Author Topic: Empty Promises - Fiction Short short idea approx. 2,500 words  (Read 168 times)

Offline writeratheart

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Empty Promises - Fiction Short short idea approx. 2,500 words
« on: October 23, 2019, 05:54:19 PM »
Hello everyone! I would like some honest feedback on my fiction short story and honest critiques.
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I turn and look at the clock on the microwave as I stand on the far side of the kitchen island. 7:09 PM. Still too early. I look down at the grey marble counters and skate my fingers across its smooth cool surface, while examining the photo that was lying on the counter. The picture is of myself and Will, that a mutual friend had taken of us at a house party back at Dartmouth. I become mesmerized by his bright green eyes that pierce through the old worn photograph. They are just as vibrant as they are in person.

 After what feels like an eternity, my eyes dart back to the glowing light across the kitchen. 7:13 PM. That’s enough time. I convince myself as I hoist my heaviest winter jacket on, slipping the picture in my pocket. Keys, jacket, wallet, picture.  My hand shoots down, feeling the pocket to make sure the one thing I cared to bring is still there. I take a quick once-over as I walk out the door.

It only takes me eight minutes to make it to the bar, but I already knew that. It only took eight minutes five years ago, and it still takes eight minutes now. As I turn the corner, my heart flutters as I see it. The Cultivator. I watch as the snow perfectly coats the roof like a blanket. Since I have my choice of where to park, I choose to pull through to the front, making sure my presence is known. I get out, take a deep breath, and walk into the bar. Upon entering, I look around and immediately get lost in my memories of Will.

I remember the first time we met. It was on December 20th, 2012—the night before my twenty-first birthday. After starting the night out at the bar down the road, my friends and I came to The Cultivator to continue the party. It was crowded and the music was blaring so loud you could barely hear what the person standing next to you was saying.

“Hey Polly,” Grace nudged me, “that guy keeps checking you out.” I looked down the bar and I was instantly met with a set of dark wild eyes that were paired with long tousled hair.

“Go talk to him.” She insisted.

I match his grin before turning back around to Grace. “I don’t know, maybe.”

She sighs at my hesitation and walks past me in the direction of the mysterious man. I glance back at her talking to him, trying to set us up. Too shy to keep watching, I turn back at my lemon-drop shot waiting for me on the bar top and take it.

The sudden sound of someone next to me startled me. “Happy birthday.” I looked up and saw him. He was wearing a simple white t-shirt under a deep wine-colored flannel shirt. But what I was drawn to most were his eyes. He had green eyes that burned straight through me, peering into my soul.

“Excuse me, miss?” The bartender calls out from behind the bar, snapping me out of my daydream. I look around and see that the few people who are in here, are staring at me just standing by the door. “Do you need something?”

Disappointment struck me as I realize he isn’t here.  I politely decline and walk outside, back into the freezing cold. I walk down the side of the building and sit on a bench that is just under the overhang of the roof.

I look around at the snow filled parking lot, not seeing anyone outside. The snowfall is slowing down now, making it easier to the see the individual flurries tumble down, each in their own way.

I reach my numb frozen fingers into my jacket pocket and take out the photograph. There is a thick white line down the middle of the page where it’s been folded so many times. But it is the only picture I have left of the two of us.

The sound of a car approaching causes my head to snap up. But it wasn’t him. The passenger door opens, and one of the bartenders that I know has been working here since I was in school hops out. She tucks her outgrown dyed hot pink hair into her jacket as she lifts her hood.

“Pick me up at two.” She says before slamming the door shut and running inside. I watch as the car pulls away, feeling a sense of defeat. I look back down at the picture and turn it over, rubbing my thumb over the distinct chicken scratch scribbled across that back that I had learned to decipher: The Cultivator. December 20th, 2019. Always in each other’s hearts.

That’s what Will would always say to me. When we weren’t going to see each other for a long time because of school breaks, or summers, or even when we broke up. He always said the same thing, “Just remember Pol, we will be always in each other’s hearts”. A single tear fell against my cheek. He will come. I fold it up and put the picture back in my pocket.

I had never met anyone like Will. That day, on the night before my birthday, he had come up to me initially to be a wingman for his friend Jason—the guy down at the end of the bar. But he failed because we ended up together instead. Will was fearless and unpredictable, and yet also reserved. He could be self-assured and boastful and yet at other times cautious and bashful.

After meeting that day at the bar, we saw each other all the time for about two years. We would meet up after class, go out to parties together, to school events and concerts. We would talk into the early hours and we missed each other when we weren’t together.

A sudden cooling sensation jolts me out of my reminiscing thoughts as a snowflake falls onto my nose. Then another. Then another. I look up at the sky to see others dripping down from the edge of the overhang, the snowfall picking up momentum. I pull my hood up over my head and move off of the bench.

As I look down at my phone, I see that it is a little after eight right now, the time that we agreed to meet here all that time ago. Maybe he forgot the time. No. He couldn’t have. That night was a memory that would be etched on my brain forever, and I would believe his as well. 

It was September 6th, 2014. We would come here often ever since that night we met. This place held a special place in both our hearts, since it is where it all began. I can still remember us sitting on the bench outside of the bar on that crisp Fall day. The cool autumn breeze coaxed the leaves from its branches and twirled at our feet. We had just come from a mutual friend’s house party and were planning on going to the school’s homecoming bonfire after a few drinks.

“Do you think we will be together in five years?” He asked.

“I don’t know…I hope so.” I smiled. Then, to break the tension, he made some quirky comment about the color of my rose-tinted cheeks from the brisk cool air. The thought of not having Will in my life seemed unbearable, and it wasn’t something I wanted to think about again.

In attempt to try to make sure that we didn't ever lose contact, I came up with this ridiculous idea: "Let's meet back here in five years, whether we're still together or not, on the day before my birthday—the day we first met.”

I grinned up at him as a chuckle left his lips. I can still smell the vapors of Irish whiskey that emitted from his breath as I became lost into his emerald eyes.
He leaned into me, wrapping his arms around me as I nuzzled myself into his warm chest. I could feel the vibrations against my ear as he spoke. “December 20th, 2019. 8:00 PM. The Cultivator.” The way he said it was like his voice was engraving the words into my head, making sure neither of us would forget.

I check the time again; 8:38 PM. I continue to walk past the bar and through the snowy sidewalk. The bar is at the corner of a long strip down main street in downtown Hanover, the town which our college dwells. Stores on the street are beginning to close around me as I continue to walk through the fresh snow. With each step I took away from the bar, the more hope is lost that he is going to show up. That didn’t stop me from listening for a car engine however, even though the only sound I can hear was my own breathing and the light crunch of each step as I move forward.

   Will never knew his parents. Him and his younger sister were brought up in a by their aunt somewhere on the coast of California. He didn't talk about his childhood very much, but I know it was far from idyllic. He told me that he'd been abandoned by his parents as a kid. And he wouldn't be able to take it if he was abandoned by anyone again. He said he preferred to stay away from people, rather than risk getting hurt, but said that with me, it was different.

I stop for a moment and hold my breath. There's not a sound except for the faint whisper of snowflakes landing all around me. And as I set off again, the crunch of my footsteps is deafening.  My heart pounds as I walk up a hill, trying not to slide down. I stand for a long time, looking down at the twinkling Christmas lights that illuminate the town, taking it all in. 

He gave no explanation before he left me, except that he was confused about his feelings and needed to get his head straight. He said he wasn't sure if our relationship would work, couldn't take it if I left him for someone else.

A week afterwards I got a postcard from him. He was back home with his aunt in California, working on himself. I tried everything to get in touch with him, but no-one could help. Dartmouth wouldn't provide me with what they called 'confidential information' and none of his friends knew his home address or much about his home life at all. A few weeks after that, the lease ran out on my student house. I never heard from him again. And I’ve never met anyone like him since. I can’t help but wonder where is now, or what he is up to. Is he married? Did he find someone else?

I turn around and continue my track back down the street. The air is becoming crisper and colder by the minute and I feel like my fingers are going to break off. Nearby branches crack as they strain under the weight of fresh snow. Even though it is dark out, the moonlight shines through the clouds and reflects light off the snow, lighting up the quiet street.

Another memory comes to my mind. It was just after the first time Will had ever said he loved me. I close my eyes to concentrate. It was springtime and we were sitting on the grass, studying for our midterms. The trees were budding, and the floral aroma surrounded us. There was a moment when Will had grabbed my hand and looked straight at me: "Always in each other’s hearts." I open my eyes. I can still vividly remember the expression of pure lust on his face when he had said it. And yet here I am, back in front of the bar, and I cannot find him.

More tears fall as I get back into my car and leave the bar. I take a deep breath before walking back into the place I now call home. Boxes still left in the hallway, waiting to be unpacked. I take off my coat and place it on the rack, kicking off my snow crusted boots.

“Honey, is that you?” As I approach the kitchen I see Tom, my fiancé, standing in the kitchen with my ring in his hand. “You have to be careful.”

He steps towards me, placing my hand in his and sliding the ring back on my finger. “When you take it off to wash the dishes you have to remember to put it back on. You don’t want to lose it .”

 I look over at the windowsill above the sink where I had placed it last. I nod and agree, looking down at the glimering ring on my finger, knowing the real reason why I took it off.

Online PIJ1951

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Re: Empty Promises - Fiction Short short idea approx. 2,500 words
« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2019, 06:39:13 AM »
The opening to any story has to hit the ground running. Anything you can do to get the reader quickly up to speed is going to work in your favour in the long run. With this in mind, I'd suggest you trim your first paragraph to the bone.
My first impression as I read through it was that you over-write. Every sentence - indeed every word - should earn its keep. Most readers resent working their way through prose that has a lot of redundancies.
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I turn and look at the clock on the microwave as I stand on the far side of the kitchen island.
From your opening sentence I get the uneasy impression you are going to spell everything out to the reader. 99% of our microwaves are located in the kitchen. We don't need your exact location at this point in the story.
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7:09 PM. Still too early. I look down at the grey marble counters and skate my fingers across its (counters are plural - its is singular) smooth cool surface, while examining the photo that was lying on the counter. The picture is of myself and Will, that a mutual friend had taken of us at a house party back at Dartmouth. I become mesmerized by his bright green eyes that pierce through the old worn photograph. They are just as vibrant as they are in person.
You use the word 'that' 3 times in this short extract. Only the third is required. You also repeat the word 'counter' in the second sentence. This can easily be avoided by some careful trimming.

I skate my fingers across the smooth, cool surface of the grey marble counter and examine the photo lying there. The picture is of myself and Will, taken by a mutual friend at a house party back at Dartmouth. I become mesmerized by his bright green eyes that pierce the old worn photograph. They are just as vibrant as they are in person.

Things improve once your plot gets going. I'll just highlight the occasional stumble.

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As I turn the corner, my heart flutters as I see it. The Cultivator. I watch as the snow perfectly coats the roof like a blanket.
Three instances of concurrencies in the space of 26 words. It's a common habit but easy to fix.

Quote
“Go talk to him.” She insisted.
I match his grin before turning back around to Grace. “I don’t know, maybe.”
She sighs at my hesitation and walks past me in the direction of the mysterious man. I glance back at her talking to him, trying to set us up. Too shy to keep watching, I turn back at my lemon-drop shot waiting for me on the bar top and take it.
The sudden sound of someone next to me startled me.
This section starts off in past tense - insisted - then present tense - match/sighs/walks/glance/turn/take - then past tense again - startled.
You keep doing this so its not a temporary hiccup but unless you stick with one the entire story reads disjointed.

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He had green eyes that burned straight through me, peering into my soul.
Dreadful cliche.

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The passenger door opens, and one of the bartenders that I know has been working here since I was in school clunky hops out.

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I had never met anyone like Will. That day, on the night before my birthday
This is also clunky. Why not simply 'That night before my birthday'?

As Pol's reminiscences unfold I became confused by the chronology. She's recalling when they first hooked up - then it snows some more and she checks her phone - then it's 2014 and they make their vow - then she checks her phone again - then we get a potted history of Will - then we're back in the car park again. It might be a deliberate attempt to keep the narrative active in both past and present, but continually chopping and changing each time you start a new paragraph just didn't work for me, I'm afraid. It quickly became annoying.

The denouement is fine and neatly ties up the story - Pol and Tom are engaged but Pol still has feelings for Will. But there's not enough here, even for a short story. I didn't get a real feel for Pol's motivation. She has presumably moved on - in which case, her over-sentimental behaviour is difficult to take seriously. Maybe foreshadow her discontent with Tom or her new, humdrum life? The title also gives the game away.

But having said that, I don't read romance fiction so maybe my observation is wide of the mark. You write well, so take it or leave it, but thanks for sharing.

Offline ChabnerKerp

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Re: Empty Promises - Fiction Short short idea approx. 2,500 words
« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2019, 02:48:07 PM »
I haven’t read the whole thing, but I can already tell that you’re telling way more than you’re showing. It’s very hard to get into the story because you keep telling the reader exactly what you mean instead of showing us and letting us get the meaning for ourselves.

For example,

Quote
I turn and look at the clock on the microwave as I stand on the far side of the kitchen island. 7:09 PM. Still too early. I look down at the grey marble counters and skate my fingers across its smooth cool surface, while examining the photo that was lying on the counter. The picture is of myself and Will, that a mutual friend had taken of us at a house party back at Dartmouth. I become mesmerized by his bright green eyes that pierce through the old worn photograph. They are just as vibrant as they are in person.

When you say ”Still too early.” it adds some intrigue, because it leaves us wanting to know what you mean when you say 7:09pm is too early. But then you follow this up with the rest of the paragraph telling the reader about this photograph. Something that needs to be kept in mind is that the readers aren’t all brainless, so you can assume that we know at least the basics.

The worst part of this is that you say “I become mesmerized...” and “they are just as vibrant...”. Those are very empty descriptions. That’s like saying something you just ate is yummy. Yeah, sure that tofu teriyaki might be “delicious”, but what about it was delicious? What about the eyes are “mesmerizing” or “vibrant”? Do you get what I mean?

Give us more about the way these things look specifically so the reader can decide on their own if the eyes are mesmerizing. Or give us a more specific reaction from the narrator so we can decide on our own that the eyes are causing them to be mesmerized.

That being said, I haven’t read much past this because it doesn’t feel complete. I may read through it to get more of the story and critique that part, too. Anyway, thanks for sharing!

—Chalupe