• Reviews of Tale of the Week 284 stories by SanyuXV, NorseThing and Cohors_Evocata

    Reviews of Tale of the Week 284 stories
    by SanyuXV, NorseThing and Cohors_Evocata
    Reviewed by Darkan and Turkafinwë

    If you like writing and enjoy a challenge, you could try the Tale of the Week competition. Each competition provides a theme and an image to get your imagination flowing. Entries must contain the key words and be no longer than 500 words. You can find the theme, the image and the key words for Tale of the Week 284 below, followed by the entries and our reviews.

    "It is only when you fall that you learn whether you can fly."
    - Flemeth, Dragon Age II

    Christian Mehlführer, A Kea flying in its natural environment on "The Remarkables" near Queenstown, New Zealand, source, CC BY 2.5

    SanyuXV's taleThe man's strained voice squeaked out a barely audible gasp. His mouth a desert, his throat a void of silence.
    In his last presumable moment he musters a question for his captor.

    "Are you not ashamed of what you have done?"

    "Are you not afraid of god's wrath, that you are the cardinal sin of which many preach against?"

    No reply met the man's question as he sat in the darkness.
    His chapped lips returned to their previous state; cracked, sealed and unwilling.

    No words could describe his discomfort as he sat in the deafening silence.
    His hands bound above him, continually chafing against his bloodstained skin.

    The man had lost all sense of time, since his capture as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
    He was simply a rock in the vast ocean of time, a blip in the infinite expanse of existence.

    A creaking rippled through the damp cell as a quick breeze sauntered into the tiny cell.
    The stench of death invaded his nose, and asked no questions as it burnt itself into his memory.

    "Thirsty?" a voice rang out from the darkness.

    The man could not muster the strength to produce an audible reply, the vocal components of his impoverished body had surrendered indefinitely.

    The captor amused that the man had not replied continued to speak in a slow, seditious tone.

    "To answer your question 3 moons ago, tsk how should I word this" as he lights a candle with his long, pale, scared fingers.
    Illuminating the room, chasing the darkness to the fringes of the stifling cell.

    "Does fire think about what it does when it consumes the resource it needs to survive?

    Does a bird desire to understand how their wings gift him with the ability of flight?


    I do this because . . .


    And I have never failed.

    The man summoned one last act of defiance, attempting to lay eyes on his captor and to his horror he could not comprehend the sight that was beholden to him.

    A ghoulish laughter left the lips of the captor, as he observed his prisoner become paralyzed in complete fear.

    "Did you hope to retain a shred of honor?" The captor unsheathed a jagged, hellbent knife as he sized up his prisoner.

    "Such a mortal concept, such a silly concept. I will cut it out of you -- forever."

    Review by DarkanHello all,

    Today we will be looking at a couple of Tale of the Week stories, which, although short, have some interesting things to say. As you know, writing a TotW entry can be challenging, as one needs to convey everything within a limit of 500 words, on top of using the five given elements as well. The stories we are looking at today are from TotW 284 – “It is only when you fall that you learn whether you can fly”. While the central idea or theme was given by the title, it is not enforced. Thus we start with (in alphabetical order)...

    SanyuXV – Despair

    The story starts ominously with a broken man, the first character; “his mouth a desert”, “his throat a void of silence” who still manages to push past these obstacles to utter two questions. Without reply, without anything to let him know he is not alone, he returns to the previous state of impotence, a victim of his surroundings and of his own senses; “his chapped lips returned to their previous state; cracked, sealed and unwilling”, “deafening silence”, “The man had lost all sense of time since his capture, as he drifted in and out of consciousness”, “a rock in the vast ocean of time, a blip in the infinite expanse of existence”.

    The middle of the story introduces the second character, the “captor”, a presence to disturb the previous state of, albeit uneasy and threatening, nothingness. The captor is not a human being, however, a fact made obvious by “the stench of death”. Again, we have a question, meant to torture the man, to highlight his powerlessness and confirm the captor’s power over him. The captor then proceeds to answer the man’s questions, though doing so from a higher plane of understanding, with a superiority of either intellect or malice; “Does fire think about what it does...?”, “Does a bird desire to understand...?”

    The ending is as ominous as the beginning was, but it is here that we have the first real interaction between the two characters. The man strives to rise above the mental torture and physical pain, to defy the captor, unsuccessfully so. The captor understands this “shred of honour” his victim is trying to conjure up, to hold on to, and swiftly dispels any hope the man may have had; “I will cut it out of you – forever.”

    The author managed to convey both the man’s desperate situation, still holding on to what makes us human, to the ideas of hope and honour, of trying to solve a problem even beyond our control. The captor, in its brutality of purpose, leaves no room for these “mortal concept, such a silly concept”. It knows what it must do and it knows, unequivocally, it will do it. There are, however, a few ideas the captor might not be aware of. The sparse dialogue, more in the form of unanswered questions, reveals much about the characters.

    From the man’s first two questions it is apparent he knows, or at least he hints, who the captor is. There are no “Where am I”, “Who are you” or “What do you want” questions, which makes me think he knows the answers already. Instead, his questions are meant to attack, to fight the captor.
    The captor’s questions reveal much about it as well. Does it know, or does it understand that if he is the fire and the man is the resource, then it is the captor itself that cannot exist without the man? If it is the bird and the man is the wing, then without humanity, it is purposeless, without importance...and yet, it is the captor who “was made for this”. One last idea comes to mind, a thought hidden away in the corner: is the captor jealous of mankind’s freedom? If it was made for this, then it can have no other purpose, no other choice.

    Care to look at some constructive criticism?

    The story is good, and its central theme can and hopefully will be explored more. There are but some minor issues that have gnawed at my brain. This has to do mainly with vocabulary used, such as “vocal components” and “a blip”, which are slightly out of place with the medieval nature of the setting. A couple of adjectives are also misused, either due to having a different meaning to the author’s intended one, or simply not going well with the nouns they describe: “hell-bent knife”, the contrast between the breeze that announces the captor’s entrance and the cell being “stifling”. Also, the use of the verb “saunter” with the breeze seems somewhat off. At times there is a lack of commas or improper use “The captor amused that the man had not replied continued to speak...”. There is a confusing part as well, with an uncertain subject “The stench of death invaded his nose, and asked no questions as it burnt itself into his memory”, considering that what follows is a question: “Thirsty?”
    While not an error itself, and more of a personal preference, the use of the expression “3 moons ago” could have been changed in order to conceal the timeframe or highlight the meaningless of time. Another expression could have been used to the same effect, without revealing a precise timeline (many moons ago, ages ago or aeons past). These are all minor things, which a re-reading or two can flesh out and eliminate.

    Congratulations to SanyuXV for a very good story, which intertwines different notions and ideas. Please feel free to comment on what you liked about the story/stories and if there are questions, perhaps we can pester the authors enough that they will answer some.

    Tale by NorseThingJohn was happy but a bit ashamed. How could he fail at such a simple task? His friends would often head out for rock climbing. He preferred to label it as rock scrambling, but it was still a climb and these were rocks. So his friends won out on the naming on the days when he would meet up with then at a rock face to mess around together.

    This was all great fun climbing up the shallow limestone cut faces that were the result of road construction. It made the road more level. It became a very scenic drive with the pine trees and the limestone exposed as the hills were cut away. John did notice many of the older ones would take the scenic drive as a couple. Often this was near sunset when he should be settling in for a good night's sleep. Of course we were all too immature as young ones for the activity of a scenic drive.

    One bright sunny day John was out rock scrambling by himself. Yes, by himself it was rock scrambling and with his friends the same activity was rock climbing. On this particular day, John had tried a new but recently cut rock face. This was created by the new road construction. There was a great deal of activity, noise, and of course the rock dust and dirt of the construction. All this just added to the adventure of the scramble. John had climbed up only about 25 feet when he discovered he had run out of easy foot holds. Then, the world fell out from under him. Well not the world, but rocks did give way and now John was perched on a ledge with no obvious means to go up or down.

    Now for the shame of John. He was never very effective at communicating with others. This moment he needed to communicate. He cried out for help. There was no reaction from any of the workers in the road construction gang. How could he hope to get down? No path and no attention. This meant no means of escape and no help was available. He knew he was on his own and would simply have to try and work his way down the rock face. It was now looking like about a mile to work his way down and not the 25 feet.

    Determined, John began his descent. His footing failed and rocks began to tumble down with a ferocious amount of noise. He began to fall....

    Below one of the construction workers noticed the commotion and looked up. He nudged his buddy, and said, "Look at that! A rock slide on our fresh hill cut. It is not stable"

    The buddy then responded, "More amazing is that young eagle with outstretched wings just able to get out of danger. How the heck can an eagle cause all of this and still avoid the chaos?"

    Review by TurkafinwëNorseThing's story begins with John, '”who is happy but a bit ashamed”, or so the first sentence says. An intruiging start if I do say so myself. John is rock climbing or rock scrambling as he prefers to call it. Together with his friends he would regularly climb the rock surfaces on a construction site, where the workers are chipping away at the hills to make way for a new road they are building. NorseThing continues by describing the surroundings, in which our tale takes place, as a “scenic drive with the pine trees and the limestone exposed as the hills were cut away”, a line I'm personally very fond of. But these youngster care not for the scenery only for a day of action.

    The next part in the story brings us to an occasion were John is climbing on his own, on a freshly cut rock surface. While the builders worked John climbed a good 25 feet (some 7,6 meters for my fellow metric system users) before he finds himself trapped. The rocks under him give way and he falls, landing him on a ledge with no way out. In this moment of contemplation NorseThing continues by explaining the source of John's shame, mentioned in his opening sentence. He says, John “was never very effective at communicating with others.”. This can mean a number of things and I immediatly think to myself, does he have a speech impediment or is he just a bit weird or maybe something else entirely but NorseThing does not elaborate. More mystery, but let's carry on with the story shall we.

    John, being trapped, cries out for help but no answer comes. Realising there would come no salvation from outside John decides to try his luck and make the descend by himself. A brave yet fatal decision. Or is it? John's part of the story ends with the dramatic tone that he loses his footing and falls to what we assume to be his untimely demise. From here we jump to the perspective of two unnamed workers on the construction site. One of them nudges the other and says: “Look at that! A rock slide on our fresh hill cut. It is not stable.”, to which the other replies: “More amazing is that young eagle with outstretched wings just able to get out of danger. How the heck can an eagle cause all of this and still avoid the chaos.”.

    I see! It all makes sense now, an excellent plot twist right there. NorseThing leaves us to believe John is human. This assumption makes us, certainly me, more involved into the story and gives it more gravity (no pun intented) than if he had started with explaining that John is actually an eagle. I felt attached to the character and seriously feared for his life as he fell from a dangerous height. This also explains the mystery surrounding John's uneffective communication skills. Communication between humans and other animals is always a bit strained and difficult, in my opinion. I've never communicated better with an animal than with another human, although.

    To summarize NorseThing's tale begins with the playful nature of some youngsters innocently climbing the rock surfaces which abruptly transitions into a dangerous situation which could mean the end of a boy's life only to surprise us with a superbly crafted plot twist which lifts all the built up tension. Superbly done Norsething!

    NorseThing's submission was one I liked very much but his wasn't the only one that caught my eye. Another submission, sent in by Cohors_Evocata, also interested me immensly.

    Cohors_Evocata's taleYou’d think they would try to be less annoying. Pissing off the guy holding a gun to your head is never a good idea, but doing so after you WRECKED THEIR VERY COSTLY PROTOTYPE is just asking for trouble. The figure on the ground seems to have realised this as well, as he has finally stopped squirming. Good, at least he understands the situation. Pity I had to raise my voice.

    The man in front of me looks up. John Doe here must really be commended for his bravery. Most of his predecessors would have switched to their most miserable puppy-look by this point, but he has continued to meet my gaze. Admirable. Does he still hope he’ll survive this? No, that can’t be, he must have heard the rumours before he signed up. Does he think it more honourable to show no fear in the face of death? Regardless, such defiance does merit some reward. I suppose I’ll humour him and give him an explanation for what is to follow.

    “You understand why I must kill you, right?” “I understand you’re a rich bastard and most of your employees vanish without a trace. They meet the same fate?” “Yes. They all get one chance and one chance only. If you succeed, you share in the glory. If you fail…” “you become a loose end.” He chuckles. “So that’s really it? You kill all these people because you’re ashamed? Because you don’t want the world to know about your failures?” “Of course not. But I have a reputation to uphold and a lot of associated benefits I’d rather not lose. So I have to take care of my image.” He laughs out loud now. “What a fine image indeed. Brilliant inventor and beacon of progress. The man who never fails. They ought to know you as you really are.” I can’t hold back the smile. “They never will. Any last words?” He spits at my feet. “Go die in a fire, you choleric whoreson.”

    I glance backwards at the site of the crash. The remains of the contraption are scattered all over the rocks, but you can still make out the wings. I make a mental note to make sure the next version is welded together. After all, what would be the purpose of these experiments if we continued to make the same mistakes? Perhaps I ought to try wax. Now it’s my turn to chuckle. “Humanity”, I say to no-one in particular, “will learn how to fly. But it’s probably for the best they never learned how we got there.”

    Review by TurkafinwëCohors_Evocata's story starts very aggressively with the words: “You'd think they would try to be less annoying. Pissing off the guy holding a gun to your head is never a good idea, but doing so after you WRECKED THEIR VERY COSTLY PROTOTYPE is just asking for trouble.” The rage coming from this first character is frightening. That prototype must've been very precious indeed. Whatever that prototype is together with who this first character is and who he is talking to, are our first questions. Let's find out shall we.

    It doesn't take long before a second character is introduced. He is first described as the person who finally stops squirming after the first started shouting. I'll call him the 'victim' in this story and the first character the 'aggressor'. The aggressor calls him John Doe who, rather than pleading for his life, isn't afraid to meet his attacker's eyes. A bravery the aggressor commends and figures would garner some sort of reward. The reward, an explanation why this is happening to him. He starts by saying: “You understand why I must kill you, right?”. He continues by telling his victim that everyone gets but one chance and if you succeed you share in the glory but when you fail you become a “loose end”. What kind of experiments is this madman conducting and moreover to what extend will he go to achieve his goal? The victim replies in kind: “So that's really it? You kill all these people because you're ashamed? Because you don't want the world to know about your failings?” The aggressor seems not at all agitated by this and explains he'd rather not lose the benefits of being a renowned man, he even sees a rather morbid sense of humour in it as he laughingly says. “What a fine image that would be. Brilliant inventor and beacon of progress. The man who never fails.” This man is clearly delusional I would say, corrupted by his dreams of grandeur, what these are we still don't know. The victim says he thinks the world should know the aggressor for who he really is to which the latter smilingly replies that they never will. He asks the victim if he has any last words which turn out to be: “Go die in a fire, you choleric whoreson!”, after which our victim disappears from the story. It is not outright said that he is killed but I would assume so. A man of such defiance would not stay silent unless made so, I think.

    We are now drawn to the object that is responsible for this entire situation, the prototype we've been anxious to hear about. However not much is said about it other than that it lies in pieces, smashed on the rocks, its only distinction that it has wings and that they are still recognisable as such. The aggressor, presumably now done with his victim, turns his attention to the rubble and makes a couple of mental notes concerning changes to it's design. This one is as cool as a cucumber, he just murdered someone and has already turned his attention to making improvements to his deadly contraption.

    The tale ends with an ominous line that makes the chills run down my spine. “Humanity”, I say to no-one in particular, “will learn how to fly. But it’s probably for the best they never learned how we got there.”

    I began my review with commenting on the aggressive nature of this story's begin and I must say it was a very effective way of capturing my attention and make me stick to the edge of my seat from the first sentences forward. However I feel obliged to give a word of caution concerning this technique. It is my believe that while it is a great way of initially capturing your reader's attention you risk to lose much from it if used poorly. For it to be most effective, the aggression has to be succeeded by an atmosphere that can hold the built up suspense and the reader's attention lest your tale falls flat on its face. Cohors_Evocata's tale is a perfect example where it has been implemented correctly and used to great effect with the aggression being followed up by a threatening atmosphere which doesn't leave right up until the final sentence where it turns outright sinister. It is, in my opinion, one of the tale's greatest strengths.

    I think Cohors_Evocata's tale really highlights the tenacious and unyielding nature of humanity's curiosity and drive to achieve the most difficult of things, like the ability to fly, and our willingness to sacrifice almost anything, including lives, to achieve them. It's obvious when I say I absolutely loved this one, well done Cohors_Evocata!

    To end with a word of criticism, if I may. In the conversation between the two characters it was often difficult to descry who was saying what. I had to base myself on the words that were being said to discover who said it rather than an indication that clarified it for me. Placing a space between the sentences, spoken by the different parties, would've done a remarkable job of making it clear who said what without the need of adding words, which is always the challenge with a Tale of the Week submission to stay below the 500 word limit.

    Thanks for reading! This will be a two-part article, so look out for the second part which will include reviews of the other great entries in Tale of the Week 284. Meanwhile, you're invited to visit the Writers' Study and to take part in the Tale of the Week competition.
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Swaeft's Avatar
      Swaeft -
      Nice job writing those reviews (and kudos to those who crafted these tales as well), they are rather well written if I may say so Succinct and detailed at the same time.
    1. Turkafinwë's Avatar
      Turkafinwë -
      Thanks Swaeft! I had great fun writing these reviews, as well as reading the stories for this exceptionally large Tale of the Week competition. I'm very much looking forward to part two of this article
    1. Turkafinwë's Avatar
      Turkafinwë -
    1. NorseThing's Avatar
      NorseThing -
      I appreciate feedback on not just what I write, but also what others write. It makes us all better writers to see what others think.

      A great review of each entry.
    1. Kilo11's Avatar
      Kilo11 -
      This is indeed a cool thing to see, and something that I imagine would be a nice more regular exercise to have done here (maybe just like every tenth TotW or something). I feel like tales of the week are a rare opportunity for us all to learn rather condensed lessons on writing and how best to use a writer's toolkit, and these reviews might help to further add to the benefit we can gain from this all.

      Also, it goes without saying that the tales and reviews are all very nice to read! I will be looking forward to Part II of this!