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Workshop Story: A Hardy People [PG]


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[size=1][color=DarkSlateBlue][size=2][font=Trebuchet MS]Part of my university Creative Writing course involves writing and 'workshopping' a 2000-word short story. I've seen people post their assignments on OB and get really constructive criticism before, so I thought I'd give it a try. What I need to know is: does any of it read weirdly? Have I made stupid spelling/grammar mistakes? Most importantly, is it clear enough by the end what's actually going on?[/font][/size][/color]

Many opposed the decision to relocate again, but the fact was the people had exhausted all the available resources. The motion to move on was passed by majority vote. Just.[/i]

Dom woke up knowing the day would be the same as every other day, because every day for the last twelve years had been the same and things just don?t change once you hit fifty. Okay, so maybe he?d do a job out in the sticks today, instead of the burbs. Maybe he?d get tipped today, instead of short-changed. Maybe the radiator on the Van would break, instead of the air-con. But however many of the little things changed, he knew he wasn?t going to enjoy it, and at his age, that was the only change that would register.
Rolling out of bed, he pulled on his cleanest overalls and got himself a glass of milk and an egg salad sandwich. Before he?d finished eating it, there was a call.

[i]Transport was arranged. The destination was set. All that remained was for the passengers to board, and the people would have themselves a convoy.[/i]

[b] ?Dominic Schultz here, whut can ah do for yuh??[/b] Dom?s fingers rooted through his moustache hair, cleaning out small pieces of egg salad.
[b] ?I have a, erm ? pest problem,?[/b] replied the tinny, distorted voice on the other end.
[b] ?Well, ah guessed that from yuh?s callin? here.?[/b] Dom wasn?t annoyed. Everyone started the conversation by saying they had a pest problem. It was the easiest way to make sure they hadn?t called the pizza place by mistake.
[b] ?I ? erm ? "[/b]
Dom sighed. [b]?Whut kinda pest problem? Rats? Bats? Roaches??[/b]
[b] ?Um ? well ? some sort of insect, certainly ? "[/b]
Inner-City guys. They never knew jack about anything that wasn?t polished, shiny and clean.
[b] ?Gimme the address and I?ll be over after lunch.?[/b]

[i]The people began boarding, shielding themselves with ragged shawls, pieces of corrugated iron, anything that came to hand, from the hot desert wind. They were hardy people. They knew how to survive in the harshest of environments. But that didn?t mean they didn?t know what they preferred, and being sandblasted was low down on the list.[/i]

Dom honked the driver in front. He saw the woman look in her rear-view ? her eyes screwed up and lip curled with distaste. She looked like his ex wife looked when he begged her to take him back. Her passenger flicked a couple of switches on the dash, and the LED grid on the corvette?s rear lit up in a pretty good outline of a two finger salute.
Feh. You win this round, with your fancy Inner-City swankmobile.
He?d loaded up the Van with pretty much everything, just to be safe. The guy was Inner-City, so he wasn?t going to be impressed any by Dom?s being a hick. Wouldn?t do to look like an incompetent hick on top of that, by having to drive the hour and a half back to the office because he?d forgotten his rat poison, or something.
The lights changed, the traffic moved. Dom eased the Van forward for the few hundred metres that had opened up. Hardly worth the fuel, but he didn?t want anyone sliding into the gap. He took another bite of his egg salad sandwich, nothing like mama used to make, but edible.
Dom scratched his ass, finished his sandwich, wiped his moustache and beamed another couple of offensive honks at the driver in front to pass the time until the lights let him through. Then it was a left turn and he was home free, gliding down the freeway to the sparkling lights of Big City.

[i]Huddled together in cramped bucket-seats, shivering in the sudden transition from desert scorch to air-con chill, the first of the people to board pulled their shawls and blankets around themselves. Children, peering out through the portholes, commented excitedly on how very many people were lined up outside. Thie parents were merely reminded of how long they would have to wait before departure.[/i]

The address led Dom to a medium-sized place on the outskirts of Inner-City; well inside Big City, all the way through the sticks and the burbs and the industrial quarter and just on the cusp of where all the swanky rich types made their pads. This was one of the cheapest places you could get in Inner-City, cost more than Dom?s annual paycheck per month. It was the lowest of the high, the mould de la crème, and it still sparkled. West Eighty-Ninth.
The doors hissed open and Dom curtly welcomed his client into the Van. Soon as he clapped eyes on the guy he knew he wasn?t planning on staying in the pad himself; he was a property shark, no doubts. Jackson likely wasn?t his real name. Sometimes men in Dom?s place burned property sharks; no one wanted to buy from guys like Jackson that needed guys like Dom.
He hadn?t been wrong about the guy?s reaction, either; he kept sniffing and pushing his glasses up his nose and blinking, like something was getting in his eyes. He had little eyes like a rat?s. They kept flicking around the place, and there was the same distaste in them as the woman in corvette had had.
[b]?Sorry to make yuh stoop,?[/b] said Dom, not meaning it, as he led the way. [b]?Ah don?t normally meet guys of yuh height.?
?I?ve been forced to endure lower ceilings than this,?[/b] the guy replied wearily, bumping his shoulder on a loose cable bracket.
Dom wanted to get straight to business, do his job and get out. He hated being around guys he made uncomfortable. [b]?Insects, yeuh??[/b] he asked gruffly. [b]?Arthr?pods. You catch one ah can take a look at??[/b]
There was a dull clunk as Jackson?s head hit the ceiling. [b]?Well, no,?[/b] he replied, regaining his composure, [b]?that?s your job, surely. I didn?t want to go near the things.?[/b]
Dom hated when guys told his what his job was. It made him correct them in his head, then that reminded him what his job actually was, and how much he hated it.
He sighed.

[i]Figures of authority arrived with loudspeaking equipment. They told the people not to panic, but to board the transport vehicles as quickly as they could. No explanation was given, which meant something was wrong. Whispers began to move amongst the people.[/i]

[b]?Mistuh Jackson, yuh property?s infested w?th roaches.?[/b] And so are nine out of ten out in the sticks, but everyone just lives with it. Pansy.
[b]?Oh, er ? well.?[/b] The shark looked almost relieved. He leaned forward in his seat to take back the photo from Dom, then reclined, mopping his eyebrows. [b]?I did suspect ? I assumed that?s probably what they were. But, you know. Never having seen them before. I suppose that?s what being brought up in Inner-City will do to you.?[/b] There was a look in his eyes that was half rueful, half fierce. He probably had some story other to tell; maybe he?d turned his back on Daddy?s vast fortune because Daddy wouldn?t let him be what he wanted to be. Maybe he was trying to make his own living on what meagre multimillions he could make property-sharking here on the outskirts of Inner-City, the mould de la crème, so he could work his way up, be a self-made man, impress Daddy and win the hand of the local blue-eyed beauty. But so what? Dom didn?t care about that any more than Jackson cared about Dom?s ex wife, lousy job or fiftieth birthday.
[b]?Sure thing, Mistuh Jacks?n. Sure thing. A hundred fifty to fum?gate.?[/b]
Jackson looked up sharply. His head nearly hit the ceiling again even though he was sitting down. His glasses slid to the end of his nose. [b]?A hundred and fifty??[/b]
[b]?Two fifty if yuh want th? job done proper.?[/b]
[b]?Well, now, I think that?s absolutely ??[/b]
Dom leaned forward. He flicked the privacy switch on the dash. Jackson saw him do it and looked puzzled, but apprehensive too, like he knew what was coming. He leaned forward too, obeying Dom?s beckoning finger.
Dom shuffled his seat forward, so some of the wilder strands of his moustache nearly touched Jackson?s face. The skinny guy nearly went cross-eyed.
[b]?Seems t? me, Mistuh Jacks?n,?[/b] said Dom softly, [b]?seems t? me, this problem o? yuh?s bin caused by negl?gence.?[/b]
Jackson?s hackles went right up, really ruffled. [b]?Well I ?"[/b]
Dom flicked the privacy switch off. It made a much louder noise turning off than on. That was deliberate.
Jackson heard it, saw it, shut up. He looked coldly at Dom, who beckoned him in once more, toggling the privacy on. The silver toggle glittered in the light from Inner-City.
[b]?Now, Mistuh Jacks?n??[/b]

[i]Widespread panic had gripped the people. One transport overturned from the weight of bodies as people tried to climb up the undercarriage, gripping the streamlining fins, to reach the portholes. The authorities had filled the upper deck first to speed up proceedings, and it was top heavy. People were crushed by it. People were crushed underfoot. The authorities said their prayers. They saw no way the people would escape in time now.[/i]

[b]?So I suppose you?re going to ? what, burn me, now, then,?[/b] sighed Jackson resignedly, slumping backwards in his seat.
[b]?Naw,?[/b] said Dom, relaxed, enjoying being one up on an Inner-City slicker. Enjoying? Hell. Maybe things do change after fifty. [b] ?En?t worth the effort. May just ?s well overcharge yuh now ?n cut out th? go-b?tweens.?[/b]
[b] ?You aren?t worried I?ll consider it getting off lightly, and go and make the same mistakes again??
?Nuth?n t? me if yuh do. Extra cashflow, even. ?s long as ah?m the man on speedcomm ?f ?t does happ?n agin, hm??[/b] Dom winked, belched egg salad and pushed himself out of his seat. [b]?So. Fum?gate? Or th? full works??[/b]
[b]?Better the full works. It isn?t as if I can?t afford it, even when you?re extorting me. I just want the whole sorry affair behind me.?[/b]

[i]The authorities? instruments told them the end was coming. The transports abandoned, all hope of escape lost, the people fled underground.
[b]?It was bad choice of clients that did for me, really.?[/b]
God damn, the two hundred fifty almost isn?t worth this. Just had to get landed with a goddamn milksop compulsive confessor.
[b]?I mean, what did I expect here in the skirts? There were always going to be some unsavoury types around. I suppose I was naïve. I never expected them to come to me.?[/b]
You were a down-on-his-luck rookie property shark, who else would they come to?
[b]?And then one thing led to another, and some of them got out of hand, and then ??[/b] Jackson shook his head, removing his glasses and wiping them on a polymer-silk handkerchief. [b]?I couldn?t do anything about it. They were out of control. And then, when the smoke cleared, it was all just ash ? ash deserts and sodding cockroaches.?[/b]
[b]?They?re s?pposed t? be th? toughest creature ?n Big City,?[/b] Dom butted in, sick of the sound of Jackson?s voice. [b]?Only thing?ll survive a whassa, confl?gration.?[/b] He finalised the settings at the console; it bleeped, and the Van shuddered as the autopilot manoeuvred it into position. [b]??Kay, yuh jus? sit tight, Mistuh Jacks?n. We?re in orbit now. Th? Van?ll drop fum?gat?r-neutron pack?ges ev?ry four hours. Should give ?nough coverage t? take care ?f yuh pest probl?m.?[/b]

[i]The Injector telescoped out of the main belly hatch of Dom?s Van. It recoiled once, and sent a packet of roach-specific nerve agents and neutron explosives hurtling straight down at a thousand metres per second, towards West Eighty-Ninth. In accordance with the wire-up Dom had installed between the Injector and the Van?s horn a month after his wife left him, the LED grid on the Van?s nose lit up into the words ?YOU ARE SCREWED?.

The people burned.[/i]

[font=Lucida Console][b]Galaxy:[/b] Big City
[b]System:[/b] Inner-City
[b]World:[/b] West Eighty-Ninth
[b]Details:[/b] Roach infestation exterminated at 15:05, August 14th, by Mr Dominic Schultz, at the behest of Mr Ashley Jackson, for the pre-agreed sum of two hundred and fifty credits.
[b]Materials:[/b] Canister type 4 roach nerve agent / 4 megaton neutron (x 50)
[b]World Status:[/b] barren / ready for terraforming
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There are a few things that aren't clear at all.

[u]1) Dom[/u]. Who is he? Or rather, [i]what[/i] is he? We're given description of him throughout the piece, and his actions, mannerisms, and physical traits all give the impression that he's human. And up until the very end of the story, that's a reasonable interpretation, because there's virtually nothing in the piece that suggests otherwise.

But when he's part of what is revealed to be some type of intergalactic extermination company...I begin to have doubts that the exceedingly human description of him fits at all.

So...is he an alien or isn't he? Or does it even matter? He has a ship, apparently, and there's no real connection or parallel ever established between him and the Italicized, brief snippets of humanity. He's definitely the exterminator, and humans are the roaches, but I need more than what you have, because there's just very, very little detail going on here.

[u]2) The plot itself[/u]. I get the sense you need to hide 90% of the details so the ending works, because the global extermination angle is all the story has--and really, it's all the story wants to do. I don't even think Dom's personal life is terribly important to anything. I mean, you've got global thermonuclear holocaust on one hand and then on the other hand, just some bumfuck, boondocks exterminator with a fat-ass and a mustache full of egg salad.

Maybe it's just that Dom's description doesn't click, but I think the more interesting "character" right now is the global thermonuclear holocaust. We know something bad is going to happen from the "evacuation" inserts, and it's clear that bad something is what the story is ultimately heading toward, and global thermonuclear holocausts are fun as hell to write about--especially when you can get down on the ground-level with the characters and witness them freaking out.

That just doesn't happen here. The most compelling parts of this story aren't anything about Dom or Jackson; the most compelling parts here amount to no more than a few paragraphs out of 2,000 words.

Dom's a fat, intergalactic exterminator who likes egg salad. Okay.

[u]3) The tone[/u]. But the world below is about to be entirely incinerated by nerve gas and neutron bombs, introduced by an LED that reads "YOU ARE SCREWED."

That shit is funny, because it's the right tone for the piece. Problem is, it only gets out there at the very end, and we don't see any of that black comedy at all during Dom's scenes, which is probably why Dom just isn't very compelling at all. He's got no bite. His Van has bite. He doesn't.

Does he even have a darkly humorous streak in him to begin with? It certainly doesn't seem like it.

To summarize, I guess my biggest concern here is that there's a lack of a truly compelling focus. The perspective is just so, so removed from the action of the piece that it's hard to feel anything. I didn't care about Dom at all.

I kept expecting there to be something more about his character [i]during[/i] the piece, not [i]after[/i]. He just comes across as an exceedingly dry humanoid exterminator who for some bizarre reason that doesn't even relate to his life from how it's told in the narration...installed a huge "YOU ARE SCREWED" LED on his van.

I think you have a few options here:

1) You can re-work Dom so that he's the focus, that the dark comedy of the premise actually comes through, instead of just a glimpse at the end.

2) You can revise the story to focus more on the evacuation on the planet, and really make us feel the terror (and you could still work in the dark comedy..."YOU ARE SCREWED" is very Dr. Strangelove, by the way).

3) Or you could do a combination of those two, and give Dom a closer experience with the "roaches." If he treates fellow (aliens?) that way...imagine how he'd act around humans that are nothing more than roaches to exterminate. Might be interesting, and would provide some interesting juxtapositions between humankind and alienkind (that is, if Dom is an alien).

Incidentally, you need to decide if Dom is an alien or a human, because it doesn't seem lik there's a clear idea on your part regarding what he really is.
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[font=Trebuchet MS][size=2]From what I can gather, it seems obvious that Dominic and Ashley are human. Judging by their actions, names, speech, facial hair, food preference, date-time system, etc. it just wouldn't make sense for them to be anything else. Consider Ockham's razor. The 'roaches' seem to be an intelligent life-form, which isn't too implausible, given the advanced technology, which must be far into the future. I like the way that despite all the achievements, humanity has stayed the same. This story is worth reading twice. Read it once to let the end grab you, then read only the italics, because the mini-story is quite interesting, and it gives us insight into how humanity doesn't change. This seems to be the main focus of the piece, and although it's not easy to pick up in reading, it comes together lucidly at the end.[/size][/font]

[font=Trebuchet MS][size=2]Beyond that, I think you spelled 'their' wrong somewhere, but a spelling check should find it (I forgot where it was).[/size][/font]
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