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  1. #1
    Brandon Cleveland

    A short story for your pleasure ... (feel free to critique/bash) 1k words, more if you want

    "So who's the ranking officer, now?" Private Lewis asked. He repeatedly had to move a branch imbued with long, thin leaves from his face.

    The three soldiers perplexed in the hot and humid Vietnamese jungle were without a compass, map, or Captain. To the dismay of the survivors, they were destroyed in a suicide attack, something all soldiers had a hard time getting used to.

    Their regime was of the United States Marine Corps, who until that day, prided themselves on their instinct to survive. The soldiers' mission was simple: to relocate their camp across the jungle to add support to the American forces losing handfuls of soldiers by the day.

    Less than two miles into their expedition, the soldiers ran across a female draped in what resembled an old potato sack; who stood expressionless in the middle of the dirt road. Repeated attempts by the soldiers to sway the woman from her position went ignored - and in fact, she did the opposite - and began walking toward the Americans, whispering in her native tongue. Michaels pointed the rifle at the woman's chest and pulled the trigger three times at close range. The first hit her in the right shoulder; the second in the neck; and the third - her heart.

    Unfortunately, Lieutenant Michaels - then ranking officer and carrier of the map and compass - had no way of seeing the tubes of dynamite strapped to her chest, hidden under the villager's sack dress.

    The detonation wiped out the Lieutenant and four others, leaving nothing of them but scattered rags, charred bits of meat and broken bone, and quite the mess.

    For the next hour following the incident, the survivors hid silently in the bushes, hesitant to leave, irresolute concerning who or what else hid in the thickness of the jungle's denseness. Their hope was that the Viet Cong assumed that the human bomb had destroyed all the Americans on the road.

    In the large scope of things, the surviving soldiers were considered grunts. Lance Corporal Jamison Dickens had outclassed the other two soldiers, who were privates and relatively new to the war. It was clear that Dickens was their best chance of leading them out of their situation - he had been on tour twice as long as the other two. He had good reason to not speak up and take charge.

    He knew the jungle well; much better than his
    comrades, and he had served in Vietnam since 1964. There were things that went unmentioned among the soldiers about that war, including the demons and burdens that were carried in the chest of many who had spent extended periods of time in the country.

    It was 1965 when he began the habit of smoking opium for recreation; and in 1967, he move on to heroin; the drug he felt convinced was the only thing that kept him sane throughout the years in that high stress environment. Halfway through '65, like many, his heroin use had become a full blown addiction.

    When Dickens first entered the war, there was a sense of purpose among all the soldiers; but as the years went on and he witnessed so many acts of senseless brutality, he lost sight of what the fight was about.

    During his time there, he had been instructed by his superiors - with some orders that some alleged were direct from Washington - to do many things that he felt were inhumane. It included orders to burn villages down, destroy enemy used roads, and more times than he liked to think about: to kill everything on sight. Among other atrocities, he remembered the pain and the smell as he and his comrades dug mass graves for women and children killed by American warplanes that napalmed whole Vietnamese settlements.

    He couldn't blame the villagers for reacting the way they did, because to them, everyone in military issued dress was the enemy; and on the flip side, every yellow skinned fisherman or NLF outfitted native was a potential threat, and they were meant to be dealt with lethally.

    The cycle was vicious - and in the eyes of many - there was no viable end in sight. It was the summer of 1968, and though he wasn't aware of all the happenings back home, he knew it was the election year. Dickens hoped that whoever would assume office would make the right decision and pull out of the mess that used to be the Vietnam War.

    He remembered the stories his father told him about World War II, and the feeling of glory that followed the liberations of the concentration camps and the preservation of the civilized world. That was the reason he joined the Marines - to get a sense of that which his father experienced and to do him proud, something he struggled with most of his life.

    But Vietnam was a different type of animal than that of which his father fought in. The Germans, Italians and Japanese - based on what his father told him - didn't hide in trees or strap bombs to unassuming children or elderly women.

    There was no justification in his mind for the horrible acts that he committed, even if he were just following orders. Why God suffered him to live after what he had done had baffled him. But when he sat and thought about it, his punishment was worse than death. Between the nightmares, heroin addiction and living the rest of his life knowing what he had done, his life was hellish.

    There were times when he wondered if he had been shot and killed in action already, and he was living in Hell, unable to die and fighting a war that was without end.

    Rumors of the behavior of veterans once back home didn't give him comfort either. Doctors didn't have a term for it, but those who spent a lot of time in the jungle just couldn't adapt to normal life and usually met their end at a mental ward.

    He could feel the sickness of the oncoming withdrawal in his stomach, and without a fix, he'd be worthless to his comrades. If he ran the risk of allowing one of the two survivors to lead them out of the jungle, there was a strong possibility that they would end up in the hands of the Viet Cong, or something worse, if it existed. He knew he had to speak up.

  2. #2
    Persephone Hallow

    Re: A short story for your pleasure ... (feel free to critique/bash) 1k words, more if you want

    A lot happens in a very short space of time Brandon, even for a short story. The description is good, but so far I can only see it as a piece of narrative writing or as an outline to your story. Down to 'Their hope was that the Viet Cong assumed that the human bomb had destroyed all the Americans on the road.' would make a good introduction, but the rest follows on far too quickly for a story. Nice story, good description - it just feels like the bones need fleshing out a bit more.

    As guidelines for older reader children's books reccommend up to 45,000 words as a full novel, perhaps you should consider this when writing your story - you can afford to spare a few more words!

    Other wise, I really like it, so keep me posted on the developments.


  3. #3
    Joe Zeff

    Re: A short story for your pleasure ... (feel free to critique/bash) 1k words, more if you want

    You lost me as soon as I found out that these marines didn't know who their current commanding officer is. In any military outfit, one of the first things you learn is the chain of command, and who takes over when the CO is out of action. The only -- only -- reason there might be a question is if the asker isn't certain who's still alive and able to exercise command.

  4. #4
    Brandon Cleveland

    Re: A short story for your pleasure ... (feel free to critique/bash) 1k words, more if you want

    "Do you know if any of their ammo is salvageable?" Dickens asked the two soldiers. "I mean, I didn't hear any rounds explode in that blast. But ..."

    "Gosh, I don't know," Lewis whispered. "But good luck finding anything." He pointed to a spot high in the tree above them, where a large piece of an military issued helmet dangled from a branch. "Something tells me that what we have on us is all we'll be able to work with."

    Dickens pulled himself to his feet and ordered the remaining two to follow suit. He knew that if they could get moving towards camp before night fell, they may survive the day. On the other hand, if they couldn't beat the darkness, their only option would be stay the night in the jungle, a probable death sentence. Even if they survived the night, Dickens knew the withdrawal symptoms would make him useless for at least a day and a half, and that was after they woke up.

    "I'm going to assume that we're about a two hour hike from the our destination," Dickens said as he checked his ammunition clip. "And it's like this: we have no radio, no compass, no map and we're in an extremely hostile territory."

    "And no cigarettes," Jorgensen added in.

    Private Jeremiah Jorgensen was fresh out of high school and new to the jungle. He was a car thief by trade and was quite decent at doing it, until like most criminals, he was eventually caught.

    Unfortunately for him, the prosecution tied him to several related crimes in the area. The presiding judge offered him the choice of the state penitentiary or to join the army.

    After what he saw in just the few months he spent in the jungle, he wished he had been given the option to rethink his decision. The courts offered him up to a year and a half, state time, but in his naivety, figured he would spend a year across the water and come back home a hero. It had already been two years, and life for him was miserable.

    He missed his friends and family, who he sometime wrote, though he never received anything in return. He didn’t know if the government censored the mail and refused to deliver leftist messages, or if no one cared enough to respond. He knew his friends weren't the type to write anything, and he had treated his family poor during the precious time he spent with them. He lived selfishly, and he wouldn't blame them for their lack of reaction to his letters.

    “No one cares about any darn cigarettes,” Lewis snapped back. “Get your mind out of the dang gutter and get serious, you hear?” As his accent dictated, Lewis was from the deep south of Alabama, in a poor community that just got electricity twenty years shy of 1970.

    Dickens was from Philadelphia, and before his first tour in Vietnam, he figured that everyone from the south was backwards. He was aware of the whole Civil Rights fiasco that plagued the US before he went to Vietnam, and he never really understood why those in the south were so adamant about keeping the blacks from voting and limiting their rights. He knew, of course, that people in New England had similar attitudes towards blacks, though he always thought the south just absolutely hated the idea of blacks and being equal. Dickens knew a few black fellows from boot camp, and he didn't think they were bad guys at all. He liked to think of himself as an equal opportunist, but he wasn't the type to march for their rights.

    But Lewis didn’t fall into the typical southern stereotype, and Dickens felt he was pretty down to Earth as far as people went. Lewis always talked about God and his graces, while he treated everyone with respect; even if they didn’t live up to God’s standards. It was no secret that Dickens was hooked on heroin, but it was never talked about, a surprise – especially from a Bible thumper like Lewis.

    They hadn’t walked more than three miles when Dickens put his hand up, silently commanding his squad to stop. “Watch your step, I remember this spot,” Dickens whispered. He had performed recon missions in the same area some years prior, and it was a known spot for enemy laid booby traps.

    “Well that means we’re close to camp, right?!” Jorgensen said, too loud for Dickens’ and Lewis’ comfort.
    Dickens shushed Jorgensen, which Jorgensen saw as a sign of disrespect.

    “Hey man, screw you,” Jorgensen shot back at Dickens. “You aren’t really anything to me, man. You’re just a freaking junkie who got lucky because the rest of the damn ranking officers were killed.” He offered Lewis a proposition.

    “If you want to stay in this jungle and die, feel free to follow this –,” he began to say until Lewis cut him off.
    “Watch your mouth, boy,” he whispered to Jorgensen, speaking as if Dickens wasn’t there. “You think I’m a follow you over this man right here? Boy, you got another thing comin’.”

    Jorgensen wasn’t in the mood to listen to anyone else but himself. “Screw both of you then. Go ahead and follow the junkie to your death, but I got –.” He was interrupted again, but that time by a Dickens’ hand around his throat.

    “You got two choices, bub,” Dickens whispered. “You can keep with us and shut your god damn mouth; or you can find your own way back home, you think it’s so easy.” And with that, he pushed Jorgensen away, slamming his back into a tree.

    “Like I said,” Jorgensen said as he backed away from both of his comrades. “Screw both of you!” He threw his helmet to the ground and sprinted down further down the path that he believed base to be.

    He didn’t make it fifty feet down the man made path when he tripped over a wire and triggered the Grenade in a Can booby trap that was so popular with the NLF. Before Jorgensen could finish his plea for God to save him, Dickens and Lewis heard the crack of thunder and saw a flash of light before they felt the heat wave from the blast.

    Dickens looked back at Lewis, who could only shake his head in disgust and regret. “Let’s keep moving,” Dickens commanded. “Charlie’ll be swarming this area in no time thanks to that ass wipe.

    “And be sure to watch your step; you never know how many of those things are lying around."

    The two soldiers moved as quick as they could, in an attempt to beat the impending sunset. Other than nightfall, it was crucial Dickens beat the onset of the heroin withdrawal.

  5. #5
    gulliver h

    Re: A short story for your pleasure ... (feel free to critique/bash) 1k words, more if you want

    'imbued' with long thin leaves?

    get thee to a dictionary.

    To the dismay of the survivors, they were destroyed in a ...

    How can they be survivors if they WERE DESTROYED? ARGH. If you mean the items were destroyed, say so. This sentence, constructed this way is utter nonsense.

  6. #6
    Sheila Dreckman

    Re: A short story for your pleasure ... (feel free to critique/bash) 1k words, more if you want

    Oh, goody, I get to bash again. And again for the same reason as on the post before. It must be catching. The language is too prissy. I just scanned after the first sentence. Do Marines really say, Gosh? Like Gulliver says, have what you say mean what you say. So not only could I not read the story with pleasure, I could not read it at all. Does this mean you should stop writing. No, it just means, gosh, you have a lot of work to do. Give me some hard verbs, some action. I want to feel what those marines feel.

  7. #7
    Jason S

    Re: A short story for your pleasure ... (feel free to critique/bash) 1k words, more if you want

    The three soldiers perplexed ???

  8. #8
    Brandon Cleveland

    Re: A short story for your pleasure ... (feel free to critique/bash) 1k words, more if you want

    heres the rest of it, 2500 words about (i wrote this in a day in june)

    Even though the jungle was hot, Lewis noticed that Dickens was much sweatier and fatigued than he was. "Hey," he began to say. Lewis wasn't sure on how to phrase his question. Dickens wasn't the type to appreciate pity, and he knew that. But his deterioration in just the few hours that they've been away from camp had become obvious. "Camp has to know that we're late. You think maybe we should just sit out and wait for them to send air recon, or something?"

    Dickens was frustrated, and that fact that he hadn't received his 'fix,' even little things would set him off. He knew Lewis meant no harm, but in his current condition, the smallest comment could flare his temper.

    "How do you think they're going to find us, huh?" He snapped back at him. "Do you have a flare in the backpack, or something?"

    As the last of his words came out, he immediately regretted them. Lewis broke eye contact and began walking forward towards where they thought camp was located.

    "Hey Lewis," Dickens spoke louder than he should've. "Lewis!" He picked up the pace to catch up with his comrade. He reached to grab Lewis' shoulder in order to stop him.

    "Listen up, man," Dickens said before he wiped away the sweat that blurred his vision. "I know you were just trying to help; but this problem I got; It does things to you - you know what I'm saying?

    "I'm alright for a few hours, but then all I can really think about is that damn syringe." Dickens had both his hands on Lewis' shoulders and they faced each other, as if he were giving him a pep talk. "I know you're just tryin' to look out for me, man, and I appreciate it.

    "But for all we know, Charlie is just hanging out there in the bushes, waiting for us to go to sleep so they can slip our throats while we're dreaming."

    "And if that's not the case - and we do take a break - and they don't come; I'm just as good as dead anyway. You ever see an addict withdraw before? Let me tell you - it ain't pretty."

    Lewis saw no malice in Dickens' eyes, and knew that it was the drugs that snapped back at him, not Dickens. "I'd carry you on my dang back, if I had to. You should know that," Lewis said, while he fought to keep the tears back.

    "I wouldn't do that to you, Lewis, alright? We're going to get back to camp, probably in a half hour or less, and we'll have a hell of a story to tell. Okay, pal?" Dickens patted Lewis on the back, and they began to walk towards their camp.

    Ten minutes hadn't passed when they heard something rustle in the bushes ahead of them. It could've been some animal or the Viet Cong, and the two US soldiers weren't going to take their chances. They readied their weapons, and crouched down on their knees.

    The sounds coming from the bush grew louder, and both soldiers became more nervous to the point of shaking. They were unsure if they feet away from meeting their death, and that scared them.

    Dickens, though in fear of his life, knew that luck of all types eventually ran out. The life he lived wasn't as good as it was torturous, but he didn't want to die face down in the dirt like so many others had before him.

    Their fingers were locked onto the triggers of the guns as whatever it was that moved in the jungle approached them.

    "Charlie don't move that loud," Lewis whispered.
    "Not unless they don't know we're out here," Dickens said back. "Just keep cool, and don't shoot unless we know exactly what that is.

    "No sense in alerting the enemy - assuming they don't know we're here - if we don't have to, you know?"
    Lewis nodded in response, and kept his eye focused on the sights of his rifle.

    They both fought the urge not to squeeze their triggers as the noise moved closer to them at a faster pace.
    To their surprise and relief, a dog ran out from the dense jungle, its tongue out and tail wagging.

    "Holy Christ," Lewis said relieved, as he put his gun down and walked towards the dog, who was now sitting down in front of the shrubbery.

    "Lewis," Dickens whispered as loud as he could. "Lewis! Don't go over there!"

    "It's a dang dog, what's he going --," and before he could finish his sentence, the sound of gunfire echoed from the bushes.

    Dickens saw Lewis drop, and he hoped that it was a conscious decision rather than a bullet. He couldn't run over to help his comrade without running the risk of being shot himself.

    God damn it Lewis, he thought. Always so damn eager to help anyone or anything. He noticed the dog was down too, most likely dead. Dickens laid down in the prone position, unable to move from the fear of being shot.

    He saw some movement in Lewis' body, as well as a small river of blood coming from beneath it. Dickens didn't want to use Lewis for bait, but for all he knew, Charlie assumed Lewis was the last of the squad.

    They weren't known for just leaving enemies to die in the jungle, less face the risk of them surviving and bringing more of the enemy to the area.

    As much as he didn't like it, he was going to have to wait for them to come out and attempt to finish Lewis off. All he had was a clip of ammunition and it was impossible to tell how many of them were in hiding in the jungle. But he knew this much: one bullet per body and he may be able to get them out of the horrible situation they had found themselves in.

    He rolled into the high grass to the side of the road to avoid any detection.

    Just like he assumed, a small group of villagers strapped with automatic weapons came from out of the bush. Dickens was relieved to see that there were only four of them, speaking to each other in their language, probably deciding whether to kill Lewis or take him hostage and give him to their superiors. The look on their faces showed content with their prize, as they smiled and poked Lewis with their feet while they debated.

    Dickens wasn't going to wait to find out their plans, so he prepared himself and his weapon for combat. The enemy's distance wasn't far, but his automatic weapon wasn't nearly as accurate as a single shot rifle. Normally, his weapon would be choice in a fire fight situation, but for what he had planned - the weapon could have possibly been the reason behind the death of Lewis and he.

    Dickens took a deep breath and held it while he silently prayed to God. He pulled the trigger, and following the loud 'pop,' the body of one of the villagers dropped, though not before a crimson mist sprayed the faces and chests of his brethren.

    It became clear and unmistakable that the villagers weren't soldiers when they froze instead of hitting the floor or disappearing into the jungle like a soldier -- even a poorly trained one -- would have. But there were still three hostiles left, all equipped with weapons. It didn't matter how well he was taught to fight or how long he had been in the country - the likelihood of him winning a firefight, three to one, weren't odds he wanted to take on.

    The locals pointed their guns aimlessly at the jungle. They didn't think to check the entry point of the fell villager's wound, at least for an idea of where to shoot.

    Before he could debate it with himself even further, he unloaded two more shots, striking another villager in the chest and groin, dropping him immediately.

    He shot again, that time holding the trigger down, spraying a hail of projectiles in the that general direction, angling the gun as to not hit Lewis. The bullets struck lower than he expected, striking the legs of the two remaining hostiles. Confident they weren't dead, but incapacitated; he removed his cover and ran to assist the injured marine.

    The armed farmers were down and in bad shape. Their clothing soaked in each other's blood; and the flesh of their legs ripped and mangled as they tried to crawl from the oncoming American soldier.

    Dickens wasn't in great shape himself. His nerves were shot and his body felt weaker for every second that passed.

    There was no hate his downed enemies - after all, they were doing their job the same as he. If anything, he thought, their efforts were more valiant than that of the whole American armed forces. He had lost track of the reason for his fight, yet the Vietnamese were reminded everyday.

    He recognized the look in the eyes of the farmers as he kicked them over and onto their backsides. The look was the recognition of death, one he knew well and saw more times than he had kept count.

    They muttered in their language that Dickens could hardly understand. There was one word he comprehended: the slur the Vietnamese used for Americans, though he wasn't offended. He couldn't tell if they were praying to their God or cursing him. But it didn't matter.

    It gave him no pleasure to kill them, but he had a job to do, and he would prefer them to do the same were the situation reversed. With a single shot to the head of each, the mutterings stopped and their lives were extinguished.

    He kneeled down to check on his fallen comrade - and after all they had been through that day - his friend. His injuries were worse than what Dickens anticipated, but with proper medical attention, he would survive. It had to be quick, because he surely would have bled to death by dawn.

    There were no two ways about it; the only way Lewis was leaving that jungle was on Dickens' back. The only way to keep Lewis conscious was to keep him talking. So as much of a strain it was to talk and keep a good attitude through the withdrawals, Dickens fought through it.

    "Hey, it's funny right?" Dickens asked Lewis as he picked him up. Lewis' body was basically a two hundred pound rag doll, and the most efficient way of transport was to carry him piggyback. "You were talking all that mess about carrying me back to camp ... now look at you."

    "Look at who?" Lewis asked. His voice sounded as if he were just waking up a heavy nap, or shaking off the effects of anesthesia. "My dang stomach hurts, man." Dickens began to feel his back become moist as Lewis' blood soaked through his shirt.

    "Don't worry, Alabama, we're pretty close to camp. Just hold on tight to my neck and don't let go." Dickens fought the urge to vomit, as if there were anything to throw up in the first place.

    "You know any good songs or anything? Something maybe we could sing, and then by the end of it, we'll be back at camp." He hated being forced to run the risk of other Vietnamese hostiles hearing them, but it was crucial that Lewis stay conscious.

    "Do ... you -- Do you like Elvis?" Lewis asked.
    "Hell yeah, I love 'The King!'" Dickens despised Elvis, and would've rather much sung Hendrix or something not as country, but he figured Lewis didn't know anything but that. "But my voice doesn't do him justice, so I'm gonna let you sing it to me, and I'll worry about getting us home; sound good?"

    Lewis' voice didn't do Elvis justice either, but it kept him conscious and somewhat alert.

    By the end of Lewis' third rendition of his favorite Elvis songs, Dickens noticed a fire past a row of trees. He recognized the end of the trail as the camp where his troupe was assigned to.

    "Lewis," he said. Lewis didn't hear him and kept singing, his voice fading in and out as he lost more blood. "Lewis! We're almost to camp!"

    "Golly ... that's ... great," he mumbled before finally falling into unconsciousness.

    "You go ahead and go to sleep, boy -- we're home."
    Dickens picked up the pace and ran as fast as he could while trying not to shake Lewis' body around too much. He was on the verge of collapsing when he broke through the last barrier of trees, ready for something to drink and a syringe full of liquefied heroin.

    Finally through the trees and into the camp, he collapsed face down, ready to kiss the dirt. The abstract chatter he could hear from the jungle had stopped and the only thing audible was the cracking of the fire. His head felt too heavy to lift up, and all he could do was moan and plead for help from the soldiers surrounding him, who for some reason, kept quiet.

    He looked up, expecting to see army fatigues and a beer ready to drink.

    Instead, he saw men in tattered garbs with straw hats on their heads and almond shaped eyes. The voices that escaped their mouths weren't American and their language wasn't English.

    Unknown to Dickens and the superiors that sent him and his group to reinforce that camp, the NLF had destroyed the American forces and constructions a week prior; setting up their own camp as a vantage point in an effort to remove the Americans at the camp where Dickens and his group had been sent from.

    The last thing he could think about before he joined Lewis in unconsciousness was that they would kill him quickly rather than take him hostage and extract information from him the way the Viet Cong became known for: slowly and painfully, before being left to die in the jungle.

  9. #9
    Smiling Curmudgeon

    Re: A short story for your pleasure ... (feel free to critique/bash) 1k words, more if you want

    STOP, Brandon.

    Good grief. You hose us down with long passages. It's as if you decide, okay, I'll toss another excerpt over the wall. Maybe they'll like this one. STOP.

    I've quit reading them.

    Slow down. Think. Work on your craft.

    As one of a gazillion examples, look carefully at this, the last paragraph of your story...

    The last thing he could think about before he joined Lewis in unconsciousness was that they would kill him quickly rather than take him hostage and extract information from him the way the Viet Cong became known for: slowly and painfully, before being left to die in the jungle.

    "Could" is passive. "Before he joined" is passive. "The way the Viet Cong became known for" is passive and awkward.

    Don't quit writing.

    Quit hosing.

    Send shorter excerpts, and then only after working on them with at least a nod to the many helpful comments you've received.


  10. #10
    gulliver h

    Re: A short story for your pleasure ... (feel free to critique/bash) 1k words, more if you want

    are you actually still thinking a branch can be 'imbued' with leaves? Please tell me it's late and I'm misreading...and then listen to what you've heard here...just a little.

    (this might be a good story, but dammit, are you ****ing it up with writing)

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