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No Man's God

by Sujana


"I often ponder how it feels to be burnt alive."

The nun eyed the ragtag man sitting beside her. The fluorescent lights of the soup kitchen glowed far from the seclusion of the alleyway, away from the solitude beside a garbage can. "You're suicidal?" She asked, as if she didn't already figure it out. She didn't. She hadn't figured out a lot of things.

The man nodded, a faded air of old glory in his movement. His eyes were charred black, and his fingers were red and purple, white scars like cracks in oceanic lava. "That's what the doctors say. Among other things, at least," he said. "When I had a doctor."

The nun smirked. "Count your blessings, my mother used to say," she jested, "Most of the people I've fed don't even have that."

His name was Elijah. She's fed a lot of people, a number without any names, but he's come to the soup kitchen and the church often enough for her to know. Sister Olivia, she told him her name was--but he never calls her Olivia. "Jezebel," he'd say, instead, whenever he came with his empty bowl. "It's nice to meet you again."

The other nuns thought him insolent. Olivia, she didn't know what to think. Off of her shifts, she'd see Elijah sit in the bench across the road, staring at her church. His ember skin glowed under the shade of a maple tree, and without fail, she’d find his eyes and he’d find hers.

Sometimes, she'd sit by him. "Would you like to come inside?" She asked, whenever she did, "You look like you could use a prayer."

He’d eye her, then, as if he was eyeing someone else. "Ain’t like you, Jezzie," he said, "to suggest prayer to a lunatic like me.”

Senility. Thats what it was, she realized. Either that or madness, which is just as plausible. But something in his eyes reminded her of the Man of God that came to her in her youth, breathing whiskey and Bible verses and stories of war. It was the first time she ever met with soldiers of faraway lands, the red bleeding from their foreheads and the absence of their graves.

There was war in Elijah's eyes. An undying flame, begging to be quenched.

"Are you afraid of me, Jezebel?" He once asked her in the same alleyway as before, with the same fluorescent lights glowing their way.

"No," she replied, without any correction. "Should I be?"

And he went silent for a moment, his hands in his pockets, clutching something. For the first time since the short week she met him, he pulled out a lighter. "Most people are."

Olivia only watched as the old man flicked it, hanging his fingers over the coming flame. He didn’t smell of nicotine or any other vice that would require a flame. She didn’t like pondering how else he could hurt himself with the thing. "Was I ever afraid of you?" She found herself asking, suddenly.

He was quiet. "Well, I remember," he chuckled. "You once told me: 'Why would I be afraid of a dog?'"

That was their relationship as a whole--slowly, Olivia adopted whatever Eli thought Jezebel would do, whatever Eli said she might do. She spoke with a higher, more elegant tone, as he said she was always a "harpy queen". She used more advanced words, because he once said she went to Harvard. She studied psychiatric phrases besides contemplating God, because he once said, "what did you say I suffered from? Sk--shi--schizopernia?" She even spoke more atheistically (God forgive her begotten soul), and slowly but surely, she became Ms. Dr. PhD. Jezebel Nolastname, a puppet of Elijah's memories.

And maybe she liked it. Maybe she liked being Jezebel, if only as an escape from the seminary. Elijah would always stare up at her church, but as long as her voice was high and her mind sharp, Jezebel bowed to no man's god. And just for a moment, Olivia didn't, either.

"I often ponder how it feels to be burnt alive."

The last time she heard Elijah say that, she had forgotten who she was. She had forgotten the Sister Olivia who was bound to a seat in heaven, a place beyond the pearly gates, and for a moment she pictured herself in the depths of hell. Olivia knew that there was more to hell than eternal flames, but Jezebel was clueless. All she had to console herself was the ineptitude of Eli’s mind: "Have you taken your medication yet?" She asked, "Your delusions might be returning. And you’ve only broken from yesterday’s catatonia now. Elijah?"

But his eyes were glassy, eternally staring up at the church Olivia once belonged to. Will belong to, as soon as she leaves his side. Once she woke from her short break of madness, she'd embrace another insanity entirely--something with cassocks, clutching at rosary beads.

But she wouldn't come back to that.

Because she was Jezebel, woken from a dream, while another sister shook her from her sleep. She was Jezebel in the uncharacteristic habits, running out of her room, finding herself in the midst of a burning worship. She was Jezebel, seeing hell, where Olivia only breathed at the back of her mind:

"As theLordapproached, a very powerful wind tore the mountains apart. It broke up the rocks. But theLordwasn’t in the wind--

“Olivia,” a nun screamed at her from the front of the entrance, as Jezebel stood near the pews of the collapsing church. “Olivia! Get back here!”

“--After the wind there was an earthquake. But theLordwasn’t in the earthquake--

“Elijah,” Jezebel cried out, then. There was bits of ash in her eyes, heat radiating from the burning benches in her left and right, as she ran through the aisle. She knew he was there. He had to be there. “Elijah!”

“--After the earthquake a fire came. But theLordwasn’t in the fire--”

This was all her fault. This was all her fault. She should’ve known better. She’d known him for all her career, she was trying to help him, and this was all her fault—

“I take it back,” she screamed, “I take it all back. I shouldn’t have brought you here. We can talk about this, Eli,” she looked to her side, up and down the aisle, meeting the eyes of Olivia’s sisters as she stared out the entrance. “Your god wouldn’t have wanted this. This isn’t you. This isn’t--”

“--and after the fire there was only a gentle whisper--”

"Jezebel," she heard someone say, "What are you doing here?"

And she saw him. She saw him, whilst all the sisters ran out screaming, she saw him standing where the altar used to be. "Elijah?" She whispered, "Elijah, why--"

“--and she said, 'I have been very zealous for the Lord, God of hosts. The Israelites have turned their backs on your covenant--'"

He was disappointed. She could see it from his eyes, but she didn't know if he was disappointed in her or himself. He looked up at the flames. "Don't you see Him, Jezebel?" He said. "Don't you feel His presence?"

She followed his gaze, and for the last time, she was Olivia again, closing her eyes. "But the Lord was not in the fire," she spoke. She turned to him. "You know that. Don't you?"

Elijah seemed entranced. Olivia balled her hands into fists. They have torn down your altars. She ran past fire and ash, up the altar and to his face. They’ve put your prophets to death with their swords. "Elijah," she hissed, grabbing him by the shoulders, "What are you doing here?"

But his eyes were hollow and charcoal, tears evaporating from the wells of his eyes. "You've said that already," he spoke, his voice a shudder, "She's said that already--"

"Olivia!"

She heard her sisters call to her from the door, and Elijah took her turn to grab her shoulders, his eyes filled with revelation. "Who are you?" He asked, "Why did you come here?"

"I'm Jezebel," she said, though she really wasn't, "Elijah, don't you--"

"Jezebel is dead." I’m the only one left.

Elijah glared at her. “But you knew that,” he said, “Didn’t you?”

And they are trying to kill me.

And that was his last words to her. Because before she could say another word, the pillars fell, fire raging down from the ceiling. And in the faintness of black, she thought she heard a whisper.


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Sat Mar 18, 2017 4:44 pm
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Kazumi wrote a review...



Hey Sacred, it's outvaders.

I got some trivia to start us off:

Elijah looked for God in the wind, but He was not there. Elijah then looked for God in the earthquake that followed, but He was not there. Elijah then looked for God in the fire that followed, but He wasn't there. But in the end, Elijah found God in the silence. This means that God is a silent God. You don't really find Him in the grand, extravagant moments of life. Rather, you meet Him in the simpler and more silent moments in life.

Okay, enough flexing of my mental muscles. Let's get right into the beef.

I'll be honest with you, it was hard trying to read this short story. It was a chore. Not only were there a lot of exposition dumps and storytelling that lost me, I also couldn't find myself to care about the main character.

The concept of escapism in this short story had potential. It can be used to add so much depth to a character, but the story squandered this opportunity.

How much cooler would it be if instead of saying that "slowly, Olivia adopted whatever Eli thought Jezebel would do" in the sixteenth paragraph, we just show this gradual change in her dialogue? We get to see this religious character slowly adopt an intellectual persona that she created because she was bored as hell at the monastery. It's boring when you just say it to the viewers' faces. But on the other hand, it's exciting to see a character grow and change.

In the next paragraph, it is explicitly stated that "she liked being Jezebel, if only as an escape from the seminary." I figured out that she doesn't like the *monastery*. But that's it. How much cooler would it be if we actually got to saw that she didn't like the monastery, instead of saying it straight to the viewers' faces? Like for example, narrate a scene where she's praying the rosary but she despises it so much because in retrospect all she's doing is countingbeadswhilemutteringtoagodthatmayormaynotexistamen. In doing this, not only will we keep the plot moving and exciting, but we also a.) Give a chance for this character to show who they really are, b.) Justify the actions and beliefs of the character, c.) Let the readers register them more as actual, living human beings and not plot devices, d.) Allow the readers to invest their feelings in these characters because hey, they're fellow humans too, e.) Keep the readers engaged, and f.) Make the climax so much more heartfelt and powerful to the readers because they invested their feelings in this character.

The effects of showing through narrating this scene and not telling also reaches out to other aspects of the story. It enhances the setting, emphasizing into the readers' minds what kind of environment Sister Olivia is in. It's a bit minor, but it's better to immerse your reader than not.

As it is, Olivia is just a flat character, and the escapism thing is just a gimmick, instead of well-integrated aspect of her character. In the same sixteenth paragraph, it's made so that the readers will feel something negative building up from the bottom of their hearts. However, they feel something about it not because something has happened to Sister Olivia, this lifelike human being that they have invested their emotions in. They feel something about it because of the mere fact that they as humans don't tend to like change, and because of the presence of "red-flag words," like "puppet."

Here's one more thing. What I'm about to say is "gamebreaking," because it puts to question the logic of some of the most important parts of the climax. I have to be a bit doubtful of Olivia still assuming the persona of Dr. Nolastname even when the building she is in IS LITERALLY BURNING TO THE GROUND AAAAAAAAAAAH. In these kinds of extreme situations where death is imminent, fight/flight response is triggered. So, that means their true nature is shown, because the character would naturally do whatever it takes to stay alive. It doesn't matter how dirty or underhanded it is, but hey. There are no rules, and their lives are on the line. This is why stories of the apocalypse genre like Neon Genesis Evangelion, The Walking Dead, and Train to Busan are so popular.

Anyways, it doesn't make sense for Olivia to still assume that persona, because that ain't her true nature. She just got woken up from a good sleep, so she has to be a bit groggy. Then OH MY LORD THE CHURCH IS ON FIRE AAAAAAAH. No one in that situation would try to put up a facade. They're gonna die, for goodness' sake. So it doesn't make sense for her to indulge in this escapist fantasy at this moment of death.

It could be argued that Dr. Nolastname became her "true nature" over time. I have to doubt that though. The story doesn't indicate how long Olivia knew Elijah. The only info we have is that she visits him "off of her shifts." Even if we did know how long she knew him, she can't have been with him for too long in a day. Nuns have many duties in the convent, like praying for other people, attending Holy Mass, feeding the poor, doing the groceries (I'm serious), selling religious articles, strengthening their faith in God in general, etc. That also means she can't put up that persona for too long at a time, since she's constantly around people that aren't Elijah. So no, that's not possible.

Olivia is not an engaging character, neither is she a naturalistic one. It's clear that there was an effort to put depth into her. However, if you're going to put an amount depth to her to the point where she can't be just be a symbol, at least flesh her out properly so that she as a character doesn't feel lacking or flat. That way, the readers won't feel anything off. That way, the story won't be dragged down.

I'd want to go even further into this story, but I'm afraid I'll have to stick to the aspect of character for now. That's because I'm too confused by the storytelling at the near end of the story to even get what's happening, especially those goshdarn italicized sentences. Who's even speaking them? I know this is my personal preference, but can you make things simpler? It hurts to read and reread this short story over and over again because of all these complicated storytelling devices that the story could DO JUST AWAY WITH AAAAAAAAAAH. Cut me some slack, alright?

To end us off, I have one last criticism: show, not tell. :^)

Wherever you are, have a good, good Sunday.

-vaders

*also get your research right. they're pews, not benches. convent, not seminary.*




Sujana says...


Oh hey yo i loved this review

Maybe its because I wanted to keep this one short for the readers sake, and again maybe because I was groggy while writing this so I'm glad you pointed all the characterization problems out thank you

*also get your research right. they're pews, not benches. convent, not seminary.*


Also hey yeah this was a pretty stupid mistake on my part thank you for pointing this out. i didnt even know i said benches i swore i wrote pews because i knew what a pew how late in the night did i write this

Who's even speaking them? I know this is my personal preference, but can you make things simpler? It hurts to read and reread this short story over and over again because of all these complicated storytelling devices that the story could DO JUST AWAY WITH AAAAAAAAAAH. Cut me some slack


nope sorry

if its any consolation my next ss involves no churches so no stupid research problem lots of cursing and a linear story so youll have the pleasure of knowing im capable of a little more than writing like im in a mental asylum. abner is more pissed off than crazy really

Elijah looked for God in the wind, but He was not there. Elijah then looked for God in the earthquake that followed, but He was not there. Elijah then looked for God in the fire that followed, but He wasn't there. But in the end, Elijah found God in the silence. This means that God is a silent God. You don't really find Him in the grand, extravagant moments of life. Rather, you meet Him in the simpler and more silent moments in life.


This is something I understood from the get go and I'm most disappointed in myself that that didn't really come across, like it seemed I missed the point of the original story. This ain't a defense for this story in particular (its salvageable but in much more disrepair than i anticipated), but my intentions was to make Eli into a hopeless character who tries to find god in big details by making big messes, whereas Jezebel is his (most likely hallucinated) polar opposite, the person who tries to stop Eli but by pulling him away from a god she believes to be dangerous. Olivia was the supposed middleman, the whisper, the person who'd do Jezebel's job in a more effective manner by changing his perspective of god. That isnt an excuse because it evidently didn't come out that way in the final product, so for now I'll take my distance from harder editing (I'll still be fixing the pews and convents problem because why) so that I can be in a less panicked "everything is horrible" mentality and actually do something productive.

Again, thanks for the review. Helped a lot more than you probably think it does.



Kazumi says...


Focus more on the story though. One common mistake is for writers to get so invested in how to tell the story, to the point where they put less attention to the story, which is the more important part. Work with the story itself as the goal, and make sure everything you do serves the story. That way, you won't lose your way.

Also, I got some free sources on writing stories. They're anime reviews. Though they explore stories through visual medium, I picked up a lot of things that I can apply to my short stories. I can give you some links if you're up to it.

ayyy



Sujana says...


I don't even watch anime and digibro and mothers basement and even gigguk (believe it or not) somehow helps me in understanding what makes a narrative unique like wtf



Kazumi says...


Even writers who don't watch anime get it when Digi breaks down the narrative, because there's writing behind the visual art. Just like what we do here in YWS. I think it's beautiful.

There are more new analysts like Pedantic Romantic and Super Eyepatch Wolf. The Romantic has this video explaining how characters get us to care about them. The latter has a video explaining what makes a good villain. They're both very good videos that focus a lot on the writing aspect of anime. Maybe they'd interest you if you want more good writing stuff mmm



Sujana says...


Oh I'll definitely look them up later on (I'm basically a critic geek, I watch whatever criticism there is, even if it's talking about Boglins or some shit).



Kazumi says...


Also there's one more thing I'd like you to watch:

Your profanity.

mmm roasted mmmm

*but are we allowed to say swearz? last time I did I got a friendly reminder*



Sujana says...


oh shoot i did didn't i

shoot kill me im going to get fired from my job part time duty thing

well do as i say not what i do and consider that swear extradited to egypt



Kazumi says...


*insert lenny*



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Sat Mar 18, 2017 7:40 am
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Kazumi says...



yay biblical references

are you christian?




Sujana says...


no

thats the best part



Kazumi says...


perhaps that might be a factor that hurts the story

but we'll see huehuehueuhe



Sujana says...


oh shit cliffhanger

If anything ruins this story its my habit of writing late into the night and forgetting how to edit like an actual human being



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Sat Mar 18, 2017 6:29 am
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Lightsong wrote a review...



Hey, I'm here to review. ;)

"I often ponder how it feels to be burnt alive."


Why? Just why? You'll feel hot and dying. This kind of ponder displays the mental instability of the person talking.

"You're suicidal?" She asked, as if she didn't already figure it out.


"Would you like to come inside?" She asked, whenever she did, "You look like you could use a prayer."


"Was I ever afraid of you?" She found herself asking, suddenly.


Don't capitalize the 'she'. While this is a minor error (and the story is a first draft) having it repeated ruins the readability a bit.

But something in his eyes reminded her of the Man of God that came to her in her youth, breathing whiskey and Bible verses and stories of war. It was the first time she ever met with soldiers of faraway lands, the red bleeding from their foreheads and the absence of their graves.


This part confuses me a bit. Maybe because I'm an ESL. :P Is the Man of God the same as soldiers of faraway lands? And how can a Man of God 'breathing whiskey'? Because of this confusion, the idea behind this paragraph is lost to me.

She even spoke more atheistically (God forgive her begotten soul), and slowly but surely, she became Ms. Dr. PhD. Jezebel Nolastname, a puppet of Elijah's memories.


This one cracks me up a bit with the atheistically thing (and the part in parenthesis) as well as the Nolastname thing. :P

I understand Olivia's seemingly liking of being Jezebel. The latter seems more professional, elegant, and brilliant. I wonder how this would develop her character; it seems, from a religious perspective, Elijah is corrupting her (though she was the one who asked how Jezebel acted like). :o

"As theLordapproached, a very powerful wind tore the mountains apart. It broke up the rocks. But theLordwasn’t in the wind--”


Not sure if you should give a space in 'theLordapproached' and 'theLordwasn't' because I like it as a stylistic device.

And... done. I've done reading this, and I'm not sure I can say I like it. I think the one with James (?) is better because the story line is clearer. This one doesn't seem to shine as bright as that. Maybe it doesn't suit an average reader like me. :/ What I understand is that Elijah's way of showing others God is by burning the worship place (and this matches with the description as him being twisted).

When Olivia breathes at the back of Jezebel's mind, is it really Olivia? Because, while the early words are religion-based, this part...

"Jezebel is dead." I’m the only one left.

Elijah glared at her. “But you knew that,” he said, “Didn’t you?”

And they are trying to kill me.


... indicates it's Jezebel speaking after all before she is killed. I think there's an important part of the story between Jezebel and Elijah that is not included here and would clear things up if it is. I don't know. I can sense a conflict in the past but I'm not sure. Maybe I need to read up Bible to understand more of this. o.o

That being said, your sense of setting and characterization is always a point to be praised of. I can imagine the scenes happening clearly, and can connect to the characters due to how humane they are portrayed.

Anyway, that is all! Sorry if the review isn't as helpful as both of us want it to be. >.< Keep up the good job! :D




Sujana says...


Why? Just why? You'll feel hot and dying. This kind of ponder displays the mental instability of the person talking.


im offended this is what i think 24/7 block /sarcasm

Not sure if you should give a space in 'theLordapproached' and 'theLordwasn't' because I like it as a stylistic device.


OH MY GOD NO THAT WAS NOT A STYLISTIC DEVICE HOW DID NOBODY MENTION THIS GAAH

And... done. I've done reading this, and I'm not sure I can say I like it. I think the one with James (?) is better because the story line is clearer. This one doesn't seem to shine as bright as that. Maybe it doesn't suit an average reader like me. :/ What I understand is that Elijah's way of showing others God is by burning the worship place (and this matches with the description as him being twisted).


I agree. This is very messy and non-linear, and I was aiming for a more stream-of-conscious thing going in, in order to convey the chaos of both Elijah and Olivia's mentalities. I wanted to state a clear purpose here, but I feel like I'll have to edit it before anybody really gets what I'm saying.

... indicates it's Jezebel speaking after all before she is killed.


This--is actually pretty amazing, because I'm just quoting the scene of Elijah on Mount Horeb in 1 Kings (where the actual Jezebel is hunting him down and he has a crisis of faith). But now that I think about it, I can see that it also applies to in-story Jezebel and what might've happened with her, which isn't something I intended, I'll be honest. Hmm. Sounds like an interesting pivoting tool.

Thanks for the review!



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Sat Mar 18, 2017 3:00 am
CateRose17 wrote a review...



I loved the way you presented this. We have a similar way of writing. The story was so upbeat and left me at the edge of my seat and it was the only thing I could think about while I was eating supper. The first words hooked me and I was done for and completely captivated with the story. The words you used were crisp, clean and simple, but so sophisticated. Ughhhh, so goooood. The only part that sort of lost me was the very end of the story, but maybe I was reading too fast to get to the conclusion. The ending was beautiful




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Fri Mar 17, 2017 5:38 pm
RoseTulipLily wrote a review...



Greetings! Let's get the criticism out of the way first.

Criticism:
"You're suicidal?" She asked, as if she didn't already figure it out. She didn't. She hadn't figured out a lot of things.' This part seems grammatically wrong. I think the correct way to say this would be "You're suicidal?" She asked, as if she hadn't already figure it out. She hadn't. She hadn't figured out a lot of things.'

'She's fed a lot of people,' the word "She's" seems to contradict the past tense used in this story. The same applies for "he's" in 'but he's come to the soup'. I would suggest replacing those words with "She has" or "She'd" and "he has" or "he'd". I have also noticed quite a few past and present contradictions that get somewhat annoying despite not distracting too much from the story.

'And *those* *were* his last words to her.' Is the correct way to say that.

Criticism aside, I enjoyed this story. I really liked the character interactions here and the drama in this story. Keep writing ;)





A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.
— Markus Zusak, The Book Thief