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“Don’t do it, man.” I had a feeling I shouldn't have come today.
“Don’t worry. I won’t miss,” he said, in an off-hand sort of way.
“I’m not worried about that. If Marissa finds out, she’s going to be pissed.”
He snorted a laugh. “And the only way she’ll find out is if you tell her.”
“I’m not going to tell her,” I said.
“Exactly. You’d better keep your fucking mouth shut.”
“But that still means you shouldn’t do it.”
“Why not?” he asked. “If no one knows, it doesn’t matter, does it?”
“It’s not about that,” I said. “Just because you won’t get in trouble, doesn’t mean you should do it. There may not be any immediate consequences, but if you have to lie about it, it means you shouldn’t do it.”
“What do you mean? I lie about things I do all the time.”
“If you are lying about your life, you are not satisfied with it. Honesty is the ultimate happiness.”
He gave me one of those crooked smiles. “When the fuck did you become such a philosopher?” I didn’t answer. Instead I watched him prepare his bow. I watched as he tested the string, pulling it back several times before letting it gently settle back into place. I watched as he examined each arrow, from tip to tail, running his fingers along the shaft in a calm and focused manner. I watched as he paced back and forth between his target, making sure everything was in the order he needed it to be. It was ritualistic. In his preparation, there was a profound sense of love and admiration for this sport, and in it I could feel that sense of connection he held and envied him for it.
My brother got into archery nearly fifteen years ago, when he was eight years old. Boy Scouts were doing a demonstration one summer out in the fields by the school, and as soon as Henry saw it, he knew archery was for him. The following week, Mom enrolled Henry in a beginning archery course at a summer camp, and that was were he spent most of his time that summer. Everyone was glad to have him out of the house for awhile.
Dad refused to buy him his own bow. As an excuse, Dad said that the bows were too expensive and that he refused to have something so dangerous around the house, but we knew he was embarrassed to have a son who was so interested in something so useless. A hard working contractor by day, he thought Henry should concentrate on practical skills that would come in handy later in life, such as fixing TVs or chopping wood. At age 10, Henry got his first paper route. Dad was incredibly proud of the boy and began treating him like the man he would become, but then Henry blew all the money he had saved on a top of the line bow. Dad was crushed.
Henry didn’t care, though. In his hands he held all he thought he would ever need. He revered his bow. In the back yard, he built targets out of rice bags and hay and spent the afternoons honing his skills. When his grades began slipping, Dad decided he would sit him down everyday after school to do his homework, hoping that he could eat away daylight hours to stop Henry from practicing. Henry studied diligently every afternoon, but rather than quitting archery, he woke up early every morning and went out before school started. He did this for several years.
At age sixteen, Henry entered his first junior archery contest and won third place. Mom and I were ecstatic, but Henry sulked on the car ride home, telling us that he could’ve done better. When Dad heard this, he gained a new sense of frustration, pity, and respect for his son, and afterwards he encouraged Henry to work as hard as he could, as long as he was able to keep his grades up and his life in order. Henry did work harder. In the past seven years he has won nineteen trophies and counting.
Legend says that William Tell once shot an apple off his son’s head to escape his own execution. This tale has inspired many people throughout the ages and is emblazoned in our current era by the William Tell Overture, the Lone Ranger theme. The idea that a man could be so confident in his skills, that he would risk the life of his son to save his own, had a deep impact on Henry. It has been a source of motivation for him. Would he ever be that confident in his own abilities? Whether he would or not, he wanted to be, and some time ago began practicing with balloons set up fifty yards away. Eventually he began using cantaloupes and finally moved to the apple. At first, he set up his targets on rice bags, but began using bricks when he felt that he needed more pressure to hit the target. He broke a few arrows, but he mastered his skill.
Toby is a German Shepard. Toby is a very large German Shepard. I don’t know how long Henry has been using him, but when I stopped by last week, I found the two amid a mess of sliced apples. I was horrified, but there was nothing I could do. Henry did his best to explain it to me. “Toby’s very obedient,” he said. “He’s the most obedient dog I’ve ever known. He’ll sit perfectly still and take what comes. He’s the perfect practice.” It didn’t sound like practice. Toby wasn’t even Henry’s dog.
“I still don’t think you should do it,” I said.
“You’ve established that,” said Henry, finishing up his preparations. “I’m doing this, I don’t care what the fuck you think.”
He called Toby over to the target. “How long have you been doing this?” I asked.
“Long enough to know I can.”
“How long have you been using Toby, I mean?”
“I don’t know. A month or two, perhaps.”
“And have you ever missed?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Once. I nicked a cantaloupe. Toby was fine, though.”
“This is a hell of a lot smaller than a cantaloupe.”
Henry laughed. “You’ve got a good eye.”
I watched as he directed Toby to sit still. “And Marissa doesn’t know?”
“Of course not. No one would volunteer their dog for this job.”
“Doesn’t that mean you shouldn’t do it?”
“Stop trying to be so fucking responsible,” Henry said. I watched as he placed his new target on Toby’s head. It was a plum. Henry walked back to his shooting line.
“What happens if you miss?” I asked.
“But what if you do?”
“I just fucking told you.” Henry was taking aim. I stopped.
The world around us stopped, too. The sun halted on its arc down over the western plain, lighting the land in those peculiar shades of sunset and shadow. The wind died in the grass. The bugs quieted their singing and the rabbits stopped their playing. The earth didn’t breathe.
Neither did Henry.
A second passed. Toby sat expressionless. Life is lived best by those who don’t think of their impending doom. I watched as Henry took a slightly stronger grip on the bow. I watched as he tilted the arrow slightly higher. I watched as he found the harmony he was seeking.
He took the shot. The arrow glided steadily through the air, cutting a path towards its target.
It hit the poor mutt right between the eyes.
Marissa was going to be pissed.
| Hey Egg, what's up? Since I was on your page anyway I figured I'd check out your newest story. As usual, the story was well written (I detected no grammatical or spelling errors), and your style comes across. Speaking of which, I don't know if I've said this before, but I like your style. The (mostly) short sentences read well and your use of concrete nouns and verbs makes the story seem more like a real event (as opposed to a literary invention). Also, I like how you began the story with your point -of-attack, then gave your exposition later. Overall, though, I'd say the strongest feature of this piece was your characterization of Henry.|
I can only think of one thing that I feel would improve the piece: clarify the setting. I didn't get a clear mental picture of where the story is taking place. Grass is mentioned, but I assumed they were outside anyway. Other than that, I can't really tell where they are. You might try just adding in a description of a back yard or open field from the perspective of the narrator (and a description of how he is standing, sitting, or whatever). Other than that, I got nothin'. I think this is a good story, though I must admit the theme escaped me, and I agree with your assessment that this is your most dramatic piece (other stories of yours that I've read have had much more action).
|| Posted on 2005-12-22 00:00:00 | by DevilDinosaur | [ Reply to This ] || I havent read your comments yet so I apologise if you get the same thing:|
Hows it goin egg?
Its a captivationg story. I was grabbed by the first line "don't do it, man", four words we have all probably uttered once in our life, that immediatly struck my curiosity. However, the dialogue that follows is kind of loose. It gets hard to place whos speaking and I found myself reading it over couple of times just to get it right in my head. So you might want to brush it up with a couple "henry said"'s or "i said"'s.
The theme, actually is probably one of the more disturbing themes i've seen you write about. aside from the fact a dog gets it in the face, its troubling just to see a kid behaving this way. How long would it be before he wanted a human subject? But, maybe even moreso, the complete utter failure of it all.
Henry had built himself up to a goal, and not only did he prove he didn't have what it took, but his brother witnessed it. He stepped up to the plate and struck out. Marissa is going to be pissed, but henry will never recover. At this point the dogs death is pointless (sorry Toby), its not a story about a boy who killed a dog, its about a boy who worked as hard as he could at something and when push came to shove, failed. Its a truly dissapointing story. The writing was fabulous, don't get me wrong. I could barely stop myself from skipping to the last lines once he took aim. And thats my favorite kind of writing, where the reader just wants to know what happens. Sadly, I wish i didn't find out. I wish it ended at "neither did Henry".
But where is the reality in that? Truth in your fiction like i said before.
Wonderful write egg. Wonderful.
|| Posted on 2005-12-12 00:00:00 | by Scrumpy | [ Reply to This ] || Ahoy! Okay, I read this through a couple of times, the second time after reading your comments. |
What really strikes me about this piece is that on the whole it is well told and I didn’t so much notice this as not notice this (the best writing is that you don’t realise you’re reading). And I’m referring mainly to the back-story of Henry. It gives a good impression of character and the ambition that this boy has in a rather small amount of words. We know from this history that he is strong and willing to disobey his superiors or work around their rules to do what he wants to do. Most importantly we know he wants to be the new William Tell and this is the main crux of story. His dedication to his sport and his progression through the years was well portrayed.
What didn’t read so well was the opening dialogue, the disembodied voices that floated around in my head looking for some sort of ground to sit on. You’ve got a semi hook: that someone is doing something he really shouldn’t be doing and it may affect a girl called Marissa, but I really think there should be some sort of description of the place here. I get the idea that you don’t want people to know what’s going on until the end, but there is not enough here to get a grasp on. This led me to make up my own idea of what this place looked like and who these people were and when you got on to the back-story I realised I needed to change it. I just think that you shouldn’t trust the reader to make up their own minds about what’s going on in your story. It’s like being lead blindfolded by someone you don’t know. Slightly disconcerting and rarely what you expect.
My next observation:
The back-story gives Henry the lead on our apparent protagonist. And this is where I think the problem of perspective lies (and I wrote this before I read your comments! I’m not contradicting you on purpose ;) ). We begin to know pretty quickly more about Henry than we ever could know about our protagonist (I still can’t find his name anywhere). The guy telling it does need to have an active role in the story (I got a better impression of Henry’s dad than I did the boy who tells it). As it is, he is just an observer and although we get through the dialogue that he doesn’t want Henry to experiment with the dog, neither does the reader, and that makes his part a bit pointless. He doesn’t really add anything. I think maybe as a longer piece it could work in 1st, but if this is to be the entire story you may need to seriously consider moving to third person and make Henry the protagonist and add his brother alongside him or perhaps just tell the story of him taking his first shot on the dog alone (from first or third person).
As I said the bulk of this story is well told and interesting, It pulled me in because it was well written and I started to become sympathetic towards this boy who would do anything to continue and improve his skills as an archer. When I related this boy to the dialogue he was unexpectedly arrogant, but it’s not as if you could have told that in the back-story. I’m going to be honest and say I was expecting the dog to die (maybe more from your sadistic tendency in stories than anything else!) and would have been happier if it had lived, not because I cared about the dog, but because Henry would have achieved his goal and proved his brother wrong. Of those I have read this is certainly your best written piece technically, but I just felt there was more story to be told by the end. You should continue it for that reason.
|| Posted on 2005-12-12 00:00:00 | by manintheshack | [ Reply to This ] || PAH.|
You knew through the whole last half, after Toby was introduced to the story that he was going to kill the poor dog. But you hoped and hoped that it wouldn't happen.
And then the ending was so blunt, so matter-of-fact.
Besides the phenomenal story, hows it going eggman? I havent been around in a while! Are you still president?
|| Posted on 2005-12-11 00:00:00 | by andrya | [ Reply to This ] || very well done. I was totally captivated by your story here.|
You take time, you spend money & thought on learning something. Putting everything you have into a certain skill. As you said, to trust yourself enough, to KNOW that you could do it.
Yet, you couldnt. Crushing.
When everything you worked so hard for just seems to end there.
Or, not. Sometimes it makes you work harder, depending on the person.
still, something that will always haunt you.
It made me think, wonder.
That is the greatest talent, I think. To be able to capture your reader, bringing them into your world. Making them feel it, see it.
|| Posted on 2005-12-11 00:00:00 | by joy7542 | [ Reply to This ] || First, excellent use of dialogue -- it's very natural and not at all overdone. Starting the conversation toward the end is an effective use of time in the narrative.|
"Life is lived best by those who don’t think of their impending doom." Personally I'd suggest removal of that line, since it's completely unnecessary. It seems too much of a giveaway to me. It doesn't matter whether you know the dog's going to die or not, that line is TELLING rather than letting the story do the trick.
What causes Henry to fail? I would say the constant doubt of his brother who, despite all his skill, Henry is still affected by. It is not over-confidence. Henry has done everything he can to prepare for the shot, and there is no internal reason for him to miss, therefore it must be external.
Or does he fail? Perhaps Henry at last gives in to the savage instinct which caused him to desire such a weapon initially. Perhaps he sees the dog as a symbol of the obedient creature he himself has become. The story does indicate that "he found the harmony he was seeking", after all.
Either reading works for me. Doubt is crippling and has consequences. Obedience, too, is crippling.
Overall a well written story and a pleasure to encounter.
|| Posted on 2006-04-16 00:00:00 | by Fantastic Freya | [ Reply to This ] |