This is from a very short story called “Fairyland,” by Darin Bradley. You can read the whole story here at Coffinmouth.
Here’s the snippet. It’s a terse little stream of images that add up to a quite clear picture before easing into character stuff:
A valley. Pastures, which had gone bad. Empty. Haze obscured the surrounding hills. It was what Gil had expected of The Bomb. An Indian Summer twinkling radioactive ejecta. Refracting sunbeams like farm dust or smog. Or burning magnesium. He thinks of his own ghosts, and wonders if they burned up somwhere else, in the past. Maybe the whole world was dead already. Maybe we were all eaten up and spat out in radioactive chunks.
(The story originally came to me via Snuffy‘s twitterfeed.)
A nice little bit of stage-setting from Peter Straub’s Shadowland. He gives you the images without saying, specifically “there’s a desk here, a candle there.” Your imagination paints in the corridor easily, given the basic set pieces–staircase, desks, firelight and the boys. You get that first day of school anxiety, too, and in the broken fuse, a sense of something already gone wrong.
Registration Day: 1958
A dark corridor, a staircase with an abrupt line of light bisecting it at one end, desks with candles dripping wax into saucers lined along a wall. A fuse had blown or a wire had died, and the janitor did not come until the next morning, when the rest of the school registered. Twenty new freshmen milled directionlessly in the long corridor, even the exceptinally suntanned faces looking pale and frightened in the candlelight.
There are a lot of kinds of humor and everyone laughs at different things, but I think it takes a real gift to make any reader laugh out loud using prose–because so much of funny is about tone and expression and context. Where you get that back, with just text, is voice and one of the many things worth admiring about Vonnegut–and the reason he makes me laugh–is that he had voice to burn.
If I may insert a personal note at this point: When I was alive, I often received advice from my own big brain which, in terms of my own survival, or the survival of the human race, for that matter, can be charitably described as questionable. Example: It had me join the United States Marines and go fight in Vietnam. Thanks a lot big brain.
–Kurt Vonnegut Jr., GALAPAGOS
On a completely other note, I am playing with an app called Tripcolor, to see if it would be a good way to send Italy pics to you all over the holidays and make you totally jealous. Hmmm, that doesn’t make it sound like a good idea. Anyway, said playing is happening here.
From Christopher Beuhlman’s Those Across the River:
I went for a walk. The tree shadows stretched long and fingerlike on the dirt road that led into Whitbrow as the last light of the day spilled from the west. The few houses that lined the road were really little better than shacks, but even they looked worthy of portraiture with that amber glow washing over their pine-board and tin. Sometimes a dog would bark. Sometimes a face would appear and then recede behind the mosquito screen of a window. Once, a bony hand struck a match whose jab of flame then twinned itself on the wick of an oil lamp.
This chapter opening starts with a rather brittle phrase and then relaxes, a bit, but the lack of human contact for this character makes the atmosphere tense even though his activity, walking in the evening, might normally be thought of as relaxing.
I’ve missed out on a week of Exquisite Wordage, and blogging generally, for a few reasons: my site picked up a little malware, for one thing and had to be vigorously scrubbed. Mostly, though, I’ve been focusing on my current batch of writing students and my own work in progress.
I hope to ease into being chatty again in September. In the meantime, here’s a bit from Richard Rayner’s A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.’s Scandalous Coming of Age:
Throughout this astonishing period, L.A. was the fastest-growing city in the world. In America only San Francisco had ever grown so fast, during the years of the Gold Rush following 1849. But by the 1920s, San Francisco’s boom was long done. New York, Boston and even Chicago had never known an explosion like the one that was happening in L.A. Every working day throughout the 1920s, builders started more than fifty new homes. Each week a new hotel went up. The year 1923 alone saw the construction of 800 office buildings, 400 industrial buildings, 150 schools, 130 warehousees, 700 apartment buildings, and more than 25,000 single dwellings. Property prices doubled, tripled, quadrupled, eventually rising sixfold through the decade. The city began to spread, amoeba-like, in search f its suburbs, although in those days L.A. still meant downtown, thriving with business and residences.
You can almost see this happening in a black and white time-release photo kind of way, can’t you?
Or this, where I quote Rayner quoting Chandler:
In this defeated atmosphere, the expressionless blue of the sky and the unchanging rhythm of perfect days taht followed each other one after the other added to the melancholy. “Outside the bright gardens had a haunted look, as though wild eyes were watching me from behind the bushes, as though the sunshine itself had a mysterious something in the light,” wrote Raymond Chandler.