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 The Light That Never Goes Out

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Shea Ballard



Posts : 53
Join date : 2012-11-28

PostSubject: The Light That Never Goes Out   Thu Jan 03, 2013 5:32 pm

I'm planning to publish this soon, and I'd like one last critique just to make sure it's ready. Thanks.

The Light That Never Goes Out
By Shea Ballard

Bob Smith stood on the ledge outside his office window; twenty-seven stories up. He dared a glance at the street below.
What a miserable end I’ve come to.
“Bob, what are you doing?”
He looked to see one of his coworkers leaning out the open window.
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
Why do people ask stupid questions?
The man glared at Bob with an expression of twisted amusement and annoyance.
“I’m admiring the view, Dave. You should come out here and join me.”
Dave let out a short laugh. “No thanks. I’m comfortable in here.”
“Your concern for my well-being is overwhelming.”
Bob always figured Dave had no heart. Not only was he an accountant, but also a pretty-boy with perfect hair and more than a passing resemblance to 1980’s James Spader charcters.
Bean-counters. Only good at relationships with numbers.
Dave frowned. “Quit fooling around out there and get back inside.”
And too literal. The sarcasm escapes him.
Bob was about to say something else when another face appeared in the window.
“Bob, what the hell are you doing?” asked the security guard assigned to escort him from the building.
Again with the idiotic questions.
“You said you just needed a moment alone! I turn my back for five seconds to give you some privacy, and this is how you repay me?”
“I’m sorry, Harvey. I don’t blame you. But fifteen years? Gone? Just like that? It’s not right.”
Harvey was the opposite of Dave. An older black gentleman with gray in his hair and sympathetic features, he always greeted you warmly, asked how you were, and wasn’t just trying to make small talk. The man genuinely cared about other people. He looked at Bob with great concern in his eyes.
“Come on, Bob, don’t do this. You’ll find something else.”
“Look, Bob,” said Dave, “it’s not as if you’re fired ‘cause you did a bad job. You did a fine job.”
“I did a great job.”
Dave gave him a patronizing smile, then added, “Fine, you did a great job, but the job itself has been eliminated. It’s not like they’re replacing you with someone else. Your job just doesn’t exist anymore.”
“You know it’s a tough economy right now,” said Harvey. “You’re not the only one going through this. There are millions of others.”
“So I’m a statistic now, huh?”
“Come on back in here and we’ll get you some help.”
“Help?” Bob let out a chuckle. “You mean a shrink?”
“Whatever kind of help you want. Now come back in, please.”
Bob sighed. Maybe Harvey was right. Why was he feeling sorry for himself when so many others were in the same boat?
He had almost come to the decision to go back inside when a new face appeared in the window, a triangular-shaped one with a pointy nose and beady eyes. The ugly creature that now glared at Bob with contempt gave a new meaning to the phrase “rat race.”
“Smith! What is the meaning of this?” asked Joe, his supervisor.
“The meaning is you canning my ass, thus taking away everything I have worked for the past fifteen years.”
“That was not my decision and you know it!”
“You’re an asshole, Joe. You always have been.”
“I have called the police. Suicide is against the law, you know. Now get back in here!”
Great, now I’ll be arrested if I go back in. Thanks, Joe!
Bob looked down at the street below.
I hope it doesn’t hurt.
He took a step forward, his toes now over the side of the ledge. He wondered what would happen when he hit the ground. What came next? Heaven? Hell? Purgatory? Maybe just oblivion. Or maybe the Hindus were right and he’d be reincarnated. Being reborn didn’t sound too good, but then he could be a kid again. Childhood was nice. Bob thought he’d like to be ten again. That was a good age for him.
“No, Bob!” yelled Harvey. “Don’t do it!”
Harvey started to climb out the window when Joe grabbed and pulled him back in.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“What do you think? I’m going out after him.”
“Don’t risk your life on his account.”
Harvey gave his boss a look of disgust, then leaned back out the window and shouted, “Come on, Bob. Come back inside and I’ll buy you a drink. Hell, I’ll buy all the drinks tonight. We can forget about this awful day and start again fresh tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Harvey. You’re a good man, but I’m afraid I’ve run out of tomorrows.”
“Don’t give up, man. Sometimes being laid off is the best thing that can happen. It can be a blessing in disguise.”
Bob smiled. “You always did wear the rose-colored glasses, Harvey. That’s what I like about you.”
Alright, that’s it, Bob! I’m tired of this shit. Either get back in here and face the rest of your life or go ahead and jump. I don’t care either way. I’ll just sue your family if you destroy any company property on your way down.”
“You unbelievable bastard. You wouldn’t.”
“I would and I will! Now get the hell off that ledge!”
As he was contemplating Joe’s ultimatum, Bob became distracted by the sound of sirens. He looked down to see the police and fire department had arrived on the scene. He was running out of options.
“Come on, Bob, we all know you won’t do it,” said Dave. “This is a cry for attention. Okay, we get it. You don’t have to drag this out any longer.”
“Yeah,” said Joe with a gleeful smile,” you’re far too milquetoast to go through with it. In fact, I wonder if that’s why they eliminated your position. You just lack that killer edge. You won’t take risks. Story of your life I guess, heh Bob?”
Joe struck a nerve. There was much truth in his words, as callous as they were. Bob was the epitome of average. He was the average male height of 5’10”, with an average weight of 165 pounds. He was married with two children, a girl and a boy. He even had a cat and a dog, and house in the suburbs, though without a white picket fence.
Even his job was average. Mid-level management, average salary, average benfits, and average performance. The quip about having done a great job was a stretch. Bob was competent. He did a good job, but not a great one. He was not a go-getter. He took few risks.
Bob could see the firefighters entering the building. Soon it would be too late. Soon he would have to go back in to ‘face the rest of his life,’ as Joe suggested. Soon he would be arrested for his suicide attempt. Soon he’d be in jail. Or worse, a mental hospital.
“I’ll show you, Joe!” he shouted. “I’ll take the biggest risk of all.”
Bob spread his arms out as if he were going to attempt to fly. He’d always wanted to, but never got around to taking lessons.
Flight school would have been nice. Oh, well.
He took a deep breath, then closed his eyes, leaned forward, and fell.
For a second Bob could hear Harvey yell, “No!” followed by nothing but the wind in his ears. He had imagined feeling terrified of falling, scared of the pain of impact and the inevitable death that followed. Instead, he felt liberated. As he fell, Bob felt freer than he ever had in his life. In those final moments his brain was awash in endorphins, giving him a sense of euphoria like none he had ever felt.
Seconds from impact, Bob closed his eyes. A point of bright light was the last thing he saw.


A blinding light. Ten year-old Billy Johnson opened his eyes. For a moment he couldn’t see, then his room came into view.
He sat up in bed. He had a dream. What was it? He was in a nosedive. Or a spin-out? No, he was falling. Yes, that was it. He fell. No, he jumped. Why would he jump? It was always so hard to remember dreams.
He breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was okay, and he was still very much alive.
Billy got up and proceeded to make his bed. He felt good. Happy. Of course, he was normally a happy kid anyway, but this morning he felt even more so. Almost euphoric.
As he smoothed out the top sheet, making sure the same amount hung down on each side, a new thought occurred. Actually, it was more a feeling than a thought; an odd sensation of newness. He felt as though his waking up this morning was his first time waking up ever. It was like he was just born and today was the first day of his life.
He smoothed out his comforter, ensuring no wrinkles were visible, and then folded down the top part that was draped over his pillow. Yes, this was an odd feeling indeed, but not unpleasant.
He stepped back to examine his work. Everything was straight. All looked nice and neat, the way his mother taught him. Time for breakfast.
The rest of Billy’s morning proceeded normally. If this was his first day of life, he sure had no problem recalling the last ten years. He knew his dad, his mom, and his brothers. Everything in the house was familiar. He certainly knew his own name, and spoke remarkably well for a newborn.
And yet that feeling of unreality lingered. No, not unreality. Everything felt real enough. It was just new. Brand new. It was like a reverse déjà vu. Instead of ‘I’ve been here before,’ it was more like ‘I’ve never been here before,’ which, of course, obviously he had.
His mother noticed the change.
“You seem happy today,” she said while handing Billy a bowl full of oatmeal.
“Aren’t I always?”
“Well, yes, you are I suppose.” She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table with her son. “But…it’s more so today. You have a spring in your step unusual even for you.”
Billy sighed. He put down his spoon. He appeared to mulling something over.
“Something wrong?” his mom asked. She took a sip of coffee.
“Mom, have you ever felt brand new?”
“Brand new? I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Have you ever felt like you were just born and this is the first day of your life?”
“I don’t think so.” Billy’s mom put a hand under her chin. She appeared to be considering the idea. “At least, I don’t recall ever having felt like that.”
“Well, I feel like that today.” He took another spoonful of oatmeal and hoped his mom would have a good explanation.
“Hmm?” she said. “Well, you just had your double digit. Maybe it feels like ten is some new milestone for you.”
Oh yeah, of course. He had just celebrated a birthday recently. But that was a week ago. Shouldn’t he have felt like that on his birthday? Maybe it was just now sinking in that he had started his second decade of life. Yeah, that must be it. A delayed reaction to a milestone birthday.
“Thanks, mom,” replied Billy with a smile. “You’re a genius.” He felt better already.
His mom got up and hugged her son. She brushed a tuft of his curly, red hair and kissed him on the forehead. “I love you,” she said. “Have a good day brand-new boy.”

Billy climbed on to his bicycle. Sitting in his parents’ driveway, he began his pre-flight checks.
“Fuel, check. Lower flaps. Elevator and rudder, check. All systems go.” He put on his helmet and secured the chin strap. “Control, this is Captain Johnson requesting permission for take-off.” He did his best to make his voice sound like it was coming out of a radio. “Roger, you are clear for take-off.”
He kicked up his kickstand, balanced on the pedals, and shot out of the driveway as fast as his little legs could take him.
“Altitude, 500 feet and climbing. Airspeed, 200 nautical miles.”
Imagining himself flying a 747, Billy began his day with a short trip to his friend Jaime’s house, who lived just down the street.

Billy, Jaime, and their friends, John and Mike, met in a tree house in Jaime’s backyard. The topic of discussion: what to do for the last day of summer vacation.
“I say we camp out,” said Jaime. “Right here in my backyard. I have a tent big enough to sleep all four of us. “
“Yeah!” agreed John. His eyes widened with glee. “And we can bring cans of ravioli and stuff, and pretend they’re MRE’s.”
“And we should wear our camos,” added Mike, putting down a comic book. “We could do a mission before we go to bed.”
“Yeah, kick some Al-Qaida ass,” said Jaime.
“And maybe we can call in for air support,” suggested Billy.
“Nah, we can take ‘em,” said Mike.
Billy looked disappointed. “We gotta have air support. My wife and kids can’t afford to lose me.”
Wife and kids?” said John
All the boys save Billy shared a laugh.
“Didn’t know you were married,” said Mike.
John laughed. “Yeah, when did you do it?”
More laughter. Billy felt hurt, and then confused.
“Sorry, don’t know why I said that.”
“No, no, wait,” said Jaime. “Billy’s right. We should create characters. Real army men probably would have families.” He put a hand on Billy’s shoulder. “You’re a genius.”
Billy brightened, hurt feelings smoothed over. They boys created their characters and continued planning their last day of freedom before school.

It was the Saturday before the start of the new school year. Tomorrow they would have to go to bed early. New school supplies and clothes had been purchased, new haircuts had been had, and parents were looking happier. All that remained was a waiting game. Tonight the four boys planned to spend time together being boys, enjoying the last of their summer break.
Billy jammed his backpack with calorie-laden junk food, a change of clothes, flashlight, some Star Wars comic books, a bottle of water, iPod, a cell phone, his medication, and, amazingly, a sleeping bag. He was barely able to zip it up when he finished packing.
Dressed in his camo fatigues, he clipped to his belt a canteen, a walkie-talkie, and a holster which carried his cap gun for the mission. He threw a compass in his pocket, as well as extra ammo. Next he laced up his combat boots and tied them tight. He then put his dog tags around his neck, which he had made himself out of cardboard.
“Never know when I might fall during combat. Want them to be able to ship my body home to my wife and kids.”
He said it again. Why did he keep doing that?

Billy said goodbye to his mom and dad and headed out the door.
“Hey, where’s your helmet?” asked his mom after kissing him goodbye.
He turned toward the closet to grab his bicycle helmet. His cell phone rang.
“Yeah, I’m just about to leave now,” Billy said into the phone. “Yeah, I got it. Yeah, that too. Don’t worry.”
Seeing that Jaime was going to keep him on the phone another minute or two, Billy’s parent’s left the room to get on with their day.
“Can I go now, Jaime? Alright. Bye.” He hung up. “What was I doing?” he asked himself.
Billy checked all his pockets, then, satisfied he had everything, headed out the door, his helmet still in the closet.

He hopped on his bike, heavily weighted down this time, and did his pretend pre-flight checks. After getting approval from the tower, he took off into the wild blue yonder in his head. Moving slightly slower due to his heavy cargo, he rode off into the setting sun toward Jaime’s house.
As Billy was making a turn onto another street, he removed the compass from his pocket to check his heading.
“Right on course,” he said to himself.
He went to put the compass back in his pocket and missed, dropping it on the road. He swore loudly then slammed on the brakes. His bike came to an abrupt stop and, without thinking, he threw it down in the middle of the street.
“Mayday, mayday. Equipment malfunction,” he said aloud as he walked over to where the compass had landed. “Great, the mission hasn’t even started and I’m already having problems.”
He bent over to pick up his compass. At the same time, a teen driver came speeding down the road going fifteen over the posted limit in a residential area. He was also texting while driving.
Billy gripped his compass and stood back up. He heard a car coming and looked up in horror to see a red Honda Civic racing toward him.
The driver looked up from his phone and saw Billy. He slammed on the brakes.
About one second too late. Approximately twenty-six hundred pounds of car travelling at forty mph collided with Billy’s seventy pound body.
Billy flew back several feet and hit the road hard.
A massive amount of blood leaked from his head. His eyes were open, pupils fixed and dilated. His chest no longer moved up and down. Hanging out from his shirt were the cardboard dog tags; name, rank and serial number written on them.
The last thing in Billy’s awareness was a point of bright light.

Blinding light. A young woman’s eyes opened. She lay injured in the back of an ambulance, a paramedic examining her Medical Alert necklace.
“She’s diabetic,” he told his coworker.
An oxygen mask sat over her mouth and nose, the smell of the plastic being the first thing she became aware of. She could feel a blood pressure cuff being inflated, and heard the blare of sirens outside.
“She’s coming to,” said the paramedic who had checked her necklace.
“What happened?” she asked.
“You’ve been in an accident. Do you remember what happened?”
“An accident? Yes, somebody hit me.”
It was coming back to her now.
“Correct. Do you remember anything else?”
“I was on my bike. On my way to Jaime’s house. A car hit me.”
The two paramedics looked at each other.
“Ma’am, you were in a car.”
The other EMT shined a light in her eyes. “No apparent sign of brain trauma. Do you remember your name?”
“Yes. Amanda. Amanda Jones.”
“How do you feel?”
“Good. Surprisingly good.”
Amanda didn’t want to say anything. She was afraid the paramedics would think her to be crazy, but she had the strangest feeling come over her. She felt like she’d just been born, and this was her first day of life.
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Angelique Clark

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PostSubject: ...   Sun Jan 06, 2013 9:05 pm

I read this before and didn't really grasp the concept you presented, but now, I definitely understand the moral and underlining plot.

Maybe you used a kind of perspective I've never heard before, but I noticed you spoke in the third person, but said "I" when the main character was thinking. Then, in a different place, you switched back to third.

Places you referred to in first person:

Bob Smith stood on the ledge outside his office window; twenty-seven stories up. He dared a glance at the street below.
What a miserable end I’ve come to.


Bob looked down at the street below.
I hope it doesn’t hurt.


But then you didn't use the first person in thought like in this part:

“An accident? Yes, somebody hit me.”
It was coming back to her now.


If you want to use "I" in their thought, you have to be consistent and probably use italics.

Since you are considering publishing this, I figured it would be helpful to point out a grammar mistake. Here, you forgot to add another quotation mark behind "Alright", starting the new dialogue...

Bob smiled. “You always did wear the rose-colored glasses, Harvey. That’s what I like about you.”
"Alright, that’s it, Bob! I’m tired of this shit. Either get back in here and face the rest of your life or go ahead and jump. I don’t care either way. I’ll just sue your family if you destroy any company property on your way down.”


And "characters" was spelled incorrectly as well.

I'm not sure if this part is necessary to your story, but I thought I'd say it anyway...

At the same time, a teen driver came speeding down the road going fifteen over the posted limit in a residential area. He was also texting while driving.

I find that just saying "He was also texting while driving" leaves the reader for a broader picture. That sentence is sort of weak, and unless you move it around for a stronger message, it adds nothing to the story. Perhaps you could change it to something like:

His mind was far away, and his eyes were focused only on the text message in his hands.

Or something shorter without a pinpoint:

He wasn't paying attention to the road.

Your story leads a strong tone, so I think your remarks such as "Thanks, Joe!" and "Oh, well", just don't help the flow.

These paragraphs didn't work well for me, so I thought I'd critique them overall.

Joe struck a nerve. There was much truth in his words, as callous as they were. Bob was the epitome of average. He was the average male height of 5’10”, with an average weight of 165 pounds. He was married with two children, a girl and a boy. He even had a cat and a dog, and house in the suburbs, though without a white picket fence.
Even his job was average. Mid-level management, average salary, average benfits (benefits), and average performance. The quip about having done a great job was a stretch. Bob was competent. He did a good job, but not a great one. He was not a go-getter. He took few risks.[i]

I think the above is great. You explained Bob in a nut shell very well. But I think if you want to use the style if short sentences with the same word at the start, you can't do it three times in a row. One time is okay, but not three. I say this because in the following paragraph, you used the same style, but with the word "Soon"...

[i]Bob could see the firefighters entering the building. Soon it would be too late. Soon he would have to go back in to ‘face the rest of his life,’ as Joe suggested. Soon he would be arrested for his suicide attempt. Soon he’d be in jail. Or worse, a mental hospital.


Also, this might just be me, but it seemed like "escapes" should be "escaped", so it matches your tense:

And too literal. The sarcasm escapes him.

I enjoyed reading this again, and I would say it is the most unique short story I've ever read. Where do you plan to publish?

-Ace
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Shea Ballard



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Join date : 2012-11-28

PostSubject: Re: The Light That Never Goes Out   Mon Jan 07, 2013 4:35 am

Thanks, Ace, for your great critique. I read this story to my rl writing group, and they had a lot of the same criticisms that you came up with. I think that means your critiquing skills are improving as much as your writing skills. Thanks for reading this a second time.
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