View Full Version : A Midwinter Stroll (for your enjoyment and commentary, no crits necessary)

Permanent Solution
12-15-2004, 07:39 AM
A "short" story by me for a final paper. It is long, but hopefully interesting enough (it was a school paper after all :-/)

So it happened, on that fateful evening in January, that as he walked alone through darkened alleyways he was struck from behind without warning. This was no friendly pat on the back of a long lost friend, and certainly no light breeze caressing his neck, but rather a crushing blow meant to annihilate swiftly. The piercing force swept him ‘round in a circle, limp weight collapsing on damp cement. Before the corpse even struck the ground, the soul had freed itself of its imprisonment and prepared itself for the new freedoms it was soon to experience. As it solemnly watched the now limp form break softly upon the ground, an apparition stealthily approached and, as silent horror began to over take the poor soul, it whispered.

Incomprehensible mutterings startled and jolted the soul out of its reverie, and he timidly asked “Who goes there? Why do you haunt me so?” The apparition’s supple feminine form coalesced from the shadows and politely answered “I am that I am. No greater purpose can I claim.” Puzzled by this cryptic answer, but thinking clearly once again, the soul quickly retorted “What purpose can you claim then?” The unassuming siren, clearly taken aback by the boldness of the question answered “I can only claim a desire to help you. I am destined to guide you through the intricacies that lie ahead.” At that she turned and once again descended to the shadows, he followed closely behind, enchanted by a spell he could not feel.

The shadows melted as he touched them, and as he slipped through viscous separation of worlds all he knew faded to gray, a new world opened before his very eyes. Marvels beyond description adorned this cavity of a previously unknown world. Appearing almost before his eyes was a grandiose rock structure reminiscent of a hotel lobby. The more his eyes greedily collected, the more that comparison seemed apt to him. A world consisting of an enormous hotel type structure, only far larger than anything ever constructed by man, and made of stone with such a natural appearance it seemed as if it were made by a well-planned out act of nature. A diminutive figure sauntered up to the guide and the soul and welcomed them. The soul was intrigued by the figure’s seeming familiarity yet he was unable to recall why he might know this figure. After an awkward but brief silence, the soul cautiously hinted “Old man, your countenance stirs a long lost memory.” The old man replied solemnly “I have no doubt of it.” As a wry smile graced his face, he extended his hand and continued “I am Sophocles.” As the recognition fully overcame the soul, his world began to sharpen, and what once was a fuzzy scrawl became an elaborate hieroglyphic, what once was an ambiguous texture took form as porous stone, and the distant figures seemed much closer to the soul. Startled by this revelation that had been catalyzed through his recognition, he hadn’t noticed that Sophocles had released his hand and continued to speak. “…a life apart from what once was…shall be you guide through this world…before we release you to your work.” Catching only the latter portion of Sophocles’ speech, the soul asked “What work is that sir?” Addressing him as one might address a two year old, Sophocles tersely responded “Once again, you shall be chronicling this world in all its marvel, for talents found in your first life may be exploited in this one as well. As the most accomplished author to recently grace first life, you were unanimously designated by the elect of this life to chronicle the majesty of it. Your work shall be entirely scheduled by you, but you shall only be returned to your former life once this life has been given its due justice.”

At the conclusion of this, he turned to his guide and told her “I only desire rest madam. Tomorrow I shall begin my work here.” She glanced at him curiously “Will you not be guided through this world before hand?” “No. I desire to chronicle as I experience it for the first time to fully capture its grandeur and character.” At this, she led him to an isolated, cozy alcove and left him to rest before beginning his work at the dawn of the next morning.

From the moment he awakened, his impulse drove him like a workhorse and he immediately set to work. Meeting up with his guide, he strolled through the numerous passageways and intricacies of the labyrinthine world he was captive to. Soon he noticed a large and raucous gathering in one of the more voluminous chambers he had yet come across. Entreating his guide to let him explore this crowd, he soon found himself mingling amongst the greatest literary minds ever to grace the earth. Upon noticing his arrival, Sophocles warmly greeted him and asked how he may help to service him in his work. Feeling he was seeing the finest grandeur this world had to offer, for he himself was a writer and could conceive of nothing greater than the greatest authors ever all at one convention, he questioned Sophocles as to the nature of this gathering. Sophocles replied that “Intellectual stimulations in this finite, immutable world are few and far between. We still are all lovers of our art, and so we congregate frequently for discussion and debate.” Astounded by the lack of inspiration plaguing these writers, but not wishing to toss away his chance to chronicle such remarkable event, he asked Sophocles if he might have the honor of shadowing him throughout this conference. Sophocles, being a gracious host, denied no pleasures to his guest.

Shortly thereafter, he found himself observing a debate over the role of external influences to man, versus internal influences. Sophocles asserted that man was no more than a sum of the influences in his environment, and identity was determined more by others and, most predominantly, society, rather than self. He explained that in one of the greatest of his works, Oedipus The King, he analyzed this identity through Oedipus and subjected him to many unique stimuli in order to drive at the most decisive ones. “Oedipus was encouraged not to ‘hunt’ out the truth because it would only lead him to ‘pain’ yet he was forced to continue on because society had obliged him to seek out this painful truth (Sophocles 659). Oedipus also calls down a curse upon the murderer that he ‘wear out his life in misery to miserable doom’ (657). After such a curse, he is forced then to inflict these damages upon himself in order to fulfill the curse he laid down for himself. If he were to count his actions as an exception because he wasn’t aware of it, he would still be a hypocrite and lose even more honor and esteem in the eyes of his subjects. Instead he seizes his mother’s brooches and ‘dashes’ his eyeballs out with them, suffering and miserable all the while (688). Societal pressures convinced Oedipus that it was his responsibility to do all this to preserve the safety of society’s choice over anyone else’s including his own.”

At this Homer jumped into the debate and countered “It may be true that outside factors affect one’s actions, but true inspiration comes from one’s self. Nausicaa was able to stand up to Odysseus despite his body being ‘caked with brine’ and completely nude (Homer 361). Did someone else give her this courage? Of course not, her attendants flee, but she stands rock steady because she is not privy to outside influences alone, but also her courage and drive within her own heart. It is as if a divine presence “planted courage” in her to stand up to this fearful man (361). Certainly Odysseus’ appearance frightened her as it did her servants, but certainly more important was her self.”

As Homer finished his counter, the nearby arguments died like ripples in water, and all listened more closely to this now central argument between two of the most important literary figures at the gathering. All spectators were giddy with anticipation, to see who had the audacity to challenge this two powerhouses on such an important issue. Casually, yet confidently, Machiavelli strode up to Sophocles and Homer, boldly claiming “Neither of you, unfortunately, has quite hit the nail on the head in this issue. As a matter of fact, Sophocles, what you described could not be further from the truth. I instructed my ideal prince to be free from all external influences and, most importantly, fortune. A ruler does not bow down to fate or fear some external catalyst. ‘Fortune is a woman’ and by all means, if it is necessary ‘to hold her down, to beat her and to fight with her’ in order to control her, he shall do just that (Machiavelli 252-3). Fate is friendly to younger men because they are ‘more reckless’ and have the ‘greater audacity to command her’ and so the young have an easier time of forcing themselves upon fate, but old men are not kept from the ability to do this as well (253). Man is not at the whim of any external influence, but rather only limited by himself.” At this the excitement level had almost brought the masses to a frenzy. Three terrific arguments in an dispute with no clearly defined winner, who could have the bravery to come forth to settle the issue, the soul eagerly anticipated hearing from another of his literary heroes on the issue, but, alas, no one else stepped forward, and the crowd began to disperse.

Permanent Solution
12-15-2004, 07:40 AM
Frustrated beyond belief, the soul asked Sophocles why everyone was migrating towards the archway leading back into the tunnels, surely they weren’t leaving already. Sophocles responded as kindly as possible explaining “These debates are a common occurrence here, and frequently end unresolved. It gives us something to think about until next time. As disappointing as this will be to you, however, that was it.” At this revelation, the soul asked the guide to take him back to rest some more and give him time to record all the marvels he had seen. From the moment he arrived in his alcove, he set to work attempting to portray the entirety of it, everything, the magnanimous splendors and the finite details. He set to work on this immediately upon entering his alcove, and didn’t finish till late in the evening. In the end, his chronicle of the evening was condensed to one packed page for its presentation to his evaluators.

The next morning the soul was excited and nauseous with anticipation of the days activities. He had been so thrilled with the previous day’s excursion that he had forgotten it had happened by chance, and when he greeted his guide and asked “So, what is on today’s agenda?” he was startled to be reminded of this fact when she calmly reminded him that all planning was up to him, and she only acted as a guide to the places he sought to visit.

A little dejected, but spirits still running high, the soul asked the guide for some recommendations of venues to stimulate his creativity. The guide offered to take him to meet the three authors again for a bit so he could attempt to derive some satisfaction from a conclusion of the previous night’s debate, and he readily agreed. They strode down the rocky hallways along a different route from the previous evenings. As they trudged on, a feeling of seclusion began to plague the spirit, and he asked “Where are we going, lovely guide, that is so far removed from all else?” The guide replied “We are taking the long way around. I thought doing so would help you with your project since the grandiosity of this world is not limited to its discussions.” A little irked by this executive decision, but at the same time appreciative of it, he began to take in the scenery a little more, recalling his primary purpose for being in this world. Eventually they came to a cave. Although smaller than the one the discussion had been in the previous night, it still dwarfed its inhabitants. All three of the previous night’s debaters were present, and chairs had been laid out in a square, with an open seat left for the soul to observe and even participate if he so desired.

Sophocles began the discussion “Yesterday you all debated your points very well, no doubt, but I feel I was improperly prepared for the discussion and would like to counter if I may. You see, my previous example was not the strongest I could formulate, instead I would like to, if I may, examine the cause of the persuasion, not the effects of it. Oedipus is influenced by the crowds frequently, and at one point the chorus intervenes on the behalf of Creon when Oedipus is enraged to ‘beg’ him to be ‘gracious’ and ‘merciful’ (Sophocles 667). Though it is not detrimental to Oedipus to do so in the long run, it goes against his wishes at the time, and yet the chorus is able to guilt him into it by phrasing it the way they do, making it seem as though not doing as they wish would be evil and malicious. Of course this was my interpretation of the story, but the story itself is well known and not my own concoction, and so clearly human nature is concurrent with acceding the demands of the one to the demands of the many.”

The subtle jump to a discussion on human nature was not missed by the sharp minds present, and Homer soon countered “Perhaps, as you claim, humans are prone to cede their desires to desires of many, but can you disprove the claim that human nature also requires man to be inspired solely from within?” “Perhaps you could clarify this for me Homer? I do not understand the line you draw to differentiate the two.” “Certainly Socrates, it is quite simple really, man will suppress action to satiate the communal needs, however, man can only be inspired to action through self motivation. For example, let us examine the example of ‘omens,’ which allegedly inspire action or decisiveness in a witness. My work The Odyssey is full of these events. For instance, when Odysseus seeks the final inspiration to take his revenge on the suitors, it comes in the form of the odd coincidence that within a short time period the heavens ‘thundered at once’ and shortly thereafter one of the maids in the house ‘let fly a lucky word’ due to the occurrence of the first of the two omens (Homer 534-35). Certainly the thunder did not go and slaughter the suitors though, it was the man’s primal desire for a bloodthirsty revenge which inspired him to go and kill the suitors. The thunder was an act of nature with no malicious intent or any desire at all. The thunder didn’t want those men dead anymore than it wanted them alive when it struck, for it does not think. On the other hand, Odysseus most certainly does think on his own and had the desire to brutally slaughter the men plaguing his house. So this is where I draw the line, while action may be subjugated to satiate the communal needs, action may only be stimulated from within. Odysseus was not killing those men because someone else told him to, he was killing them because he wanted to and made the choice to. So, my friend, can you refute this claim?”

Sheepishly Socrates shifted his glance towards the ground and sheepishly whispered “I have no retort to that, my esteemed colleague.” Stunned by this submission, the soul blurted out “And you Niccolo, have you nothing to say on the issue?” Machiavelli drummed his fingers on his legs thoughtfully, and then murmured “You are both partially right. For a man is influenced by others, no doubt, just as it is his nature to be influenced to action by himself alone. What you two failed to do was connect the two coherently. While he is influenced to actions solely by his own drive, he must create an appearance of being influenced by the people he rules. A prince takes care to appear ‘all compassion, all faithfulness, all integrity, all kindness, and all religion’ though in fact he may really be none of these (Machiavelli 251). A prince controls his own destiny by ‘acting impetuously’ and never being ‘fixed in their ways,’ and every man is a prince of himself to a degree (253). He only appears to be influenced by the crowds, however, Sophocles, but in reality he is not controlled by them, instead he controls them by expounding the five aforementioned virtues and then appearing to live by them though in fact he does not. It is through that manner that we see human nature. A mix of the two points you two put forth, neither exclusively correct nor entirely incorrect.”

The soul then jumped in at this point, questioning “But surely man is not always false. Man must be true at some point or else there is no definition of truth to base himself upon. Sometimes man is changed by society against his will, because humans are imperfect, and cannot always refuse what nature demands of them, conformity.” All three stared dumbfounded at the soul, and slowly starting from their shock induced comatose state, congratulated the soul and such a deft reconciliation of all involved viewpoints. Clearly deep in thought, the three left silently to contemplate the answer they had found, and the soul turned to the guide. “I am inspired, show me what makes this world great.” She did. She took him through sweeping waterfalls of inexplicable proportions traversing the rocky face of the caverns, through landscapes never seen by a human eye, and finally, the physical and intellectual ostentation of the world melded in the soul’s mind, and he knew what to write. A day later, he came out of his alcove, manuscript in hand, and asked his guide to take him to Sophocles.

As soon as they met with Sophocles, the soul practically shoved his work into Sophocles’ hand and stepped back and watched him expectantly. Skeptically, Sophocles threw him a sideways glance “We did not expect you to finish this after such a short stay.” “Read on,” the soul encouraged “I think you shall like it.” Sophocles read over it carefully, and then wandered off, manuscript in hand. Though the soul felt a little dejected seeing his work taken away like that, with no explanation, he was starting to feel butterflies flood his stomach as he assumed his work was being reviewed by some of the top minds that could ever be considered in his peer group and was thrilled at the prospect of feedback from such an elite group. Sophocles returned a few minutes later and simply said “That will do, thank you for your work.” Pained, the soul tried to dig something more out of him, and began to step forward, and noticed the rapidly expanding hole beneath his feet. Panicked, he sprinted away from the heart of the rapidly expanding chasm, but to no avail. The fissure sucked him in like a vortex, and vertigo struck the soul like a nail shot into wood.

Permanent Solution
12-15-2004, 07:40 AM
Groggily he awakened, as if from a dream, and glanced around curiously. He found himself in a vaguely familiar alleyway, yet this sense of déjà vu was all the depth of thought he could manage. He glanced down to check his watch. That was odd, certainly he had worn it today when he ventured out, as he does every day, so why was he looking at the bare flesh of his wrist? Then it happened that as he curiously glanced around darkened alleyways he was struck from behind without warning. This was no friendly pat on the back of a long lost friend, and certainly no light breeze caressing his neck, but rather a crushing blow meant to annihilate swiftly. It was reality.

Works Cited

Homer. "The Odyssey." The Longman Anthology of Literature, Volume A. Ed. Damrosch David, Page duBois, and David L. Pike and Sheldon Pollock and Pauline Yu. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2004. 291-586.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. "The Prince." The Longman Anthology of Literature, Volume C. Ed. Damrosch David, Page duBois, and David L. Pike and Sheldon Pollock and Pauline Yu. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2004. 247-255.

Sophocles. "Oedipus the King." The Longman Anthology of Literature, Volume A. Ed. Damrosch David, Page duBois, and David L. Pike and Sheldon Pollock and Pauline Yu. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2004. 650-688.

12-15-2004, 07:47 AM
That was enjoyable. You are a captivating writer. You took what could have been another bland academic essay, and made it interesting. I haven't slept in 24 hours, so I will have to read it again. But on the first read-through... it was great.

12-15-2004, 07:50 AM
Not bad, mate

12-15-2004, 07:52 AM
^^ what's the bet he didn't read all of it???

/don't get mad, please

12-15-2004, 08:03 AM
It's a safe bet. At first I thought it looked too long for little me to read, but I'll definitely read it tomorrow after my exam. I read the first paragraph and I want to read on, looks interesting :)

Permanent Solution
12-15-2004, 01:56 PM
Thanks guys. I am curious what everyone thinks of the ending, especially my last line?

12-15-2004, 03:09 PM
Man, that was pretty brilliant, I do like the ending. Nice little touch. While i read on I just was in more and more awe. Wonderful work.

Your writing lowers my self-esteem :( but I love it. Once I have more time on my hands. Excellent