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Tue Jan 03, 2012 4:36 am
denj says...

Hey guys, it's been a while since I've posted and written. I just wrote this short story for school and I'd like to get some feedback. I tried to write it somewhat in the style of Hemingway, which was an optional part of the assignment. There should be no grammatical errors, but criticism on style and content is greatly appreciated. Enjoy.


He should have listened to his father.

He hung from the side of the mountain, an ice axe in each hand. The blades were driven deep into the ice-covered cliff face. His feet dangled, scrabbling for purchase against the icefall. The harsh crackle of breaking ice split the air as his left ice axe tore itself free. His right shoulder shrieked with sharp hot pain and he inhaled as the full burden of his one hundred and ninety pound frame shifted. He held on with only his right arm. He was going to die.

Twenty-five feet below was a jagged stone outcrop and beyond that was the fifteen thousand foot slope to the base of the mountain. He allowed himself a quick glance down over his shoulder and squinted in the bright morning light. He was grateful that his goggles had fogged up so he could not see down to where he would be dashed to pieces against the mountainside. All he could see was the bright hazy corona of the sun refracted through droplets of moisture on his goggles.

He felt his right hand quiver and lose its grip. He squeezed the handle of the ice axe like a constrictor snake suffocating its prey until he feared his hand would burst from the pressure. His left arm hung limp and dead at his side. In seconds he would lose his grip and he would fall and he would die. He should have listened to his father.

Time slowed down and in his head he saw his father’s face: strong, chiseled, aquiline, with shining blue eyes and bushy brows and short-cropped fair hair. His skin was leathery and dappled with rugged graying stubble and his mouth was locked in a sort of crooked half-smile. He could not forget that smile. The smile made him appear at once jubilant and desolate and in that smile was a universe of emotion. He could never tell what his father was thinking, but then he had never listened to his father. His father had told him to climb the mountain in the summer when the weather was mild and the high passes were free of ice. The young man thought it unnecessary and dangerous to climb the mountain. When he turned twenty-one and his father offered to take him to make the ascent he refused. Now, at forty-two, he thought he was too good for the mountain and so he was going to die.

The memory of his father made him warm and he realized he did not want to die. Soft heat spread through his left arm and feeling returned. He still had his left ice axe. Confident, he raised his left arm overhead and drove the axe forward into the ice. He wiggled it to be sure it was secure and pulled himself up a few precious feet. His right arm protested as he pulled his other axe free, but he ignored it and continued to climb. He looked up and saw that it was fifteen feet to the next ledge. Easy. When he reached it he set one of his axes down and started to lift himself over the side of the stony shelf. The surface was icy and his fingers scrambled for a hold. He hung in limbo, his left hand gripping the ice axe and his right grappling for purchase. He managed to swing himself up onto the ledge facedown. He landed on his knees and his right knee shot out from under him and knocked his ice axe over the edge. Out of one eye he saw the axe fall, fall, fall, spiraling and glinting in the sun. Gasping he pulled the rest of his body onto the narrow shelf. He lay shivering and empty. I cannot do this.

He closed his eyes and the harsh mountain-scape faded. He saw his father, sunburnt, hair windswept, smiling, really smiling, not a crooked half-smile this time. He wore a loose-fitting khaki shirt unbuttoned halfway and stood on a small boat holding a fishing rod. It was one of the few times he had seen his father wearing something other than his gray-brown camouflage military uniform. As a child he had rarely seen his father because of the war and when the young man was twenty-two years old his father had died. They brought a little box with a Purple Heart to the door and when he asked his mother about it she said his father was a brave man. He knew only stories, legends that his father had given his life to save an entire battalion. But he did not know how his father had died. He imagined his father smiling as he was blown apart by shrapnel, incinerated in an explosion, shredded by bullets, stabbed in the back, hanged. He could only imagine. Deep in his being he sensed a warm presence and knew it was his father. He felt that, somehow, his father had died to save him. To save his son. He did not know how he knew this or how it was possible but he knew it was true and he began to cry. I am listening, Father.

The soft cold stirring of the breeze against his face brought him back to the world. Salty tears stung his face. He rose and looked up and saw the summit less than one hundred feet above. Using one ice axe he began to climb. The ice was pure and white and solid. When he reached the pinnacle there was empty blue sky and bright white sunlight and cold thin air and nothingness. He lifted the veil of his foggy goggles from his face. From the top of the mountain he could see everything and everything could see him but he did not care. He spread his arms and took a deep breath. I am here, Father.
Take it easy.

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Tue Jan 03, 2012 10:59 am
Charlie II says...

You're right, denj -- no grammatical errors that I could see.

Sprawling chronological review

I'd delete the first italicised line -- not because there's anything wrong with it, but it just feels old and overused that "someone is thinking about a relative whilst they're in danger". The quality of the rest of the piece justifies it, of course, but I think the opening would do so well without the signpost saying, "There will be flashbacks in this story!" Also the point at which the protagonist starts to think about his father is incredibly important -- you don't want to cheapen it by beginning with that idea.

I think mountains and ice and being alone in the wilderness is a lovely scene. You describe it all with flair and a natural voice which I can't help but listen to. It's very good -- keep up the good writing.

But being alone does funny things to human minds -- we're inherently social creatures -- and although "madness" is too strong a term you could definitely include a bit more hysteria. For example when he mentions the two ages "twenty-one" and "forty-two" my first thought was that the second is double the first. Now that's not something important or relevant, but (in my eyes at least) it's exactly the sort of thing a desperate mind would notice and cling on to. Also the contrast of the mundane with the death-defying is one great way of showing the "fragile humanity" behind the "hero".

This line: "He knew only stories, legends that his father had given his life to save an entire battalion" seems a bit awkward. Until that point nothing seemed exaggerated too far, but (according to wikipedia) a battalion could consist of over 1000 men -- saving an entire battallion places the protagonist's father into a bizarre position of "epic hero" which just doesn't seem in keeping with the way you've told the rest of the story. I prefer him only being able to imagine his father's death -- any specifics about battallions (whether rumour or not) don't really do it for me.

Is there any connection between "Father" and a Christian god? I'm not sure but there's scope for it if you'd like to go there in terms of imagery. I think this is a lovely story about strength in dark places and the phrases "empty blue sky and bright white sunlight and cold thin air and nothingness" are just gorgeous. I hope you got good marks for this piece in school.

If you've got any questions or want to discuss the review then feel free to PM me.

I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.
-- Woody Allen

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Wed Jan 04, 2012 9:17 am
Lavvie says...

Hi there, denj!

This rather reminded me of a movie I watched about a mountain climbing expedition where things got disastrous. I must say I'm pleased with your ending because it gave me an immense sense of relief for your protagonist and I felt good for him because of what he had achieved... so, otherwise, I loved your protagonist. They had a very realistic feel about them. I thoroughly enjoyed the mind-battle he had with himself as he struggled up the ice face. Very well done so good job.

There's not a whole lot that I feel I can pick at - I really liked reading this. It was suspenseful and yet slightly heartfelt with the mentions of the father. However, just one thing:

Now, at forty-two, he thought he was too good for the mountain and so he was going to die.

I know what you're writing and all, except I found it a little too blase for the seriousness of everything right now. It's like writing: She wasn't a very pretty girl and so she was never going to marry and she would die an ugly old hag. It's not a fair statement, therefore I suggest you add a little more of serious edge here. The 'and so' plays the seriousness down way too much.

We learn a lot about the tender relationship between the climbing man and his father, but I'd also like to know a lot more about him on the mountain. I do realize he's mainly in one position the entire time right before the ending, but maybe if you wrote a little more on the ending? It feels a tad rushed and, with some of your great descriptions, you could probably easily build of the suspense and excitement - the climax of your story. It would make it that much better than it already is.

If you have any questions about this review, don't hesitate to shoot me a PM.


What is to give light must endure burning. – Viktor Frankl

Time is not your best friend - unless you use it wisely.
— Marco Pierre White