Posts Tagged ‘302prose’

ENGL 302: Journal 4, “Press of a Button”

Friday, February 11th, 2011

You come home late at night, after a hard day.  The message light on the answering machine is blinking.  You press play and listen….

…You have the promotion, and the raise, but you will have to relocate to Nome, Alaska (or Ulan Bator, Mongolia, or some other equally remote, inhospitable, and inaccessible place).

Your finger trembles above the answering machine’s play button in the aftermath of the message.  You’re still, frozen, fumbling between shock and elation, and the rain that soaked your blouse and now chills you is forgotten in the rush.  A droplet of water runs down your aquiline nose, splashes onto the cheap plastic appliance.

“If you would like to save this message, press one…”

You hadn’t recognized the voice extending the invitation in sing-song Cantonese, but that meant nothing.  He had still used the right words, mentioned the right things:  You knew it was authentic, you knew what it meant.

It meant a promotion, a raise, acclaim and acceptance from your peers.  It was the accumulation of your years of training and long hours at work.  It was the Mohe County of China, an area with one of the most extreme–but still hospitable–climates on earth.

“If you would like to delete this message, press two…”

You exhale, heavily.  The release drops your shoulders, which were as rigid as steel supports, and returns your mind to your body.  Despite all the honor this assignment imparts, and the trust in you it implies, your stomach is still in knots.  Mohe, China, a remote area thousands and thousands of miles from McLean, Virginia, with as many fewer people.  What exactly awaits a junior core collection officer from the CIA has remained classified information to those aware of the opportunity, tantalizing the recruits salivating at the bits to prove themselves.

But, subarctic temperatures?  Minimal human contact?  A cruel request.  The reason for such a request would have to be interesting.

You could turn it down.  You could choose a different assignment.  No harm, no foul in the Agency’s book.

“If you would like to hear more options, please press three,” the machine requests.

You stare at it for too long, unmoving, and it repeats itself.  “If you would like to hear more options, please press–“

You press the button.

-Leigh Ellis

ENGL 302A: Exercise 2 “Ether Tree Maintenance”

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Prompt: “Write a short character sketch (it may be from life), focusing on how your character makes a living.  Put your character in a working situation and let us know by a combination of direct and indirect methods what that work is, how well he or she does it, what it looks like, smells like, and [how] the character feels about it.”–Janet Burroway, Imaginative Writing

Peter received his task from Max on a slip of paper pushed across the flat stone they used for a table in the Labor & Commission tent.  “Be careful,” the extensively freckled man warned him, before gesturing for the next in line to come forward.  Peter thanked him and wished him a good day before turning away, chipper than he had been when he woke up this morning.  If Max was issuing caution, the assignment must be something good.  He inspected the parchment as he walked down the dirt path, lantern in one hand, paying only enough attention to the rest of the world to evade collision as the town woke up and attended to their duties.

Co-ordinates and the order, “Fix it,” were his only clue.  It was plenty.  He adjusted his direction, making for the supply building, nodding and exchanging hellos with those he passed.

Jenna greeted him with the barest nod of acknowledgement, more concerned with snapping her gum and the latest news, which she spread across the wooden counter, following the words on the paper with a slow-moving finger.

“Anything new,” he asked, sidling up opposite her.

She flicked the page at him, picked it up.  “Get your own.”

Peter tsked, giving her half a smile and a wink.  “Don’t be cruel to the heart that’s true, pretty girl.”  He propped an elbow on the counter and gave her the widest, most innocent eyes he could make around the newspaper she held up like a barrier.  “Why’s it all the pretty ones can get away with bein’ so mean to the boys that fancy their sweet, soft hearts?”

Jenna dropped the paper with a heavy sigh and rolled her eyes, but a smile peeked about the corners of her mouth.  “Oh, shut it, you.  What you want, Petey,” she drawled.

His grin was broad, but soon exchanged for a frown of concentration as they got down to business.  Despite Jenna’s frequently brusque attitude, she was a mother hen to the people she took a liking to, and rarely let someone go into the field without a good argument to take far more than they reasonably needed in precautionary items.  It was worth any extra flattery to get the most recent tech Research & Development shipped to her but she held onto like a badger with a brick of honey.

He strapped on a utility belt, slung a tech pack loaded with instruments he may or may not need but Jenna wouldn’t let him leave without onto his back, set the co-ordinates into the navigator and headed out into the darkness the swallowed up the world beyond his town.

To live beneath the Atlas City Plate was to live in a world of darkness and ruin and servitude.  Peter knew this as clearly as he knew his dirty, unwashed face in the mirror above his washbasin.  He didn’t know this simply because he had been told as much by his elders and betters. Waking up morning after morning in the same darkness he went to sleep with, watching his parents labor in the ether factories, bending in subservience to the Altanian patrols–it was enough.  When he’d come of age and went with the others to the top…

Peter still remembered climbing, endless climbing, to reach the surface of the Plate.  It was entirely forbidden for any of them to go to Atlas itself, a caveat he’d not understood until climbing out of their sewer system and into the street of the Ether City.  The moonlight blinded him.  The buildings were tall, reaching toward a topless sky, not squat and ruined.  The air had been fresh, and when he descended to the place he’d been born, it was like stepping into a prisoner’s cage.  They had not been able to stay long, out of fear of discovery, but Peter knew the experience would be impossible to forget.

“Ether pumps the blood of this city, and we work the ether factories.  That’s why we can’t go to Atlas.  If all of us knew the truth, that would be the end of them,” Max had said.  No one would work beneath the Plate if they knew what the moon looked like.

“Why don’t they bring the factories up top?” He’d asked.

Max had shaken his head. “The ether is down deep in the earth, thousands of times deeper than the deepest hole you could ever dig, even if you spent your lifetime doing it.  They don’t know any other way to get it.  Remember, there was ether before there was Atlas.  No one knows how it was originally discovered.  We don’t even understand the technology in the factories.  They were created long before us, and remain as mysterious.”

Standing here, miles away from town, Peter wondered what the Atlanians would do if they knew about the natural reserves of ether, like the one he’d been tasked to fix.  It loomed, a beacon in the darkness, hidden by the empty buildings surrounding it.  Rare, beautiful, luminous:  An Ether Tree.

The trunk was a mix of rotted, wasting wood and a heavy complement of plastic-sheathed metal; once it had stood perfectly perpendicular, suspending wires from one of its kind to the next.  Now it was wrapped in a serpentine network of translucent tubing containing natural, nonmanufactured ether, and leaned precariously to one side.  The wires hung limp, or not at all; some had long since broken off and fallen to the ground.  They belonged to a rusted past.  Peter was here to fix the present.

“What’s wrong with you, huh?  You look pretty enough for a party to me,” he said.  He approached it with caution at first, aware that the situation might be a trap set by Atlanians who had finally discovered his people’s secrets, but soon arrived at the Ether Tree’s control box without incident. Peter sighed as he opened the box’s back panel, where a mass of wires confronted him.  At least it wasn’t covered in dust or dirt, a sure sign of neglect by their engineering patrols.  Peter squatted and pulled the tech pack over his shoulders and in front of him.  Time to get to work.

ENGL 302: “In the Garden” & the Writing Process

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

I’d like to share on this blog some of my writing process.  When I went to write the short piece “In the Garden” for ENGL302, I was having a hard time visualizing the location.  Since I did not want the reader to feel as if the surroundings were “floaty”, I realized that I would need to know exactly where they were myself.  I’m also trying to be a better artist–I’m terrible at it–so I thought it would be a real help to sketch out the area.  Below, you can see what I created.  It ultimately aided me greatly when I went to write the exercise (not that the exercise was a standout).

Sketch for "In the Garden"

I found that creating supplemental pieces like this are immensely useful last semester, when I had to use Inform7 for my Electronic Literature course (taught by Professor Zach Whalen).

It’s also interesting to compare what I sketched & what was written.  Everything is a draft until the submitted work.