he had to follow a different path. When he brought home that World Stone-Skipping Championship trophy, maybe they'd see their son in new light.


Of course, he couldn't be sure of exactly what his parents said. Mostly he just tuned them out and let his thoughts drift away to the grassy knoll by the pond. There he had hidden away his fashion magazines, his button collection, his first attempt at a vest. He had never confessed his goal to become a famous haberdasher. All his parents cared about were his high school education. As if that were important. He could never forgive his mother and father for using an Australian slang word for his name. Now was the time to get away. As the sun's last rays of light dimmed, Ralph gathered up his precious belongings, sticking his measuring tape in his pocket and his needle behind his ear, and set off down the dirt road, towards freedom and men's clothing.


But his mother's screams that stemmed from Ralph's lack of interest, behavior, and pizza did nothing to sooth his depression. Ice cream might have done the trick, that or brownies, or brownies and ice cream but all he had were rocks and you can't eat those, not without chipping a tooth.

Ralph jumped into the pond, skipping himself right into the afterlife.


Someday, though, they'd understand. It didn't take a degree to be the world's best stone-skipper.


Ralph shrugged, picked up another stone from the shore. A big flat one. He rubbed moss off of it with his thumb, turning it green, got a good grip on it, tossed it toward the pond. The stone bounced off the surface a couple times, wobbled in the air, and cut below the surface with barely a splash.

Instead of fading away, the ripples got bigger and stronger. Ralph stared as the concentric circles burst into a broil of bubbles. From the center of the disturbance, a huge crocodile emerged, Ralph's big stone balanced precariously on its head. Before he could decide to watch or run, the giant reptile lunged from the water and swallowed the boy whole.

Turns out Ralph was right. Trying hard at school would have been a waste of time.


Evil Editor said...

The chosen continuation has done my job for me. The first paragraph is too detailed for the skipping of a stone. The second is wordy and repetitive. The whole 2nd paragraph could be reduced to: Ralph was down here because of yet another fight with his parents about his lack of effort in school.

As an experiment, try cutting the first paragraph to three sentences and tacking that one-sentence 2nd paragraph onto the end of it.

As a second experiment, try starting with the argument. Letting us observe the argument is almost always better than reporting that it happened ten minutes ago.

angela robbins said...

as ee said, the continuation says it all (and then again!). pare this down.

Dave Fragments said...

"went berserk and screamed"
I don't have a clue about the age of this child. If he's 8, 10 or 12, then their behavior is puzzling. Because at that age, disruptive kids usually don't break up a family.
Now if he's 15/16 and smokes and drinks, runs with the bad crowd, then I can see him being the cause of a divorce.

However, usually when parents "went berserk and screamed" that means one or the other has found a third and they are taking their betrayals out on the kid.

If you compared the ripples from the skipping stones to the hurt and doubts from his parents fighting, That might work.

If you had Ralph seeking solace from the yelling and the Lady of the Lake rises up and declares Ralph the new Arthur. That might work.

The Loch Ness monster could appear just as reasonably as some wise sage of an uncle appear and comfort Ralph. That might work.

BTW - This is a much used metaphorical scene. Bodies of water are used for peaceful fishing images, calming skipping stone images, restful retreat images, soulful confessions of past sins, crimes, loves and more. The reader is expecting something significant and different when you set this scene.

Dickson said...

I always yell all the day... :)

Mother (Re)produces. said...

I think it could benefit from more specific detail, too. (I don't mean more of them, I mean 'specificker.') Author tells us again and again about the screaming, and that she went berserk. What did she scream? What *exactly* did she do? Each one seems worse. Why? What did she do/say this time? Last time?

vkw said...

Yep, need to trim.

Another thing to consider is the author isn't very confident about her/his subject.

everything seemed; should be - everything was

a particular smooth, flat stone; should be - picked up a flat stone

finally being dragged; should be - disappeared, was dragged or sunk

for some reason; should be - It helped him think

He supposed; should be - skipping stones cleared his mind

Ralph thought; should be - Ralph knew he should be used to it by now

but each one seemed worse than the last; should be - the fights were getting worse

Don't be so tentative. You are the god in this book. You get to decide if something is or is not. You don't have to guess; but you do have to show the reader what is going on and convince the reader what is going on.

Tentative verbage distances your reader from the characters and plot. We don't have confidence that you know what you are writing about.

I'm going to read a novel where the author is absolutely convinced that if one walked into the right wardrobe they will end up in Narnia and it is a real place with a Lion and a Witch. I believe in Hobbits not because I've seen one but because Tolkien convinced me they were real.

I'm not going to read a novel where the author is not really sure what is going on.

And . . . err, just a thought why are the parents complaining about school in the summer? Is he is summer school because that adds a bit of explanation that should be emphasized.

I mean if he is summer school, we've gone from 'your grades suck and your not getting into Harvard' to 'if you don't friggin pass this class this summer you're not going to graduate and you're going to end up living in a trailer by the river and you better not be expecting me to help you out.'

none said...

Okay, now you have your character and your situation, so you can scrape this and start again with a scene :).

Anonymous said...

hey it's the author here.
Thanks for all the constructive criticism but most of you it seemed were criticizing the continuation not my piece. Like Dave F. for example, his parents aren't getting a divorce i don't know where you got that from plus in my third paragraph it says that he's 16, not attending school, and is drinking but the third paragraph was after the word cut for this so that's why you're confused.
Thank you extremely much to vkw: your advice was i think the most helpful. I didn't realize i was doing that tentative stuff and you're so right i'm definitely gonna fix that. Also its funny because i didn't even realize that i said it was summertime when its obviously a school time for this kid, i can't believe you were the 1st one to catch that.
thanks ee i'm definitely gonna try to cut it down.

none said...

I meant 'scrap' of course not 'scrape'. There's nothing here to work with. Start again.

_*rachel*_ said...

You're trying too hard. Skipping stones and parents fighting are things we know about already; I feel like you could get the majority of this across in 3-4 sentences tops.

There are a few sentence structure things that are bothering me. Nothing that's outright wrong, I think, but a couple places where it sounds like you've got clauses that don't quite fit together in the right way. Try simplifying your structure when you cut, and see if it sounds better.

batgirl said...

The mosaic of ripples puzzled me. Mosaics are made of little pieces of stone or tile glued together. Ripples are continuous glossy ridges of water.

Oh well, it's all part of life's rich tapestry, I guess.