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Writers' Corner - January

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Hi guys.

Rowan Morrisson once mused that it would be a neat idea to use an image or a photograph as inspiration for a Writers' Corner. I agree. So, what could be better than to select my favourite photograph evar:


A Cambodian guerrilla is carried to an improvised operating room in a mangrove swamp in this Viet Cong haven on the Ca Mau Peninsula (1970).

Taken during the Vietnam war by National Geographic photographer Vo Anh Kanh, this photo is said to be of a real-life makeshift surgery. I don't believe that, personally, but I find it a really powerful scene, regardless.

So, what's this month's theme?

It's whatever you see in the image, I guess:

Humanity's triumph over adversity;

The Vietnam war itself;

A war photographer;

whatever you want!

There were lots of comments about 'New Year's resolutions' and whatnot in last month's thread, so I hope to see lots of entries!

The rules

1. One thousand words or less

2. Submission by January 31st or earlier.

3. Votes in by 11.59PM on February 5th, or they're voided.

4. Constructive criticism only.


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Nothing really inspires me when I look at that picture.

If I ever tried to write anything to justify it, I'd feel like a phony. I know nothing of war and I'm not going to pretend to while simultaneously massaging my ego, getting happy about well written sentences.

The closest we have all come to war is owning bubble gum cards with pictures of Bart Simpson on saying, "War is hell, man."

I guess this could be the basis of my story, but it's not going to be.

See you next month!

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You needn't set your story in Vietnam. Your story could centre around this photograph in a completely different setting, as long as the themes that you see in it are reflected, and as long as the photograph features somehow.

I don't see why the image has to appear at all. Surely it's better to treat the photo as a source of inspiration, and just following wherever that leads to? It doesn't really matter if your readers can't see the route back from your prose to the image - unless of course that's part of what you're trying to express. Basically, your first post.

I don't know, I just like arguing with Bastion.

So, yeah, I'm in.

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Thanh crouched in a gutter of black, slimy water feeling shit and disease seeping through every stitch of his tattered combats. His numb, frozen hands were locked awkwardly, claw-like around the battered stock and magazine of a rifle that jammed more bullets than it fired.

The op had started badly and deteriorated from there.

His 2IC had been late, his point man drunk and the scout, a new guy, Thanh wasn't totally convinced his heart had ever been in it. It certainly wasn't now. He winced as he remembered the explosion, flaps of skin and cloth floating back towards him on the breeze as the refinery objective burned in the distance.

The rest of the men were scattered across the map, a devastated landscape of shell cratered jungle. Mashed up vegetation and wildlife pureed in stagnant water produced an unholy stink, the ground muddy and unstable, the sky dark with hardwood smoke. Whoever designed this place had really excelled themselves.

At least, for the time being, everything was relatively still and quiet. Thanh whispered through the bushes to Iaesu, the 2IC, contemplating next moves.

Then sudden movement, crashing, panicked, up ahead. Thanh forced his gun up to a ready position, not confident he'd get a bullet out of it but showing willing. A shout, gunfire. His pulse quickened, cold hands somehow sweaty. A figure splashed through the wreckage of undergrowth. Iaesu flanked him, pressed his bayonet to the soldier's neck. The intruder froze.

Adam. It was Adam.

"Sir," Adam gasped, arms and tunic soaked in blood, "it's Jale. He's, he's dropping sir."

Thanh swore. They were already light on the op, he couldn't stand to lose another man so soon after the scout. They'd gone in without a ranked medic, tempting fate again, but Thanh had some experience. It would have to do.

He followed the young soldier on a winding path through the blasted jungle, splashing through flooded craters and scaling the trunks of vast fallen trees. All around was the stench of decay, the sights and sounds of a hounded resistance force, men and boys under the most extreme of pressures.

A small group of them clustered around Jale's body, which had been pulled clear of the swampy ponds and pools to lie on a makeshift stretcher of roughly sawn planks. Thanh pushed through them, without speaking, and knelt to examine the soldier.

Jale's skin was deathly pale, his breathing light and ragged. Thanh felt for his pulse, fearing the worst. He'd seen this malaise many times before, and there was little hope for anyone caught in it.

"How long has he been like this?" Thanh asked, raising his head to look at the faces of the bedraggled audience.

"Two, maybe three hours," one of them replied, cropped hair and facial tattoos daubed with blood and slurry.

Thanh turned back to Jale's prone form and, filtering the beam through his fingers, shone a flashlight into the boy's eyes. Barely a response at all. There was little he could do, only one old trick really and he didn't have much time.

"Where's he from?" Than asked, but the watching soldiers didn't really know. It was so hard to tell.

"I dunno, Utah I heard," Adam said, quietly, "Ohio maybe." A few murmurs of uncertain agreement.

Moving carefully, the crater bank soft and unstable, Thanh straddled Jale's chest, pinning him down. He placed one hand on the soldier's forehead, the other on his throat, closed his eyes and concentrated. Drawing images from his own memory, Thanh began to recite the sequence, lips moving silently. He traced Jale's fading energy back through the network, searching for connections, somewhere he could attach the sequence, bring him back. The signal was so faint, bandwidth minimal, it was a miracle Jale was still here at all.

But there was something there. Thanh increased his pressure on the Jale's forehead, willing him back in to the jungle. A spark deep in his skin, a connection made, a new route, power surging.

Thanh leapt backwards, splashing into the water, dazed and unbalanced, his men rushing to support him. Jale's body twisted and convulsed on the bed of planks, coughing and retching.

A minute later the soldier was on his feet, still weak but colour returning to his face. He coughed again, spat into the crater ditch.

"Be a bastard when they patch that one, huh?" Jale said, smiling. Thanh stepped forwards and gripped his friend's arm, whispering a short prayer of thanks.

In the distance, as if on cue, the guns started up again, resuming their relentless bombardment of the jungle. Taking them out was the main objective, and the clock was still ticking.

Thanh reached for his weapon, feeling renewed by his success. He regrouped the men into two squads, point and flank, and set them on their way. Splashing again through the ruined world, he almost felt happiness. They could take this level. And hell, even if they didn't get it right it was a bank holiday. They'd have time to go again

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“The adjectives that describe the horror of an operating theater in a swamp can`t come fast enough. Sick, filthy disgusting. Sounds that batten on the front of your mouth then come spitting out. Doctor`s and nurse`s uniforms trying to make a stand against the ever encroaching bacteria, disease and despair. Like your father tap dancing on the coffee table cock in hand, its out of place. I want you to recreate this picture in your own way. And I want it on my desk by next week. When people look at the image they refuse to believe its real. It`s an M C Escher painting, the water flowing up hill. I want you to make water flow up hill.” That`s what he told us in War Photography, module 2300. Nice guy our professor, tries to be inspiring sometimes. Make us think. He didn`t say the the cock in hand bit, I stole that from a song. In class there was some debate as to whether the photo was real, the same old debate that`s happened a hundred times when you get people in a room who need the five percent the discussion will bring. A tit bit of intelligence thrown here or there, no one can really be sarastic, I mean, it`s all so sombre. But that picture inspired me. Take me out the ordinary. I wanted to recreate the defiance, the oddness, the surreality and the so posed it can`t be true nature of the photo and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted my own piece that made people stop and question. I would create this same effect. In 100 years time, they`d be discussing my photo in lecture theaters up and down the country. My own potential brilliance gives me a hard on.

First my image would have to be public. The more people involved, the less likely it is to be accused of staging. But the intimacy of the image lies in the fact there are only a small number of people, secluded away there. I note down the keyword “seclusion” in my moleskine notebook. Hemmingway used one of these you know. Secondly, it has to be sombre. Pretty much any war photo is “good.” I mean it`s about war, you can`t criticize all that suffering. It`s deep man. The war is a fucking well. I don`t have a war. But if you can`t get sombre, then modern will do. Modern is the buzz word these days. Modern and history. Together in one. Yeah, that`s a good replacement for the depth of war. Lastly it has to be something out of place. A child on a psychoanalysts couch. Some dogs round a pool table. Something like that. Something real clever. If I make it in black and white, all the better. Less colours more shadows. Jesus, we`re not in a infant school colouring competition here. Sometimes I roll my eyes when people submit their own photographs for submission. Don`t they know anything? It`s so much more meaningful when it`s in black and white.

My own potential brilliance gave me a hard on. The unachieved potential brilliance did not. When I took my “deck chair on a roundabout” into class they all laughed. They said it was like a Brighton postcard, lacking in any real merit. Smug cunts. Couldn`t they see the eery parallels between children dying and the death of the traditional English holiday? If anything, I found my work to be even more how is it they say, “je ne sei qua.” You know, I thought the concept was amazing, the deckchair getting lost behind a blur of cars, the whole round thing. You know what I mean by round thing don`t you? It`s fucking cyclic. The boy in the photo`s innocence was lost, and my childhood innocence was lost when Milton Keynes concreted over my favourite play ground. With a round a bout. My defiant hawaiian shirt (I bought it on holiday in the south of France, which I suppose is kind of ironic really) stands against the cold background, denying the hulking metal monsters their last chance at dominance. It`s reversal too. Where as the Vietnam photo was saw in class was modern in nature, I am nature in modern. I honestly don`t know what they expected. The guy who everyone fawned over and ended up getting the stupid posh girls number from had a picture of himself fishing in a sewer. He called it, “apocolypto.” Bastard gets invited to the lecturer`s parties all the time. Apocolypto sounds like a godamn X-man or fruit flavoured drink at a student bar. His supposed “twist” was they he was fishing with his penis. He said that to take something so Godly and pure and put in raw sewage was as close as to divine as he`d ever felt. He said he felt the same as Vo Anh Kanh must have when he took the picture. I asked him if he didn`t think it was a little offensive, to liken his own penis to the marvels of modern surgery but he just snorted and exchanged knowing looks with everyone in the class. I reckon I felt pretty close to how the kid possibly dying in that picture felt. I felt pretty bad.

jesus fuck that was depressing to read and write. Guys above have done a much more sterling job, I just wanted to try and do something...anything.


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I thoroughly enjoyed all of those. John's was a little hard to read, simply due to a lack of formatting; the content was great though.

Unfortunately, despite Bastion's charming invitation, owing to a death in the family I doubt I'll have time to contribute anything to this month's writer's corner.

I love the idea of drawing inspiration from images and had a couple of ideas I felt reasonably confident I could articulate and extrapolate from hazy thought-pictures. Hopefully this format will still be in effect when I'm endowed with a little more personal time in February.

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Been out of this for a while, but am trying to write more at the moment, so here's mine.

"Ya didn't think I'd ever catch ya, did ya?"

The old man laughed as he spoke, a short spike of amusement that was accompanied by a shake of the head.

"To be honest with ya, I didn't either."

The Vietnamese man sat across from him said nothing, simply stared back at him, a look of resignation and sadness on his face.

"Well, ya don't have to look like that, fer christ's sake!" the old man went on. "What? Ya got an extra thirty odd years extra than ya should have done. Why be so fuckin' glum about the whole thing? Ya shoulda been dead a long time ago. And I shoulda had the rest of my life to look forward to..." He trailed off, his gaze clouding slightly as if trying to remember something. "Yeah, the rest of my life, but it didn't work out like that, did it? Why couldn't ya have just died like ya were supposed to?" He shook his head again.

The Vietnamese man still said nothing.

"But I suppose that's all in the past now, right? Right?"

The old man straightened in his chair and raised the gun slightly as if showing it off to the man opposite him.

"Ya must have known that one day one of us would catch up with ya. Ya must have known, surely? I hate to think what that must have been like. Always looking over ya shoulder, always wondering if one of us was just around the next corner." The old man shook his head again. "Musta been some form of hell or something. Have to say I'm glad I'm not in your shoes."

The Vietnamese man still had said nothing, and his expression had not changed.

"Ya see," the old man carried on, "we all thought ya were dead back there. We thought our mission had been a success. You were dead and we could move on. Then that fucking picture came out and there ya were, lying there, being tended by doctors and nurses, alive and well like ya had some kind of goddamn right to be!" He barked out another laugh. "Shit, I almost crapped out a lung when I saw that picture. I couldn't believe it. Fucking gook didn't have the decency to do the proper thing and die, I thought. So I knew I had to find ya again, finish the job. I got in contact with the rest of the squad, let them know. They were as pissed off as I was, I can tell ya. We made a pact to find ya and finish what we had started."

He lifted the gun again and pointed it the Vietnamese man.

"It took a while though. Longer than I thought it would. Cost me a lot too. My wife, my children, my job... You became a fuckin obsession to me. All I thought about, all I dreamt about. Nearly drove me insane trying to find ya."

He stopped and looked around.

"And here you were all this time. Almost right where we left ya, where we first found ya. I must have looked around these parts a hundred times at least and I never knew ya were here. Something kept making me come back here, something told me that ya were just under my fuckin nose, so I kept looking, kept searching. And now I got ya. Right where I want ya." He looked back at the man across from him. "And it's time to end this once and for all."

Slowly he pointed the gun at the Vietnamese man's head, wrapped his finger around the trigger and squeezed. He smiled as he felt the report of the pistol jolt through his hand, the sound of the gun almost deafening in the small room, the bullet speeding from the barrel and blowing out the back of the Vietnamese man's head, spraying blood and bone on to the wall behind him. He closed his eyes and sighed dreamily, an almost evangelical sense of relief that it was all over.

The man in his late thirties wiped a hand across his eyes and stood up, turned and walked away from his father.

"Take care of him," he said to the nurse as he walked past her.

She smiled as she always did and wandered over to the old man, his hand stuck out in front of him as if was holding a gun.

"We always do," she said to no one in particular.

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What an unpleasant man! I like his dialogue throughout.

I'm not fully happy with mine but it's getting late in the month and it'll do.

At the start of my life, my grandfather was quite an outsider to me, as most grandparents are. It wasn’t until I got older that I started to understand what people are and how each person had their own story to tell.

One rainy grim-clouded day, our history lesson was on the Great War. We read a couple of old stories about heroes and warriors. Fascinated, I counted back the years on my fingers, and realised my old granddad, Pops James, would have been 21 at the beginning of it all. After that, I was very impatient to talk to him about what he did, whom he fought, and all the Germans he killed. As we walked back from school that evening, trudging through the gloopy mud, my friends and I launched into a spontaneous game of Soldiers. I was my grandfather, the handsome general, roaring orders into the wind.

In the end, it came down to me. Everyone else had failed. I made for the top. The hill bore over me. With my last theatrical leap, the mud swallowed my shoe. With a pop my foot flew out and I belly flopped into a sloppy brown mess.

Now the Germans were going to kill me! Or at least my mum was.

I didn’t get a chance to see Pop James until about a month later. My mum and dad were off to the cinema to see a film much too violent for me, and were going to leave me with Pop James for the evening.

He took me in with a grumpy old snort. I had forgotten why I didn’t like seeing him, but now it was coming back. As soon as I got in, he was telling me off for blaspheming, for not taking my shoes off soon enough, for breathing his precious air! He told me to sit alone in his stuffy over heated front room. I’d been in there for a few minutes before I spotted a sepia photograph on a low shelf in the corner. I went over and looked.

It was of a field. No, not a field. A battlefield. In the foreground were uniformed men. Soldiers! They weren’t fighting though. Some were digging, some were carrying wood abroad their strong shoulders. One sat hunched in a hollowed cave, cigarette in mouth and Bell’s bottle in hand. You could almost see him shaking. They were digging a trench. A man was drawing out snaked barbed wire across the top edge of the trench. There was nothing in the background, just the monotonous dull brown stretching up to an edge, the horizon, and then light, blotched tea-stain sky, punctuated by intriguing black dots.

Between sky and frame lay the words.

“13 June 1916, Picardy, France”

I stood for a while examining the picture, and was so engrossed I didn’t even notice the heavy haggard breathing behind me. Suddenly, a song startled me.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly,

Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

Pops James sung tunefully.

I stared wide-eyed at my grandfather.

“John McCrae! Christ, boy. Don’t they teach you that one at school?”

“No, sir...no we just did stories! No songs, sir.”

“Songs?! That’s a bloody poem, boy!”

I quickly changed the subject.

“Those dots then…they’re larks?”

“You’re sharp, lad.”

I grinned.

“Don’t smile yet! Not sharp enough by half. I remember that day. They weren’t larks. They were shrikes. Butcher birds we called them. Keep the corpses they did. Oh and while we’re on them, we could hear them that day…guns hadn’t started then”

He spotted interest in my eye.

“You like this then?”

I nodded eagerly.

“Well come on then, want to see a few more?”

He led me into his musky study. Strewn across the desk were large rounded glass lenses and forgotten negatives. Photos tiled the walls, all of the memories with that sepia tint.

“Take a look”

Most of them were the same. Battlefields. Smiling men with broken eyes. Proud loud guns.

I spotted another of a trench. Was it a trench? I examined it closer. “11 July 1916, Picardy, France”. It was men digging, but the trench wasn’t very long at all. Six feet at most. Pops James saw me looking at it.

He spoke in a very quiet and saddened voice this time.

“That’s were we put Tony when we finally got him back. Worth it, I think…at least we got him back. Not like the others. “

Pops James took on that singsong voice again.

“We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

…All the others we just had to leave out there. Either that or just bury in the softer mud. And then they just rose to the surface. They would lie there, looking at us. All still like, but dead eyes examining us. Then they’d rot, and stink, but still their eyes would be there, even just the sockets, whatever was left, always looking. I wanted to run out myself then, go get the bastards myself. Shoot them all. Show them the horror I had to see.”

The image came back to my mind, my brave grandfather, fighting on his own against the evil Germans.

“Course, I couldn’t though.”

“But you would if they would’ve let you Pops! You could’ve taken them. Grabbed your rifle and ran and you would’ve won! I know you would’ve.”

Pops James smiled weakly. “My rifle? Don’t be silly, boy. I didn’t have no gun.”

“But Pops...you were a soldier!” I said defiantly.

My grandfather looked down at the ground for a while, laughing lightly, drawing swirling patterns in the dusty paved floor with the tip of his slipper. Finally he spoke.

“A soldier? No, boy.”

And he looked up at me and smiled again, with those broken eyes, those broken tearful eyes of the man huddled in the trench, the corpses floating in the trench, of all the men who had fought in and seen that battle.

“No…I just took the photographs.”

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Awww, shit! It's never February already, is it? :)

Oh well. The fantastic twist ending on Ravern's very nearly swings it for him, but I'm gonna go for the anti-lfj: well-written, sort of about games, and exploring themes about the disconnect that most Westerners have from real war, despite their taste for violent videogames and the constant presence of war coverage on the news, and all that guff, probably. johnj's was a really good character study of a rather sad, bitter man, and Squirtle has a nice ear for dialogue.

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Well, it's not admissible now, but I did want to write something for this so have a read anyway:

"You ever fisted a girl, son?" the Doc asks, and this is when I’ve known him for like five minutes, five fucking minutes, and it's maybe the second or third thing he’s ever said to me. So I look up and my mouth drops open, and I'm not quite sure I believe what I just heard.

"I beg your pardon?" I manage.

"I said you ever fisted a girl? You know what that is, right?" he says, eyebrows raised and

nodding slightly, like he thinks he might be talking to a retard. So I'm standing there and I guess I'm just too surprised and appalled not to answer him and tell the truth.

"Well... no. No," I say.

So then he looks down at the unconscious grunt on the stretcher and he thinks about that for a second, and then he looks up again and he says, "You ever fisted a dude?"

"Jesus, man, I've never fisted anybody. What the fuck?"

"Hmmm. Well, sticking your hand in a surgical incision feels almost exactly like sticking it into a pussy. Or an asshole, I guess. Warm, and wet. You just tease your fingers into the slit, nice and gentle, and then slowly sink your hand in as far as you need. Like this." He mimes it in the air above the patient's torso.

The patient's in here for an appendectomy. Kinda funny, it's my first day on the battlefield and I've already seen people with bullet-wounds and spraying arteries, with limbs blown off and plasma burns and with half their fucking skulls missing but still alive, people wounded and screaming and dying all over the fucking place, and here's this guy without a scratch on him who manages to develop appendicitis. So the doc sees this as a nice opportunity to teach me some bare-hand surgery. Well, not quite bare-hand: I'm wearing a pair of thin surgical gloves. But before the end of the war I'm gonna have had my bare, unsterilized hands inside quite a few poor bastards. And I don't mean from fisting them, haha.

So, yeah. I've known doc Collins for about five minutes and already I figure he's an asshole. I'll be proved right in the coming months, and not only will I be proved right but I'll also end up killing him with a laser-scalpel, and putting his organs to some good use. That's after he flips out total batshit, obviously - just self-defense, if I was that much of a killer I'd be out there shredding fuckers, not back here sticking them back together again.

So I delve into this poor guy's torso and, y'know, have a root around, and I'm totally freaked out. I mean, they do not teach you this shit in medschool. Getting our hands dirty, well I use to think that had died at around the same time as the Western democracies. We got force-fields and semiautonomous surgical batteries to do that shit now. But, I guess it's war, huh? Resources are limited, You Struggle in the Filth So That Terra May March Tall, blah-blah et fucking cetera. Though I gotta say, I appreciate that at least Command have got their priorities straight. I mean, they just delivered fifteen suits of FD-94 powered armour for the fucking officers but they apparently can't keep us in drugs, or power-cells for the scalpels. And before you ask, no this was some time before I developed a personal affinity for morphine, so no vested interest there, not yet. Haha.

So I eventually get this guy’s appendix out and he’s wheeled off to the recovery section of the prefab, but I’m still standing there shaking like a fifteen-year-old straddled over his first naked woman. The doc claps me on the back, too hard, y‘know the kind of backslap that only bullies and assholes do. “You did real good, kiddo,” he says, which back then I was. Just twenty-one, out of medschool a week ago and bundled straight onto a starship, headed for the frontline.

So I’m about to try and say something, but then a coupla fresh wounded get wheeled in and we’re off to see to them. They both died, if memory serves.

Things were still fairly easy back then, we were still reasonably well-equipped. Obviously, that was before the supply-lines from Earth got cut off, and before the ‘Shans orbital-nuked most of our manufacturing base. By that time we’d reverted pretty much to stone-age techniques. I guess we’d have tried herbal remedies, if there'd been anything growing in the mud, haha. Mostly, by then, my duties extended to cauterising wounds (my scalpel had died by this time so I used a modded plasma-pistol for that, and then when that died I used a scrap of gun-drone hull which I‘d heat over a fire) and putting a bullet in the soldier’s head if they didn’t look saveable.

A woman died giving birth on the battlefield near the end. I delivered the baby and we didn’t have shit to give the marine - her name was Jennifer Francis - for the pain. Actually I’m lying, there was my morphine stash but I wasn’t giving her any of that, oh no. It was running worryingly low as it was. But I ended up adopting the kid, and I called her Victory. Irony? Haha, nah, it was a popular name at the time and I was still fairly orthodox. By the time I got back to Earth the Party had been overthrown, but by then she already had her name. So, there it was.

Y’know, you’re not going to make me say I wish it had all never happened. I’m not a particularly young man anymore, and that shit was a big part of what made me who I am. And it gave me Vik, too. And shit, would you prefer it if the Party was still in charge?

War is Hell. But humans are stupid, and savage. Maybe we deserve it, or maybe it’s just something we do, or, y’know, something. I don‘t know, I’m not a fucking philosopher. I’m just lucky, so fucking lucky.

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