You might recall in my earlier post of Hawkesbury River Writers I had mentioned our in-house writing competition which we set ourselves and then submit anonymously to be commented and voted on by all members; the winning entry is then announced at our next meeting following closure of the competition.
The following piece was my entry in our latest Round Robin competition. It is followed by comments made from some of the members. These comments are invaluable as they help provide positive feedback on how your writing entry is perceived by others and helps you identify where improvements could be made [if any].
Copyright © Robert L J Borg 2012
There was a sense of stillness around me as I walked silently through the bush. I had woken early having not had a decent night’s sleep. Too many thoughts had raged my mind; too many unanswered questions; the usual uncertainties of life playing havoc with my feelings and emotions.
Although the start of winter it was pleasantly mild and the crispness of the early morning air was exhilarating. I had been walking for about an hour and now stood on an outcrop of sandstone which had been weathered black by eons of time. Looking towards the east the sun had yet to rise and the sky where it met the horizon seemed painted by a hue of pale grey.
I breathed deeply inhaling the morning filling my lungs, my being, with nature’s beauty. It was time to move on and I stepped down from my vantage point. Only the occasional rustling of foliage reminded me I was not alone in this wilderness; small mammals and marsupials hunted for food or were being hunted, scurried away from my approach.
Ducking beneath an outcrop I was pleasantly confronted with art worked onto the rock surface. Red and brown, ochre and yellow, black and white, used to mark out shapes of animals, stick men and women, plants and symbols, each recording hidden meanings to a race of people who had lived in the distant past. It was a delightful distraction to my troubled mind. As I gazed at the paintings, greedily absorbing their primitiveness I felt drawn closer to them. I reached out to touch the cold stone; my hand appeared to sink into it. The unexpectedness of the sensation made me stumble forward and I found myself falling into a crevice at the base of the rock wall. I staggered to my feet and found myself in a cave. An ochre glow emanated from deep within it. I cautiously walked to its source. A low murmur of conversation could be heard from somewhere ahead. As I neared the sound, shadows danced eerily on the cave walls until at long last the outline of two shapes sitting cross-legged in front of a meagre fire could be made out.
“Come in Joseph; sit; we’ve been expecting you” said one of the two shapes, a man of ancient years; with a shock of white long, scraggly hair upon his head and chin. “This is Nick,” he continued as the other man reached out his hand in welcome, “You may call me, Al”.
As I shook Nick’s hand I noticed how dark-skinned he was. Although his features were European his skin was black as ebony. He was scantily dressed in a loin cloth and a fur cloak. His grip was strong making me glance down at his hand. It was delicately manicured; fingernails cut to a point and polished as though claws. I lowered myself to the ground realising Al was still speaking so I turned my attention to him letting go of Nick’s hand in the process.
“We guided you here so we could offer you some advice.” Al was saying.
“I’m not sure anyone can do that?” I answered dejectedly.
“Try us?” Nick offered.
It was the first time I had heard him speak and his voice was almost a deep growl. I could feel my skin prick up and my stomach muscles tense as I became extremely uneasy at being in their presence. I looked at Al, he was of Middle-Eastern appearance and only now did I realise he was wearing a white cotton kaftan interwoven with silk. I forced myself to look away and stared into the fire. The two men were silent waiting for me to start; so without looking at either of them I spoke.
“Have I made the right choices? Have I truly made so many mistakes? Where is my future heading?” I rambled.
“These are questions everyone asks at one time or another in their lives, Joseph” Al said, lightness to his voice as though he were laughing inside. “Now in your sixtieth year is it time to begin to question how your life has panned out?”
“I know it sounds ridiculous, but when I think of my life I believe I have achieved nothing, contributed nothing; opportunities missed. It makes me want to cringe at the mistakes I have made.”
“You can only do what you’re capable of. No mistakes are truly made.” Al said kindly. “You make choices which lead you along certain paths in your journey through time.”
“How much time do I have?”
“We are all immortals, Joseph.” Nick growled “How we deal with our time during our various stages of physical “life” depends on our own instincts.”
“I don’t understand? How can we be immortal?”
“What is often referred to as your soul is in fact your true self, Joseph. Souls wander through the Universe as incorporeal mindless beings until either I or Old Nick here decide the time is right for a soul to inhibit a creature on one of our many planets.” Al explained. “Which planet is chosen depends on how well the soul has behaved during its material existence.”
“We keep score,” Nick said. “The more selfless acts you do, your chances of progression to better times are in your favour.”
“How would I know what wrong I am doing?”
“You don’t. Only Old Nick and I know how a scorecard works; you have to trust your feelings; you will never know the outcome, Joseph. Nor will you ever remember previous existences.”
“That doesn’t seem fair?”
“Whoever said life was fair?” Al chuckled.
I scrambled out of the cave shaking my head from the strange dream I’d experienced whilst momentarily unconscious. High in the treetops a solitary magpie announces the arrival of the dawn; its call soon answered by another until before too long the air is filled with delightful chirping and shrills heralding a new day; a day of enlightenment.
4. Enlightenment (Robert)
Rogi: I found this an interesting story, though I’m not quite sure if either the character or myself found true enlightenment at the end. There are a few punctuation and grammar errors, in the 3rd paragraph and a couple of other places that affected the readability.
Julianne: What an adventure; what an imagination!Throughout this journey of highly imaginative meanderings which probably could do with a little tidying up, I confess to lying in wait for the time when I will become thoroughly lost and confused, but with all credit to the writer…this never happens. This story’s simplicity of style and suspenseful content makes it highly readable, and the twist at the end when it is revealed that it had all been a dream, is received by this reader, with great jubilation and relief. A sweet, sweet story!
Barry: An outback experience with a twist. The central character falls into a crevice and finds himself in a very strange place. There he meets two unusual, remarkably powerful characters and an interesting discussion follows. (In case you were wondering, I don’t share their philosophy, but it doesn’t matter.) Suddenly our hero wakes up to the sound of bird calls heralding a new day. His philosophical encounter had been a dream!The idea works well, I think. Minor distractions were long sentences without punctuation, question marks where they didn’t belong, etc.
Jan: I was intrigued by the concept, though it took a little while to discover where the morning walk was leading. “God’s” physical appearance (and name Al? Almighty?) and ‘Nick’s” name I found to be a little stereotypical. But I was blown away by the thought that we don’t make ‘mistakes’, we only make choices that take us on different paths… and presumably leading to different destinations which may or may not be helpful. Is this a new and original idea, or an old idea told in a new and refreshing way? I takes “I did what I thought right at the time” to a new level. It certainly packed a punch. The ending however was disappointing. The magic was shattered by a bland statement that it was only a dream. As a reader I would prefer to be left with the tantalizing question…
Meryl: I liked the concept of this story. In my opinion it could do with work on the punctuation, which would make it easier to read.
Robert: My Entry: I did enjoy writing it and wondered what it would truly be like to be able to have a conversation with God [Al – short for Allah] and Satan [Old Nick].
This entry did not win. The winner was actually written by Rogi Moulton a retired TV Script Writer who always writes wonderful children stories. His entry got my top vote, and it would seem the other members also thought the same as me.
RLB – Tomewriter