Monday, June 11, 2007

The heart of darkness

DISCALIMER: The following piece is written for yet another assignment cooked-up over at the House of Sternberg. The task this time was to write a piece based on the opening sentence. Then the tricky part – once completed, we were instructed to go through the piece, choose various words and consult a thesaurus for better ones, or at least ones that added to, or improved the writing. At the end of the piece (below), I have indicated what was changed.

Actually, I found this exercise tough, 'cause I usually use a thesaurus as I write. In this exercise, I selected many words to be changed, but at times, after consulting the thesaurus, I opted to maintain my original, chosen word. Other times, there weren't any suggestions to select from, and at others, I realised the word I'd selected was not really the one I needed – this often happens when you use metaphor to describe something, and as such the thesaurus doesn't always pick-up the subtlety. Enough from me – I hope you enjoy it...

I see things in darkness that no one should see by light of day, but then, that is the burden of those of us who are no longer tolerated out there; for those of us who have been sent here by friends and so called "loved-ones", by the judges and those who are said to be our legal guardians, by our religious leaders; our politicians. We are here because these and more have deemed us deserved of our fate, either due to our actions and thoughts in this life, or the wickedness we have led in others past. We are here now for ... I suppose you might say, "the rest of our lives", but from the moment you enter this place, your life as you (or indeed any of those who condemned you) knew it to be, has been terminated.

Here, in this no-place, I must endure endless days; endless, for with no window or opening through which to allow the passage of light, one cannot distinguish dawn from dusk. The hours, days, weeks melt with everything else in the airless, simmering heat, and become one, fluid age to be endured; just as one must endure the fetid stench of the other women, if indeed you could still call them such, for without regular water with which to bathe, and with many of my "companions" no longer able to control their faculties, whether through fear or physical dysfunction, there is little that remains of our dignity, and our humanity is likewise eroded with each corporeal indiscretion.

For some, it is easy to see why they have been sent here. Many are clearly no longer able to even think, let alone care for themselves, and their families and communities, either through a lack of compassion, or in their belief that their mother/daughter/cousin/wife would be well cared for, have sent them here to see out their days. Of course, not one has ever returned to visit, or to enquire whether their relative or friend is safe and comfortable, so whether through sensitivity or spite, to these once-significant others, we may as well be dead. Indeed, perhaps they are not mistaken ... perhaps death is not the absence of life, but rather an altered life; one now filled with unfathomable pain and emptiness.

We are not all soft in thought. I am not here because I cannot care for myself. In fact, were it not for me and one or two others, many of the women here would have perished long ago. Nor am I here for having committed some great wrong. I am here because the world has turned inside out. I am here because those who once taught and preached about virtue and morality had failed to add the qualifying phrase, "unless you are a woman". I am here because I would not accept the beatings, the abuse and the infidelity of a man who, although willing to take a wife to be enslaved, refused to love and provide for her. I am here for no other crime than for believing what I had been taught; for speaking-out, and receiving the wrath of a blinkered, uncaring and unjust society.

And so, to "protect myself and the community from my insanity", my husband's father signed the documents which led to my being locked away, to succumb to disease and hunger and fear.

The fear I speak of is fear of the night. Yes, the night. For there are other ways to distinguish between day and night, than the rising and setting of the sun. By day, we remain locked away, in the heat, amongst the sick and screaming. Locked away, out of sight, and on our own.

But by night, the international agency which runs this hovel (doing their best to "help the poor and destitute in the third world"), pack away their things and return to the town, to their homes and their families. The keys are left to the men. Men who, like us, have been sent away from their homes and communities. Men who, to the unseeing, uncaring world outside are, like us, dead. These men, with nothing left to lose, and no one to answer to, are tasked to clean our prison.

They come amongst us, with their leers, and their fists, and their sticks. Their appetites, borne from the betrayals of their own pasts, and fuelled by their own diminished humanity, are insatiable, and their brutality unspeakable. In this disgusting, putrid, furnace-of-the-un-dead, miles from the ears of a happily ignorant society, day and night is not distinguished by the presence or absence of light, but by the variance in pitch between a scream of fear or pain, by day, and the heart-piercing shriek of fear and pain by night.

Here, in this chamber of anguish and misery, I see and suffer things in darkness that no one should see by light of day. Each morning, a number of us are dragged away, bleeding and lifeless. I pray that I shall soon be one of them.

Thesaurus changes.

Sent to condemned
Has come to an abrupt end to has been terminated.
Period to age
Erodes just as surely to is likewise eroded with each corporeal indiscretion.
Bodily to corporeal
Compassion to sensitivity
Clarifying to qualifying (not thesaurus)
narrow-minded to blinkered
Crescendoing to heart-piercing
Inhumanity to anguish and misery


Kate S said...


DesLily said...

(from the non writer).. well, this must be good because it sure sounds like you know your subject matter!.. that alone is scary!

DonkeyBlog said...

Deslily - yes, there are things in the world which are much scarier than horror fiction. Thanks for dropping by.

Travis said...

This is incredibly powerful.

HopScotch said...

All the more terrible because we know this is actually happening in the world today. Sad but true, man's inhumanity to women.

Stewart Sternberg said...

See, Donkey, we've both written horror stories, and both are taken from real situations. I liked this, dark and unsettling...I liked too that it makes one pause and consider the real life situation from which the mirror draws its image.

On my blog you mentioned that it might be time that Iraq was no longer taboo to write about, that perhaps enough time had passed that people could now begin including it as a setting in fiction.

About a month after the war began I read a short story, fantasy, about a group of soldiers finding a demon in a lamp and accidentally releasing it in Baghdad. At the time I nodded to myself and thought: Yeah, why not use this as a setting, and what a metaphor.

I would love to see a book of short stories using military conflict since Vietnam, maybe including Vietnam as a setting. It would be international in its authorship. Perspectives from around the world on the violence that affects the life of the common citizen who stands helpless before the steamroller of politics and big money.

Jon said...

This is pretty thick soup.
The treatment and point of view of the subject is first class. The style is, I think, quite removed from the immediacy of the situation. I think a more Spartan tone would have served this story well. That and the fact that my guess is that the protagonist's feelings would be more interesting to me than her intellectual observations.
But on the whole, I have to say that this is a story that's going to stick with me for a while, and that's why we write, isn't it?

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

This is another good entry to Stewart's challenge. Very dark and all to real feeling. This could easily be happening somewhere on the other side of the world or right next door

DonkeyBlog said...

Travis and Hoppie - thanks for your support, and yes, these things are indeed more difficult to accept when we know hey are going on all around us.

Mr Sternberg - a psychological horror complete with battles between the underworldly demons of socialism and capitalism with a fair bit of real, mortal gore - not a bedtime story, I should think. I would particularly like to read about the horror inflicted on the communities, whose only crime is that they were in the way.

gugon said...

Excellent little slice of real-life horror. I understand what Jon said - about the narrator seeming removed from the subject matter. But perhaps emotional separation is natural here.

To me, it seemed like an introduction to a longer story. I wanted to read more and get into some actual experiences - I wanted something to happen.

Your style, I think, is exceptional. Little phrases like "our humanity is eroded with each corporeal indescretion" - are great, and really stick with you.

DonkeyBlog said...

Jon - although difficult to swollow on first reading, I know you're absolutely right about the voice of the character not quite fitting with who she is, and where she comes from. Something I now have to ponder over for something else I'm working on - your advice, methinks, is proably the most valuable thing I've been told about my writing. Thanks.

Intergallactic Jon - thanks for dropping by. Sad to say you're right, it IS happening, in many places.

Gugon - thanks - unfortunately I have to credit Mr Sternberg for the artful phrasing - without the thesaurus part of the exercise, these would not have been possible - Hmm, I wonder if that was his evil design ;)

Gledwood said...

I see scary things as well. I just gotta be outside my place at the right time to encounter my next door neighbour. Horrible.

Hi I'm here pretty randomly. Saw your appealing donkeyface on sqt's blog, was intrigued. I've got no cyberface as I'm too cyber-illiterate to get one .. ho-hum ...

I like your blog tho. Of course I'm blogging too. I'm at gledwood2.blogspot if you wanna find me. You're most welcome to drop by. Hope to see you again... all the best

"vol 2" ...

sabrina said...

Wow Donkey....really wow!

You've left Booby speechless

Certainly a hard smack of reality

But i must agree with Jon that her 'feelings' would have been much more powerful..

Allie D. said...

Very cool exercise! I need to look more into this, actually. You have inspired me!!

And do let me know how you liked The Historian. I loved it... Hoping there will be a sequel.