Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Prompt 3: Talk

Samuel Li
Dr. Adam Johns
English Composition 0200
22 September 2014

AN: Not sure how creative writing should work in essay form. Didn't start with only dialogue because I could never get that to work. Dunno how citations would work either. Also, I cut it somewhat short because it was already nearing four pages by the end.

Rays shone down. The air rippled, forming waves like a distortion in space. The heat was oppressive, practically baking the world alive, or at least so the kid thought in his heat-addled daze. Hazily, he gazed at his surroundings, trying and failing to take them in. Everyone else seemed to be holding up just fine: sweating a little, probably, but they didn’t look like they were half-dead or dying. Unlike him.

Cars parked in rows. A hazy sky. Red rock as far as the eye could see, occasionally dotted with green. They were in the Grand Canyon, or Yellowstone, or Moab, or some random national park that the family just decided to vacation at. He had agreed to this at first, even looked forward to it, but as usual he had overestimated his tolerance for discomfort.

You’d think that he would have learned by now.

He heard chatter in the background, and saw his family move along with a crowd, following a bunch of taller guys in uniform. Mechanically, he followed, too tired to complain any further. Anything to escape the heat. Truthfully, though, it wouldn’t help: if there was something he couldn’t stand more than heat, it was fatigue.

Time passed in a daze.

They were settled down now in a camp of sorts, and the he didn’t feel quite as terrible as before. Of course, what little muscles he had ached and screamed; the strain from the hike coupled with the bags he carried had practically reduced his muscles to jello. But then again, the sun had set, and so he was no longer being baked alive. The nighttime in the desert was almost pleasant.

He glanced over to to the rest of the crowd. His parents were over by the campfire, chatting excitedly with one of the tall guys (a ranger, was it?), tending to the fire. Judging by the aroma, the pots and pans and iron racks, and the thin trails of steam, they were making dinner. His sister had disappeared to god knows where (“I’ll be fine, really!), probably exploring, or taking pictures of the view, or something like that. She always was better with the outdoors than him.

Time passed in a daze, and eventually his sister did come back with pictures of miscellaneous scenery, and eventually his parents did finish up with dinner. Instant noodles, grilled bacon and sausages. Not a five-star meal, but he never really liked those anyway. They woke him up from his half-nap, herded him over, and had him introduce himself to the ranger. He conceded, with just a name and a stiff nod. And his parents laughed going on about things like “shyness”, the ranger joined in the laughter in a somewhat forced manner, and the kid just scowled and got to his dinner.

Once again. Simple fare, but pretty good.

Time continued to pass in a daze. He made small talk with a few other campers, nothing too special or memorable. Time passed, dinner came and went, and eventually, the time came for him to talk to the ranger. On hindsight, it wasn’t exactly anything special, but it certainly was strange.

It started simply enough: with the usual small-talk they made, where in this case it meant complaining about the heat, jokes about feeling like they were being baked to death. Normally, they’d just laugh it off, find something to look forward to, and move on to other things. But the ranger?

“That’s not bad.”

“Huh?” The confusion almost snapped him out of his daze.

“To die out here, I mean. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? To die in a place like this?”

The kid stared dumbfounded, looking at him like he grew a second head. This time, the confusion certainly did snap him out of his daze. He scanned the ground and surrounding area. From where he was sitting, he could see cans of beer, stacked here and there. Was the ranger drunk? Just rambling?

“Um,” He hesitated, struggled internally: to be tactful or honest? After a moment of deliberation, he chose the latter. “Are you being serious?”


“Are you drunk?”

In vino veritas. In wine, truth. Doesn’t matter if I’m drunk or sober, it doesn’t change a goddamn thing.”

The kid hesitated for a moment, and contemplated if the issue was worth pushing any further. A few uneasy seconds passed by.

“Why, then?”

“Why what?”

“Why would dying out here ‘sound nice’?”

The ranger snorted. “Well it’d certainly beat rotting away in some hospital bed, wouldn’t it? Just being kept alive for the sake of being kept alive?” An instantaneous reply, the conviction of which almost shocked the kid. He decided to prod even further.

“I’d rather not die in the first place.”

“Of course you would.”

What’s that supposed to mean!?
The ranger made a face, and the kid wasn’t sure if it was a smirk or a scowl. “You from the city, right? Or maybe the suburbs?”

“Suburbs, right. Well, a neighborhood in the middle of nowhere.”

“So you’ve never been out here? In a place like this?”

The kid shook his head.

“Then I’ll tell you something. All things die—”

“I am aware—”

“Of course you are. All things die. All things end. You’ll die, I’ll die. There’s a time for everyone. And what a better way to die, one with nature, rather than struggling against it, delaying the inevitable?”

“If we all just keeled over and died just because we’d all eventually die, there wouldn’t be a human race.”

“And sometimes I think that’s for the better.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. It might be for the better. Ever see what kinda things we do to the world? Drown it in asphalt and concrete, sealing everything out, mindlessly expanding our cities and trampling over the wilderness? We destroy nature’s beauty. Remove humanity from the equation, and what do you get?”

Tch. Nothing beautiful. Can’t be beautiful if nothing’s there to say it is. As far as this world goes, we practically invented beauty.”

“And maybe that’s for the better, too.”

A pregnant pause. The kid stared dumbfoundedly for the umpteenth time, but shook his confusion off.

This is going nowhere. “Okay then. Whatever. But if you don’t want to struggle against the inevitable, or whatever it is, why are you still alive?

He laughed this time. “I said I don’t care much about dying, not that I don’t care about living. I do want to live. But I wouldn’t mind dying. At least, not in a place like this.”

“Baked to death in the sun, getting your flesh picked clean by vultures?”

“Beats rotting away in a hospital, getting filled with tubes and veins and all that other sterile shit. And you know? There’s something about the desert. Ever almost died before?”


“Well, I have. Stuck in a canyon, no way out but an unclimbable wall. Well, I climbed it alright, dunno if it was fate or fortune or any of that rot. Had to inch my way up the wall, and it was wet too. By the time I got out, after hours of climbing, it started to rain. Half-dead, starving, cold and wet and crying. And let me tell you something, that was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

And so followed yet another pregnant pause, yet another dumbfounded look.

“You’re insane.”


They stopped talking, looking over the crowd. Some had taken naps, others were off to the side, enjoying after-dinner cigars and drinks. And yet again, his sister had disappeared to who knows where. The kid looked to the distance, seeing spires and monoliths and arches of stone. He hated the heat, but he had to admit: this landscape was truly... something.

He sighed. “I’ll give you something then.” He stood, stretched, making his way over to the fire for some of the leftover bacon. “If you had died back there, it probably would’ve been more exciting than dying in a hospital.”


He walked away, to get away from the ranger or to get to the food, he wasn’t sure. “Still hate the heat, though,” he muttered under his breath.

Based off of:
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire; a Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print.

1 comment:

  1. I thought the writing of the first half was general good. I was annoyed at one level by the fact that the narrator was so passive - but the transition to Abbey & his ideas about death actually worked well. Maybe it could have been a *little* shorter, but the strategy turned out well. You write Abbey's voice well.

    After that, oddly, you lose me a little. It's not that you misunderstand Abbey - you certainly understand him clearly (not that this particular set of material is overly challenging). Nor is your voice for him bad - in fact, it's pretty effective, although maybe repetitive over time (where's the ribald, over the top humor?).

    What I'm looking for, and don't see, is a response to, challenge to, or extension of some aspect of Abbey's thinking. How to do that with this frame?

    Well, who has the kid seen die? Does he have a health problem of his own? A friend lost to childhood leukemia? Or is death an abstraction to him, something brought into bloody focus maybe not just by what Abbey says, but by something he actually *sees* in the desert (a dead snake?).

    In spite of the strong scene and voice, there isn't anything here which isn't more or less a cerebral repetition of Abbey. There needs to be something much more if you revise - a voice or event which is capable of carrying Abbey farther (or of challenging him). Beware of excessive passivity - this is a character who needs to *act*, at least eventually.


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