Forums » Creative Corner » Read Thread

Take part in collaborative works, share your short stories, poems, original artwork and more.

The Watcher

one year ago
Commended by mizal on 4/19/2023 10:01:14 PM

The warmth of the flames licking their way up the dry sticks defrosts my cold stare out into the darkness of the endless dark forest. My dark hair falling past my shoulders, unkempt and knotted. Dirt covers my face and lodges itself underneath my chipped nails, though it looks more like shadows dancing against my face as the dim light flickers and shifts with the crackling sticks inside my small fire. Behind the frown etched like stone into my countenance, I did find peace within the light, however fleeting it was. There’s not as many fires on the trail as there once was, leaving everything damp and quiet. Now, there just continues to be that intrusive smell of rotting leaves and ash.

A log shifted in the little teepee structure that I had created, sending embers up into the air and illuminating my ashen, mottled skin before floating up into the infinite canopy above me. Aspens pressed so tightly together, choking the life out of one another, only further attributing to the decay that assaulted my olfactory senses. I watch the smoke shift in the light breeze that brushes against my overcoat and I hear the twigs snapping and leaves rustling behind me. Sitting up from my hunched over position, my bones creaking in protest, I hold my hands out over the heat for a brief moment. I do not turn around. Rather, I slowly bend down beside the circle of rocks that is containing my light and pick up a single new log, laying it on top of the sizzling embers and cinders. That should make it more comfortable.

They come into view a moment later. How peculiar. A man, about five foot eight, with light curly hair and a darker complexion. Couldn’t be more than twenty four. He’s dressed in a simple jacket and basketball shorts, his sneakers have rubber worn down to the sole and fraying laces. Next to him is a woman with straight dyed-silver hair standing at about five foot four. She’s wearing a t-shirt with the words “Fuck the Police” in an urban font and pre-torn jeans. They reek of fresh air and health. She was a bit older than her friend, maybe about thirty five. Once both of them reach my resting spot, eyes still with a glaze over them, they find themselves willingly taking a seat opposite of me.

“Where am I?” The guy in loose shorts looks around with bewilderment, noticing his companion for the first time as his voice echoes throughout the eternal dark. Once he lays eyes on me, he curses and almost falls backwards off the log that supported him, “Wh-who are you?” The woman, on the other hand, stares dumbfound at me, unable to speak.

“I watch over the campfires,” my hoarse voice rips across the silence that quickly oppressed the question that had been asked, “And who may you be, sir?”

“I’m Asher,” his brow furrows and his bewildered expression finally settles onto his face as his mouth moves but nothing further comes out, leading him to shut it and instead grip onto the rough bark digging into his exposed skin.

“Madame,” I whisper to his partner, “Do you need a further moment to collect yourself or was your stroll not quite enough?”

For a moment, she continues to stare with her mouth agape before seemingly regaining her composure and shaking her head, “No. I think I’m.. fine.”

“Then would you like to introduce yourself like your associate?” I throw another log onto the flame, these two are much colder than I had anticipated.

“Olivia. I prefer Olive, though.” She practically whispers.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you both. Asher and Olivia,” I let their names fill the air and enjoy the sound before the breeze whisks them away, “How has your hike been so far?”

“Hike?” Asher scratches his head and I see the scrapes on the undersides of his arms. There seems to be glass lodged in his hair as well.

“Long,” Olive rubs her eyes and leans against her knees, the vertical gash slowly healing on the underside of her arm visible for the first time.

I stretch my long legs out, my dress shoes resting on the stones dangerously close to the hungry flames, and brush off my dress pants as I lean back against a branch sticking out of my personal seat. The two seem dreadfully different.

“Excuse me, but can you explain why we’re out in the middle of the woods?” Voice wavering, Asher straightens his posture and looks as if he’s ready to fight but his near-black eyes betray his exhaustion. Our eyes only hold each other's gaze for a moment before he looks down at the flame. Though my focus remains on him, I see Olive shaking her head.

“Were we really anywhere else,” Olive chimes in before I get the chance to speak, “I mean. Seriously man. Whether we’re here or in the middle of a city, does it make a difference?”

“He hasn’t been walking as long,” My utterance commanding silence to fill the perpetual night, “And Asher, you’re here because this is now your path. Same as anyone else.”

“My… path? What does that even mean? Stop answering in riddles,” Pulling his jacket closer and shivering, Asher’s aggravation did nothing to warm his soul.

“We’ve all got our own paths,” I find myself holding a long stick and using it to move the kindling and logs, allowing the fire to breathe, “Sometimes they merge, or diverge, but no matter what we do, we walk along our paths until they converge here.”

“Oh,” Asher stares at the fire, which is already starting to die down. He takes it upon himself to add another log and watches as it reignites, while my eyes are drawn to the strange hole in his shirt beneath the jacket and the subsequent visible scar.

“I’m tired,” Olive sighs and rolls one of the loose logs around in the damp dirt, her frown deepening.

“You can sleep here, if you wish,” I extend my arm outwards and point towards the log she is perched upon.

“Not what I meant,” she releases the log and it stays stuck in the dirt as she brings her knees up to her chest and hugs them close but they offer no warmth. Everything but the fire seems to be frozen here.

“Then what did you mean?” Asher asks as the fire seems to fully catch on the added log, turning his full attention to the edgy Olive. Scooting across the log and closer towards her, he leans forward so she can see his face, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she mumbles as she shies away from him and shakes her head, “Just thought I finally found a solution is all.”

“If there is anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to let me-”

“There’s nothing you could do, dude,” the acidic nature in the way she spewed those words seemed to dissolve through whatever intention that Asher had.

“Fine. Whatever. You do you,” Crossed arms, jaw set, Asher kicked a log away from the fire and winced but otherwise kept a stoic expression.

“I do think he was just trying to help, dear Olive,” I clear my throat and feel both of their eyes fall on me, “No need to be so rude either, Asher.”

Now quiet rushes in once more, save for the pops and sizzling within the stone pit in between us. Olive and Asher both seem to re-evaluate each other before turning back to me with a quizzical air about them.

“What are you?” Olive asks, truly taking me in the first time, rubbing her frighteningly thin arm.

“That’s actually a totally valid question,” Asher nods in agreement, “I feel like we should know what exactly we’re dealing with here.”

My dark eyes flick between the pair of them, amusement bubbling up inside me, but still I can’t bring myself to break through the etching on my face. Even though it's been a brief few minutes, they were already warmer than they had been when they arrived. Even their scars recede under the surface of their skin leaving only faint indications of their existence. It has been a while since anyone reached my fire.

“I’m just a watcher of the flames. Keeping them warm for travelers such as yourselves. For as long as you are here, I can be warm,” I watch the flames flicker in my pit and let the warmth of a living fire wash over me, “But this isn’t about me. What brings you here, Asher? Olive?”

“I’ve got no idea where here is, man,” Asher shakes his head and lets out an uncomfortable laugh before bowing his head and letting his thoughts consolidate, “I barely know who I am and now I’m completely lost.”

“I-” Olive trails off but when Asher looks up at her expectantly she continues, “Because I am punishing myself.”

“What? Why would you do that?” Once again, Asher reaches out to Olive but this time he leaves his own log and finds a place next to her.

“Because my sister looked up to me. Relied on me…. Trusted me. And I let her down. I left her alone. I was selfish.” Olive looks up to the roof of the forest, unable to face this situation, “I don’t know what I expected but I really didn’t see this. Having enough time to think everything through. Feel everything. Then regret it all.”

“Stop,” Asher insisted and grabbed her shoulders, “I don’t know what you did but I don’t like the way you’re talking. Cause it sounds like me in high school. That just isn’t cool. I was like that for a few years but you can always dig yourself out of that. Just gotta stick to your guns and figure out what's best, you know?”

“It’s too late for either of us, Ash,” Olive scoots away from him and he slumps but Asher doesn’t return to his log.

“We’re almost out of wood,” I toss the last un-dampened log onto the fire.

“It’s never too late,” Asher shakes his head, disregarding me completely, “We’ve gotta fight through all the crap and get to the good side of life.”

“We’re in the middle of the woods with a creepy guy in a suit listening to our conversation. Oh, and that’s not to mention the fact that we didn’t meet before now. Where’s the good in that?”

“We’ve got each other, for one. We could be alone. And he seems harmless,” Asher inclines his head towards me, “Mostly.”

I keep my eyes fixated on the fire, quickly burning down to embers. It was almost out.

“Yeah… I guess that’s true. We do have each other. There are worse things,” Olive smiles as she stands up and offers her hand out to Asher, “Walk with me?”

“Of course,” Ash joins her and they walk past my pit, extinguishing the fire and leaving the cold to surround the three of us but it doesn't stop them, “It’s always nice to have company.”

I watch from the darkness as their silhouettes fade on the path. Eventually, the fire would return and warm my old bones. Unfortunately, until then, I sit on my log and stare out into the empty void of a forest. I barely feel the icy temperature of these perpetual woods anymore, but I must wait for the next fire, the next convergence of paths, to continue my watch of the hopeless finding a semblance of meaning in the fleeting light they find within this heartless darkness. A lot of us gave up long ago. Eventually, they would too. There used to be more fires here, scaring away the dark. Now it’s just me. I will always be watching. The cold won’t take me.

My fire lights itself and I hear twigs snapping behind me. My stone etched frown remains, but I will never let my spark of hope die.


The Watcher

one year ago

Very well written and obviously well proofread also.  The piece overall does an excellent job of projecting the melancholy tone of the setting, and reflects an interesting view of an afterlife.  Tone and tensing feels consistent front to back, and the overall flow of the story works well, and does a good job of selling the cyclical nature of the setting without explicitly calling it out.

There is little that jumps out at me as areas needing improvement.  It does leave a few questions unanswered, such as why the narrator is in a suit but otherwise so ill-kempt.  If he is one of the wanderers, how did he stop wandering to become a firekeeper?  Why is his spark of hope so indefeatable compared to those of others that used to be there?  It is a sign of good worldbuilding when the reader is left wanting to see a longer piece to answer those questions, and you do a great deal of that here.

Overall, an excellent piece.  I look forward to reading more from you.

The Watcher

one year ago
Good writing man. It's getting to the level that any critiques I give will essentially be just me reiterating my personal preferences while you clearly got your own and made those stylistic choices willingly.

So I'm just saying what I liked:

- First person POV really suits the mood you're going for.
- Especially at the start excellent descriptions. I like that there's just a whole paragraph that didn't involve the protagonist at all. The protagonist is just a vessel and that embodies this idea.
- While there's a lot of adjectives and other ad-words, I'm of the school that they add a lot of the desired atmosphere you're trying to create.
- The dialogue, while a bit meandering, served as a proper skeleton to this short story and allowed us to glean info without it being a dump.

Good stuff. Enjoyed it.

The Watcher

one year ago
I like how what's going on gets clearer as the story goes on while also leaving the reader to speculate on who or what the protagonist is. You do a good job of setting up the tone through the protagonist, but at first, I didn't understand why the protagonist didn't react to the noise. This is where I think you could've spent more time on the protagonist's characterization than describing the fire. But I do like the fire as a metaphor for hope.

I know I probably complain about this too much, but -ly adverbs are usually redundant, awkward, or otherwise unnecessary. For example, in the second paragraph, the aspens are pressed tightly together, but then you describe how tightly they're pressed together. An example of where the -ly adverb makes thing awkward is in the third paragraph, where the both of the other characters sit willingly. As far as I'm aware, it isn't implied that anything they've done was against they're will up to that point. Also, the sentence implies the protagonist knows something he probably shouldn't, unless it's a first-person omniscient PoV.

There are some other issues that stood out to me. In the first paragraph, "I did find peace within the light, however fleeting it was." Should be in present tense, "I find peace within the light, however fleeting it is." Another issue is there's not as many fires. There's is a contraction of there and is (implying a singular subject), but the subject of the sentence is plural. In the last sentence of the paragraph, just continues to be makes the sentence wordy and awkward to read. There should be a comma after overcoat in the second paragraph.

I didn't notice anything after that, but I got interested in the story. I really did enjoy the slow realization that the characters are dead and they're in some kind of purgatory.