The Eye of the Heron (a short fiction story)
Ego, What Ego?
Below is an excerpt of a comment I received recently on one of my short fiction stories:
"The writing is good but this doesn't really qualify as a short story. You leave too much open space at the end. You want the reader to surmise the conclusion, and this is dangerous territory. You are dealing with a life or death issue, so you have to be brave enough, courageous enough to spell out the conclusion. The whole concept is a bit overwrought and not very realistic, but even shoving this part aside, you really messed up with how your story ended. You cannot suppose that your audience consists of mind-readers... You have the seed for a real story but you shrink from it. Being a good short story writer requires a kind of boldness, an ability to avoid being coy and rely upon the merits of your writing talent to deal with one of the hardest aspects -- a satisfactory conclusion... you have a good command of the English language, so I read the entire piece. I didn't like it. Having a command over the English language does not equate with having a gift for storytelling. You need to take some classes or at least listen to a few audio books on the subject of creative writing. You do much, much better with your poetry, and this is admirable. .. Good short story writing is on a par with writing poetry -- it's damn difficult. So while I appreciate your ability to use language to establish mood and character -- these things alone don't constitute a satisfactory short story... Consider this as a mixed review. You clearly have writing talent, a great command of the language, but you aren't a storyteller (in my estimation) at least not yet. I think you should just hone in on your ability to create poetry (no small feat) and abandon short story writing."
Constructive criticism is necessary to make us grow as writers and continue to improve
Make Negative Advice Work for You
Admittedly this comment was about one of the very first short stories I ever wrote, probably 35 years ago for an assignment in a Writing Course I was doing at the time. I dug it out of my old files, dusted it off and updated it a little before publishing it as a hub.(Ding Dong! Avon Calling)
I am not trying to denigrate the commenter. Constructive criticism is necessary to make us grow as writers and continue to improve. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to review my work and offers advice, so for this I thank you, and it also inspired me to write another story.
I did invite this commenter to read one of my more recent short fiction stories and critique if he thought my writing had improved, but as far as I know he hasn't done so.
Anyway, this comment certainly did put a little dent in my ego. Maybe I was wrong to think my story good enough to put out there for others to read. I started to doubt myself and subsequently mentioned this when commenting on a short story written by another hubber and said I would probably take the advice provided and concentrate purely on writing poetry this year.
This fellow hubber (Mike) made me see some sense. He said after all the thousands of positive comments I have received on my writing why was I letting one negative comment affect me? He more or less suggested I get back on the horse that threw me but in other words advising me the best thing to do was write more short fiction stories.
Actually, I do tend to rebel whenever I'm told I can't do something, so that along with Mike's advice has resulted in this story. It's also a genre that I've never tried before, so I found it a challenge. Once again, as all my hubs so far this year, it is based on the title of an Ursula Le Guin book.. "The Eye of the Heron." It took me some time to decide how to use this title.
The Eye of the Heron
Journal Entry: Thursday 21 January 2016
My name is James Heron. Jim Bird or Jimmy Bird to my friends. In my circle anyone who's anybody is given a nickname or alias as some like to say. Some are just plays on words and obvious like mine, others not so much. Take my friend Leonard P. Reynolds Jr. aka. Little Lenny.
Little Lenny is 6'5" tall and weighs 280lb. He got that monicker as a kid because his dad, Leonard P. Reynolds Sr was called Big Lenny, and he's still alive and kicking. I guess it fits anyway, the same way Little John from "Robin Hood" fits.
Anyway, enough about Lenny. I am writing this just as a personal record for myself and to record recent events that I can't reveal publicly or even to my friends and family.
Overall I would describe my life as quite mundane. I am 30 years old, still single, and dating a supermodel (but only in my dreams). I don’t come from money, nor do I have much of my own. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, nor do I have a silver tongue. I am no celebrity and my parents aren't famous. I'll never get my picture on the cover of Time magazine or The Rolling Stone. Nor will I win the Pulitzer Prize for literature or the Nobel Peace Prize.
But I do have an ability that even I don’t fully understand: I see evil where it lurks. So, in my own way, I have decided to make my mark. Sometimes I feel I have been chosen for this.
I'm not sure how to describe my - um - special ability, but I'll do my best. I sense - no - see evil. Nightmares have tormented me since childhood. My parents even took me to see a shrink for almost a year but that didn't help at all. It wasn't until, in adulthood that I began to realise these dreams have some sort of other-worldly connection.
Sometimes I dream of murders or other acts of violence. Occasionally these dreams occur before the event and may recur until I hear or read about the tragedy in the news. Other times they happen weeks, months or even years afterwards. It seems I am prompted to either try to prevent the act, or solve a cold case and identify the perpetrators.
But it's not only dreams that speak to me. I feel people's auras - it's as if I can sense the presence of evil and what's about to occur. I see things too, small reddish creatures, with big heads, mouths and bellies, that appear before impending violent or catastrophic events.
No one else sees them. Or so I thought, until I encountered an elderly Aboriginal man while visiting Kakadu National Park. He was my guide and we were walking by a river when a group of these small red creatures appeared from nowhere.
My guide, Albert, suddenly became very nervous, pointing and whispering "Beware Yarama, spirit creatures! Them fellas seek blood, like vampire." Suddenly, a huge crocodile launched itself four feet out of the water, clamping its massive jaws around Albert's torso and dragged him under. I stared in shock for a moment, then retreated quickly up the river bank. The Yarama laughed gleefully at the tragedy before disappearing.
Yesterday: Wednesday, 20 January 2015 (9:45pm)
I was about to close up the bottle shop (liquor store) "The Thirsty Camel" where I work the night shift. A customer came in just as I was closing down shop. If you can judge a person's occupation by his appearance I would guess an accountant, bank teller, or office clerk - black trousers, white shirt, tie. But there was something else; he appeared to be nervous. His late night trip to a liquor store was outside his normal behavior
I wondered what someone like him was doing out on the town at this time of night. Maybe he'd just come from a failed business dinner, or found out his wife left him and was looking for alcohol to drown his sorrows. My mind works overtime, but I was probably wrong on all counts - looks can be deceiving.
Besides, he wasn't alone. Two ghostly red figures slipped through the door after him. Although only I could see them, more Yarama appeared as my customer approached the service counter.
The hairs on my arms stood up. I didn't know if this man was about to commit some violent act or he was about to become a victim, but the Yarama's presence indicated something horrific was imminent.
.. four figures appeared from nowhere, if nowhere's a dark alley
He asked for a bottle of Jack Daniels which I fetched from the shelf and placed into a bag. I had already balanced the day's accounts, so I pocketed the $50 bill he handed me and gave him change from my own wallet. I made myself a mental note to reconcile the till in the morning.
I closed up immediately after the man walked out (still surrounded by the Yarama, hovering like vultures) and followed him along Brunswick Street, at a distance and careful not to be seen.
As he turned the corner into Wickham Terrace, four figures appeared from nowhere, if nowhere's a dark alley. The overhead streetlight must have been faulty because it was barely illuminated.
From my vantage point in the recesses of a doorway two buildings away I determined that the figures were youths, two white and two black. I am no hero, and I watched helplessly but intently as they surrounded the man. He pleaded with them and offered up the bag containing the bourbon he had just purchased. "Please don't hurt me. Here, take this. I shouldn't be drinking anyway."
"I think you have a lot more than just a bottle of Jack," one of the gang members said as he removed the bottle from the bag. "You look like a money man to me." They all laughed.
Then I saw a quick glint of light on metal as one youth thrust forward. Seconds later the victim doubled over and staggered to the pavement as if in slow motion.
The youths took turns at stabbing the prone man over and over, then one began rifling through his pockets. Removing a fat wallet he held it up, fanning it open so that his associates could see the impressive bounty.
As blood pooled on the pavement one gang member kicked the body to see if there was any sign of movement. Then they moved on, passing around the bottle of JD, as though it was just another night on the town. Meanwhile the Yarama, that had been watching intently, moved in on the bloody corpse. Once the attackers had gone I stepped out of the doorway and dialled 000 (Australia's emergency number) while following in the direction they had taken. "Mugging on the corner of Wickham Terrace and Brunswick St. Looks serious," is all I said and hung up, before the operator could question me or ask for my details.
I knew from experience the police would spend more time questioning me than actually investigating the crime. Oh, if the guy was dead they would conduct a basic investigation, depending upon who he was .. but it was highly unlikely they would catch the offenders.
Besides, how would I explain why I was following the guy? Cops have trouble taking me seriously and treat me as some kind of loony when I tell them I see things, or can sense when a violent act is about to happen.
Whoever or whatever bestowed this gift on me obviously wants me to act on it. However, if that means taking matters into my own hands, so be it. We are all put on this earth for a reason - right?
The bottle I had stuffed in my shoulder bag slapped against my hip as I increased the size and speed of my steps to avoid losing sight of the assailants. It seems they had suddenly decided to stretch the distance between themselves and the crime scene. The sound of an approaching police siren may have also helped spur that decision.
The quartet entered a run-down two story apartment about four blocks away from the crime scene. It may have at one time been called a townhouse, but that sounded too trendy and no longer seemed to fit given the current state of the joint.
There were two heavy stone planter pots at either side of the front steps. Probably having once held a couple of impressive trees, maybe palms, but now long since dead from lack of water or care.
I waited a few minutes, surveying the street to ensure there were no witnesses. Then with some effort managed to maneuver one of the pots against the front door. That should bar anyone from escaping through the most obvious exit.
Removing the bottle of 151 Bacardi from my bag, I unscrewed the lid. Then I took a handkerchief from my jeans pocket and soaked it in the rum before stuffing the damp fabric into the neck of the bottle.
A movement caught my eye. I turned to see a number of Yarama gathering excitedly around the outside of the apartment. I took that as a sign that my plan was likely to succeed.
Ignoring their evil ranting I picked up a brick from the ground at the side of the crumbling building. Then I threw it, with all my strength, at a ground floor window, smashing it. Quickly, I lit the molotov cocktail and also tossed it through the broken window, before beating a hasty retreat from the scene.
Crime in this city is out of control and the authorities seem helpless to curb it.
Watching from a 24 hour coffee shop about a block away and on the other side of the street, I sipped a cappuccino. First clouds of smoke, then flames filled the skylight as they engulfed the building. The noise of sirens drowned out all other sounds.
I sent a text to my friend Little Lenny to see if he wanted to meet me here for a late night coffee. I knew I wouldn't be getting to sleep for hours.
I felt satisfied that once again, I had done my bit towards restoring the balance. An eye for an eye, so to speak, or courtesy of The Eye of the Heron (that's how I refer to my special gift, or maybe it's really a curse).
Thursday, 21 January 2016
The headlines across the news media the next morning read as follows:
Fortitude Valley Fire Claims Four Lives
Fire investigators and forensic detectives are trying to ascertain the cause of a fire that engulfed a Wickham Terrace apartment last night.
Four bodies have been recovered but as yet no firm identification has been made. Police are not ruling out arson as a cause of the fire.
Honest Critique Welcome
I know this was a long hub and I'd like to thank everyone who has read it all the way through.
As I am constantly striving to improve my writing in all forms I would be pleased if you would leave honest comments below. It doesn't matter whether they are positive or negative, but if negative I would appreciate you giving some advice of where or how the story could be improved. A big thank you to Ann Carr (anmart) for the suggestion that lead to the postscript being added.
Thank you all,
© 2016 John Hansen
More by this Author
This short adventure story is my response to a writing challenge. I also read a recent article that said there was a lack of short fiction available with skiing as the theme. So here goes.
This is a continuation of "Maureen's Story" that appeared in my hub "How to Construct a Short Story Using One Sentence as a Prompt"
Previously I wrote a poem called "If I Could Write a Love Poem." It was very well received and even selected to turn into a song that was recorded on an album by Tally Koren. This is the sequel.