Timed writing compendium
I composed these three pieces in 15 minutes each. The exercise was part of a writing exercise for my writing group, The Pocono Liars Club. We were not to change any of the spelling, punctuation, or poorly chosen words. Simply let it go. These have been modestly corrected for basic spelling and that’s it and only that because I was putting them online.
I heard the fire popping as it burned through the dry timber. It poured out heat; as if this cursed country needed any more of that! Still, the smell emanating from the roasting gazelle spitted over those coals drowned out the heat for a moment. MREs get boring after a while and time spent crawling from building to building in a manhunt for insurgents and rebels gave good cause to celebrate moments like these when they were to hand.
We had been rotated out of Fallujah and sent to the rear for a little r and r. Our billet had us camped at one of Sadam’s old estates, complete with attached game lands. It only took the men a few days to weaken enough in the absence of higher authority before they shot and butchered one of the animals. We would eat well today.
My comm set barked to life as the guard shack radioed back. “Lieutenant, we have inbound friendlies. Looks like the Major’s a little early.”
That wasn’t good news. That was the higher authority that hadn’t wanted any of these animals killed. I picked up my binoculars and zoomed in on the approaching convoy. They were moving through the desert with speed, distance aplenty among the vehicles. You had to in order to avoid the IEDs. I wasn’t excited about the upcoming meeting.
When the Major arrived he stepped out of his car and I welcomed him with a parade-ground perfect salute.
He wasn’t buying it. “Lieutenant! What do I smell!” It wasn’t quite a yell, but it wasn’t softly said either.
“Sir, the marines had to put down a wounded animal. Seems like the locals took a pot shot at it and when we responded to the weapon’s fire they decided they weren’t that hungry. We were, though.”
His face purpled a little, maybe more, and the light from the fire danced a merry blaze in his eyes. “Under no circumstances are you to shoot these animals. They are the property of the Iraqi people!”
And then he was gone.
A week later, he drives back from Fallujah, dirty, and stinking like everyone else in this heat. He pulls into our little soiree and there is another animal over the fire. To say that he is displeased would be a disservice.
He gets out of the vehicle in a black rage. “LIEUTENANT!”
I hustle over and salute smartly.
“Walk with me a moment.” His voice was barely audible as he contained his rage. The ‘walk with me a moment’ was a euphemism that generally meant I-don’t-want-your-men-to-see-me-put-my-boot-up-your-ass. I walked after him.
He spun and put a bony, callused finger in my chest and unfettered his rage. “ I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU THAT YOU WERE NOT TO SHOOT ANY MORE OF THESE ANIMALS. WHAT IN GOD’S NAME IS THAT THING DOING OVER A FIRE.
“Sir the marines did not shoot that animal, they surrounded it and killed it with their entrenching tools.”
“GOD DAMN IT, MARINE. THEY AREN’T OUR ANIMALS TO KILL! NO MORE OF THEM ARE TO DIE FOR ANY CAUSE.” A pause, a moment lasting a lifetime, and then with a voice as quiet as the grave. “Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir.” I saluted with all the power and energy I had, trying desperately to keep the smile from my face.
Take 2: The End of Exploration
I stand and stare out of the bridge window of my ship. The galaxy I am approaching is spinning slowly, which my computer compensates for and shows me in real time. My ship travels at many times the speed of light, a focus of ship design and engineering from nearly 30,000 years ago.
It is strange to be here. This has been my target since I left the last occupied way point station nearly a thousand years ago. I and my scout cohorts had volunteered for the mission to examine the remaining galaxies of the universe. It was a momentous task and we had been fitted with the best of ships and technology. We had elements for our food replicators that would last us eons and could easily resupply fuel stores at any of billions of different stars.
Still, I had chosen this system for my own. I wanted to explore the last system. I wanted to be recorded as the man who uncovered the vast truth that humanity had been stumbling toward since its birth. And here I was.
I ran my initial scans of the arm’s full of stars swinging nearest me. While the ship’s computer system defragmented the data and registered it in minute detail, I plotted courses the old fashioned way. Certainly the onboard systems knew the best spots to go to to run the scans but I liked the math involved and the scratching out of formulas and calculations.
I would need a total of six scans for the galaxy and nearly a month worth of time to sort my data out on the back end. I fired probes from my current location and sent them to the coordinates I had derived, noticing that I was only a micron or two away from what the ship had decided as best vantage points anyway.
When the probes arrived, they sent a stream of data my way. I catalogued the stars by size and age as well as by luminosity. I searched for the habitable zones, the goldilocks zone some still referred to it as, and bored down my search protocols to target these areas specifically.
The scouts that had been sent to the far reaches of the universe all searched for signs of life. We visited all of the galaxies and ran these same scans over and over, sleeping ini cryogenic stasis while our ships flitted in the blackness between galaxies.
Mankind had been pondering its origins and meaning since it had still been bound on the Earth homeworld. Now, a full fifty thousand years into human evolution, the same questions permeated our culture.
So I looked. With the others.
The first reports began to tumble in and I reviewed them with the same detached resignation I had grown accustomed to. When the probes finally started sending me data it got even more oppressive.
I had expected this. The resurgence of this possibility had been percolating like wildfire for the past three or four thousand years. Here I stood on the deck of the very last survey ship, scanning the very last galaxy and I have the same result that other pioneers had had for untold missions before.
I saw nothing.
Not a blip, a characterization, a resonance of life. The entire galaxy, millions of stars capable of having life and not a one of them did.
It is an enormity beyond measure to realize that you are alone. We had hoped that the vastness of space would offer us more in the way of culture, possibility, complexity. We only have ourselves with which to work.
The universe is empty save for us and our humble earth. Certainly our colonized worlds and their various representations of earth matter, but there are no other cultures to explore.
There is only human,
And we are all there is ever going to be.
I set my sights for home and gear up the computer …
15 minutes, take 1
How does one right for 15 minutes?
How does one focus their creative side under a mallet of judgement?
So I gave up trying this in my office and decided that since I pass some fine scenery on the way to and from work, I could use it for inspiration. So I am typing on my iPad and overlooking the Delaware Water Gap just outside of town.
It’s pretty, but I think fall is late. Last year this time we had scarcely a leaf left on trees. At the moment, I don’t even see very many colored hats on the trees in front of me. I do like the way the river bends to the south, the Jersey side bathed in sun while the Pa side is awash in shadow. Not that I’m biased to the light, a jersey boy myself.
Time ticks ever onward for all of us and the trials of work linger afterwards, which can suck sometimes. And that sentence makes no sense but I can’t edit it so you’ll have to join me on my merry ride of discordant ideas wrestling in my head for supremacy. It can be a battlefield in there at times.
I am alone here. Mostly. Cars are rushing past and it’s a Friday so they all have more important things to do than stop and take a look. I fancy nature. I love photography, too, though I don’t get out nearly enough with a camera in my hand to take pictures and stop the world’s endless march forward. There used to be a time when I would just grab my camera and go. More often than not now, I just grab a remote.
Or a joystick
Or an app.
Mired in the mundane and trapped by blinky lights. I think that is part of the reason I turned to writing. My creative side couldn’t expand and be appreciated. You have no idea how confining and regimented life can be trapped inside a math teacher’s world. With nothing but a dry sense of humor and a heavy reliance on sarcasm I had turned quadratic equation and polynomial math into areas of euphoria.
And I could make it enjoyable for my students though I dare say euphoric would not have been a chosen phrase of recollection.
Back to my hilltop lookout. I hear the cars and now and then one stops here and people get out to glance below and around. Lacking color, most don’t stay.
Just me. Pecking away at a keyboard plotting a unique dinner at a newfangled place my wife inquired after. That could be fun.
Or not. Sometimes my pallet is pretty staid in its approach to culinary exploration. It’s Friday too, so beer and pizza will get me through just fine. But the kids are all off in college so we can do little things like dinner out or dinner bought out but eaten in. The flexibility is inspiring. Freeing. I like that we can be a couple again rather than wrapped up as parents. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, and this writing thing is partly their fault. It is they I aim to inspire with leaping into the unknown. How does a math teacher help a lit major child move on in the world?
This one decided to write. And now she is too. I read her first article published in her schools magazine and her poem, published first in her school’s magazine last year was a bonus.
Thoughts: my last sentence changed a lot as I saw the time on my phone running out. Nothing like a little stream of conscious to get things moving.