Tuesday, August 11, 2009

FFC August: Light

As her thoughts slowly gathered, she felt an undefined panic rising. She tried to move but couldn’t. She tried to see but was surrounded by impenetrable darkness. She listened and the sounds were muffled and indistinguishable, and very far away. That was when the memories started slowly emerging…

Kate had been through possibly the worst week on the job in all the years that she’d been employed by the city. She was exhausted after dealing with people who put more effort into milking the system rather than legitimately earning a living. And she had NO respect for the women who continued to have baby after baby when they couldn’t afford to feed themselves. Escape was what she needed. Escape from dealing with other people’s irresponsibility… escape from dealing with unreasonable expectations… escape from humanity.

Telling her friends only that she’d be completely disengaged for the weekend, she headed for the family cabin. She knew her family’s typical schedule and hoped the cabin would be empty. She was in luck – nobody was there and even the air carried the fragrance of peacefulness. Breathing deeply, she smiled and threw her bag on the couch near the fireplace. Kate spent the next hour going through the prep steps learned from countless family retreats. She soaked in the silence like a soothing balm. The physical labor of bringing in firewood felt good and cleared her head. Everything about being there felt right.

One of her dad’s “rules” was that, whenever anyone visited the cabin, they were to sign in and make note of anything memorable from their stay. Kate grabbed the book to sign in and started reading back through previous entries. She was transported back to simpler days when she had the whole summer free from responsibility. She thought wistfully to herself that growing up wasn’t quite what she’d expected it to be.

Her reverie was interrupted when she heard – or felt – something change. Not sure of what she detected, she barely breathed as she focused more intently. The rumble grew under her feet and in her ears. Before she could even move to the window to see what was happening, the cabin came crashing down around her.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d lain under the debris before she regained consciousness. It had been early evening when she picked up the family log but she’d lost track of time reminiscing. Kate tried again to move and felt pain but couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. She mentally moved from her right shoulder to her elbow to her hand. In it, she believed she still held the family log she’d been reading when it happened… whatever “it” was. She released the book and moved her fingers to make sure she still could. She felt around and slowly maneuvered her hand up to her face. She was relieved to find no gashes or obvious injuries there. She did the same with her left arm, finding it twisted behind her. She moved her fingers and worked her arm out from behind her, back to a more normal position, wincing in pain as it was released from its unnatural contortions. She hoped she hadn’t dislocated her shoulder. She rested briefly and focused on listening. There were sounds of life coming from somewhere and she realized that the Ranger must be assessing the cabins for damage. Her first thought was that she’d be rescued but she quickly recalled that, distracted by her venture down memory lane, she’d neglected to let the Ranger know she was on the property. She redoubled her efforts to work herself free.

Kate searched for just a fragment of light that might give her direction but there was only darkness. She was able to move a few bits of debris around to create somewhat of a pocket for herself. She shifted into an almost-sitting position and determined that, aside from a few probable bruises, she was otherwise uninjured. Again, she tried to detect light coming from somewhere, anywhere, but there was nothing. She held her breath for a moment to listen for sounds of somebody searching. She hollered out and waited but couldn’t tell if there’d been any change in the noises outside. She moved a few more pieces of debris and discovered that only part of the cabin had collapsed, and part was miraculously still standing. She made her way over to where she knew the side door to be and pulled on it. The door resisted opening but eventually gave way, creaking in protest.

As she stepped outside, the moonlight was like a long lost friend. Within the darkness of the surrounding trees, the light from bobbing flashlights looked like beacons. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, she called out to her rescuers and started making her way toward those beautiful lights.


  1. Okay, so letting my kids read this before I posted might have been a bad idea. They wanted me to add to the story that Kate's leg got badly injured in the collapse of the cabin and she had to run from a hungry bear while dragging her mangled leg behind her as it got caught on fallen trees. They're twisted people, my children.

  2. Excellent. I 'almost' went in a similar direction with my story, focusing on a group in a bomb shelter. I'm glad I didn't because I like what you did better than what I was going to do...:)

  3. Thanks Terry. It was about the 4th idea but the 1st that didn't fall apart in the development. I'm not entirely satisfied with the ending, but it seemed a natural place to go.

  4. Wow. How timely! We just had a huge earthquake that happened in the middle of the night and believe me I had thoughts like these, what if the entire house collapsed and my flashlight didn't work...??

    And I must say, I'm twisted as well. I didn't mind the kids' ending. I even sorta liked the idea of her leg getting caught on fallen trees, almost Stephen King-ish.

    The only thing that caught my eye was using "back" two times in succession in the fourth paragraph: "...reading back through previous entries. She was transported back to simpler days..."

    Good piece!


  5. I like the idea of this story and how you describe the details of her disorientation following the cabin collapse. I think, however (being brutally honest here) - that it might have been stronger without a lot of the background info.

    I'm not sure it's important, for example, that she works for the city or that she is sick of dealing with people, etc -- there are about two paragraphs of background that don't move the story -- you open on a suspenseful note with her in the darkness, and then go off on this expository tangent. Then we eventually get back to why she is in the dark.

    Also, all of the expository stuff is in much more vivid detail than the foggy, disoriented state you are trying to convey in the rest of it. They sort of play against each other. Maybe if she remembered it in fragments...the image of the book, a faint recollection of leaving a message with her friends about going away for the weekend - pieces that she is trying to put together in the darkness and disarray that she finds herself in.

    I like how the light theme comes out in the story and how you have both the natural moonlight and the artificial lights of the rescuers - both coming as some relief to her.

    Good job!

  6. Kappa no He - my daughter and I were nearly in tears laughing at her ending and then she says, "No, mom, really, it needs the daily recommended amount of gruesome!"

    Bailey - I guess I felt it necessary to set the stage for WHY she chose to be alone and disconnected, having given no thought to the risk of being so. And I appreciate the brutal honesty, so no worries. :-) Had she been knocked out only for a few minutes, with no serious injuries, I think it's possible that the momentary fogginess gave way to a flood of clarity... but then I said "slowly emerging" so that doesn't exactly indicate a flood of clarity, now does it? Good point. :-)

  7. Gabriel's comment via email: I like the story and how you integrated the light theme into it. I have to agree with Bailey that the beginning exposition doesn't add to the story. Perhaps you could trim it while building more into the disorientation, darkness and possibly throwing in some claustrophobia? It's a great foundation to build on if you want to up the word count.

    Gabriel - Thanks for taking the time to send me an email. I'll poke around and see if I can figure out how to enable comments independent of a particular profile. Claustrophobia is a good add and could have been part of her undefined panic.