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March 8, 2013
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“I didn’t want him,” she says. “I wanted something, something I saw in the eyes of Libby, Sam, Sandi, and Agnes. Something that would have made our new world, our safe world, a home. Children were a part of that world and so I found myself a child. Perhaps, I thought, I would love him and everything would fall into place. Perhaps with a child I could be content with safety, and normality, and a world without knives taped on mop heads.” A cold smile. “I still catch myself thinking that. I still think that maybe tomorrow will be the day where I can fall asleep with the lights on.”

Carmen’s features are stark and cold; like the chiseled lines of Soviet propaganda etched onto an icy street corner. A straight decided nose, high sharp cheekbones, and thin pinched lips. Her eyes are black. We sit together in a small, bare walled, room on a pair of fold up chairs.

I frown. “You mean off?”
“No. I mean on. During the war we were always hiding. If we needed light; a fire to cook, a light to clean the gears of a gun; then we would make it small and turn if off quick. Never would we sleep with a light. I still sometimes walk around the house at night without a single light on. I think that was my first mistake with him. A child is like a sapling. It needs light to grow. But I was – still am – a creature of the dark. He would get back from school and do his homework and I would sit nearby not helping but looking out into the dark to make sure nothing saw our light.”

Carmen grimaces and stands. “Do you want something?” Gestures towards the fridge. “I have everything. I even made some tomato juice the other night.”
I shake my head.
“Suit yourself.”

The house is small, curtains thick, and outside an indecisive rain comes and goes. I check my recorder though I already know everything is as it should be. I make a meaningless adjustment to the microphone and set the device back on the table as Carmen returns with a strip of jerky and a cup of brown red. She doesn’t speak.

“You were a child during the invasion,” I begin again, “you and your sister lived for years behind enemy lines and you weren’t old enough yet for high school. I understand coming back to civilization after such an experience must have been tricky, for both of you.”
“Yeah.”

The phone rings. Carmen flinches at the sharp noise but doesn’t move to retrieve it. I wait. Soon the sound stops and a robotic answering phone deals curtly with the would-be caller.

“I’ve read your book,” I try. “Taming Libby.”
A hard, fast, look. “It was a stupid thing to do,” Carmen grunts around a mouthful of dried meat. “The social worker told me to do it. She said it would make people aware of what it was like to be one of those left behind. But nobody really wanted to know.”
“It’s a best seller.”
“It’s mostly lies. The editors didn’t like draft one. They said it was too pointless and needed an angle, and edge, and a resolution at the end or it’s not a story. Just a bunch of words on a page. So instead I wrote about how hard it was to teach Libby to read and how we never got her to wear shoes.” Shrugs. “Not a good story, really.”

“It’s an extraordinary story,” I object as a stray tendril of wind darts in an open window and sends the curtains into a twirling dance. “Teaching a woman who grew up wild to be part of society again. And the deep connection you two had to sever. How old was she when the war began?”
“Three.”
“And you were…?”
“Nine.”
“And your parents died in the first bombings?”
“Yeah.”
“And it was almost sixteen years later, when the war was almost over, when you both crossed no mans land.”
“Yeah.”
I grin. “What did you tell the commanding officer on duty that night? That line?”
“Do you want to trade for some blue eggs we found?”

Carmen keeps eating as she speaks; bites, chews, and swallows with a deliberate practiced efficacy; consuming not enjoying. She saves the tomato juice for last and drinks it in one long gulp.

“It is a marvellous success story,” I continue, less enthusiastically, leaning back in my chair. “She now has a husband, two children, and a job. A far cry from the day by day survivor she had become. And to think she didn’t remember what life was like before, to adapt so well…”
Carmen looks up. For the first time I notice a faint pink scar snaking from her chin and down her neck. “Yeah.” A pause. “But that’s the thing isn’t it? She figured herself out. Me? I’d been taking care of her so long that once she got herself figured I didn’t know what to do. This place,” she waves a hand at the sparse room, “this peace isn’t home. It is for her now. She’s moved on. But me? It’s just another sanctuary. A place to hide until they get too close and we have to move on.”
“The war is over.”
“I keep telling myself that.”

She sits still, feet planted, and eyes hard. She wears a simple brown top the same colour as her skin. Her boots are made for hiking. The rain is getting heavier and I know it will distort the recording. I speak louder.

“Why did you adopt?”
“I told you. I wanted something the others had. A sense of peace, perhaps, or a sense of home. I’m not sure. Again, it was a mistake. I was never that boy’s mother.”
“How often do you speak?”
“When forced to; birthdays, Christmas, and at family gatherings. It’s not that we dislike each other but we don’t have anything in common. He is post war, political, smart, and studies fine arts. I write unsellable stories in my basement so the glow of the computers can’t be seen on the street and fish with a stick.”
“Are you proud of him?”
“No. He is not mine to be proud of. I am proud of Libby.”

She leans forward and cups her hands together. “I’m proud that she is so solid and safe. I know that if something happens she can deal with it and I don’t need to worry. I know she is also happy and content here in this new world.”
I mirror her movement and shuffle forward. “But you are not?”
“No.”
“Why?” I don’t voice the full question. She’s a famous author, a pioneer of wartime stories, and a strong independent woman who saved her sister and survived in a battle drone, and mutant ridden warzone for an impossible period of time. How, with such a successful life behind her, could she be unhappy?

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I think it’s like I said before. Here isn’t home. It’s a sanctuary. A hole where I hide. I kind of wish,” her wartime accent invades her speech, “that Libby hadn’t left so quick, you know? I hadn’t gotten used to not being needed and… no. I kind of wish I could go home.”
She stares at me while she speaks, making no move to hide her emotion. I look away, embarrassed.

“Your parent’s home?”
“No. The warzone, but we never called it that of course. It was just where we were. Where we lived. And the bombs, and the bullets, and the monsters, and the robots were all just part of life. I know it’s a terrible wish and I don’t really want it to come true but… I still… everything made sense back then. A and B, black and white, hunger and food. No fine arts, politics, kids, or packed to the ceiling grocery stores… I know I should be grateful for the new world - the safe world - and really I am, but sometimes I wish I could just leave this sanctuary before I… eh… what’s the word? All the air has been breathed and you can’t breathe anymore?” She clutches her throat and mimics gasping.
“Suffocate,” I supply.
“Yeah,” she nods and lowers her hands. “Before I suffocate.” A frown. “I should know that one.”
This is my piece for :iconwriters--club: 's latest and greatest contest [link] . It is round two however so if anyone is thinking of joining, I'm sorry but you must have passed round one first. If you have great! and see you on the battle field. :D

This piece is VERY dialogue heavy and originally was written without anything else (WWZ style) but I found it too sparse and just had to throw in some minimal character action, and setting description. Please let me know what you think (I LOVE feedback!) . I personally quite like it but, that said, it is still very young and I am still unsure.

Also, there has been some confusion with odd spelling errors slipping in and out of this piece. I think I have ironed it flat now but if you spot anything that, well, shouldn't be please give me a heads up and I'll beat it over the head with an iron pellet. Or perhaps I'll just fix it. One or the other.

And, another feedback question, did anyone among you wonderful readers perceive Carmen's slight strangeness? If so, what did you think of her? Did her character action tell you anything about her? Did it just reinforce what she was saying? Was it at odd with what she was saying? Or did you get nothing and everything you learnt from Carmen was via her dialogue?

I am not brilliant at character action so this is some small time experimentation going on.

Thanks, I hope you all enjoyed it, and don't forget to check out other people in the contest!

P.S for tWR here is a critique I did: [link]
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Daily Deviation

Given 2013-07-30
Suffocate is a creative approach to dystopian fiction by ~EvilpixieA. ( Featured by neurotype )
:iconsmadams:
SMAdams Featured By Owner Sep 23, 2013  Student Writer
A wonderfully enthralling read. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on the DD (belated)!
Reply
:iconsimplyfeel:
simplyfeel Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
You did an excellent job with this story. Your piece reminded me of the parts of "Life of Pi" where the interviewer and Pi are interacting form the interviewer's perspective. Your piece is exceptionally well-written and I enjoyed reading every part of it. 

That being said, I did not notice any blaring spelling or grammatical errors in the piece. I was paying closer attention to the story and there were not any errors -- as far as I can see -- to detract from my experience. 

I perceived her slight strangeness. I take this strangeness as a longing for the past. She wants to feel directly, not indirectly important to someone in the world once more. She wants to be a protector. She wants to give guidance and safety and without the war occurring, she can give none of those. She feels useless even though life after the war has brought her many successes. What little action Carmen had in this story reflected her as a person I feel. She was unfeeling, yet open. Sad, but not willing to fully give in to her sadness although it taints everything she sees and hears. Her dialogue and actions matched up together well.

Although you speak of character action, I didn't see much of that in this piece. Are your pieces usually solely dialogue and this is slight step up? If not, for a true experimentation, I would attempt to increase the amount of character action by increments. First step, 1/5 of the piece. Second, 1/4. Third, 1/3. Fourth, 1/2. Fifth, just have one line be dialogue. That way, you can master the art!

Anyway, you did an excellent job and I throughly enjoyed reading your piece.
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:iconevilpixiea:
EvilpixieA Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Student Writer
Thanks for the in depth review! I'm thrilled you liked it.

Having such a positive, and knowledgeable, interpretation makes me feel a lot better about this piece.

And thanks for the advice regarding character action. It is something I struggle with and I'll defiantly be taking up your advice! Cheers.
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:iconsimplyfeel:
simplyfeel Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
You're welcome. I wish you the best of luck on your growth as a writer. :)
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:iconlibbykeppen:
LibbyKeppen Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I saw this as a Daily Deviation and try to read all the writings that get featured.  But to top it off, there was a character with my name! Ha!  But back to the actual story, I really liked this and it reminded me of World War Z for sure.  I like dialogue heavy stories because you can really get a feel for the characters that way aside from other character's observations and narrative information.  I thought it was well written and the concept was very interesting - that the woman ended up wishing she could go back to when the war was full blown because at least she knew herself then.  Now, she's lost.  I love this, you really deserved the Daily Deviation!
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:iconevilpixiea:
EvilpixieA Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013  Student Writer
Oh? Libby or Carmen? Either way they're cool names. Your parents have taste.

Thanks for the really nice reply. I'm honestly thrilled you liked it. :D
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:iconlibbykeppen:
LibbyKeppen Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Libby, like my user name. :)  It was either Libby or Roxy. XD XD

You are so welcome.  I try to leave comments if I favorite. :)
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:iconevilpixiea:
EvilpixieA Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013  Student Writer
I should have guessed! No worries. :D
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:iconchipchinka:
Chipchinka Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013   Writer
I really enjoyed this and I suspect I will have to read it again if you want an in-depth review.  Essentially, I read it in one big gulp, which is generally a sign that something is well done.  I always have to read things twice, if they're written well enough to suspend my disbelief. This suspended my disbelief and I wanted to just savor the ride.

It's interesting how the character in this story develops and I rather like the direction this takes.  I've read (and heard) numerous war-survivor stories, especially in terms of people from places like Bosnia, Albania, Romania (to a degree) and other countries either ruined by war or the collapse of the Soviet Union.  This story has the feel of such stories.  I remember talking to a Bosnian guy, once, a while back, and this story reminded me of our conversation.  He'd been through far more than most of us would ever dream of, and he kept right on.  At one point I was curious, and asked him: "Do you ever have nightmares?"  His response was simple.  He said: "Yes.  But only when I'm awake." That was incredibly telling, and I kept thinking about that when I read this.  

It was a bit of a nice puzzle trying to figure out the character.  I thought that perhaps she was East European: perhaps former Yugoslavian and it wasn't until the end that I had a firm idea of what had actually been going on.  I find that interesting in that this story would work extremely well without the science fictional/other reality elements in it.  The drive of the story is emotional and so it supports itself really well without the references to battle drones, etc.  This doesn't mean that they should be removed so much as it means that this story works so well as a character study.  I also like the way everything seemed pared down and very, very minimal.  Everything in this seems to be filtered through a really hard act of survival and loss, and that's what came across most strongly here.  

My overall impression is that this is a nicely polished piece.  I like it a lot.
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:iconevilpixiea:
EvilpixieA Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2013  Student Writer
Thanks for the comments. It's fascinating to hear about your experience as a reader, what you enjoyed, as well as what it brought to mind. I'll admit the Bosnian guy you spoke of has me interested. It... stilling... sometimes what others can tell us. I'll admit to a wide variety of stories people have told me motivating the creation of this piece and this character; from the playful version of WWII one of my granddad's used to tell me, the reserved comments of an America/Vietnam war scuba scout I sat next to on a plane, and a woman who proudly showed me the ruins of a tank outside her village.

I think it may be why I held of the science fiction until the end. I didn't want this story to be about an actual war nor did I want to distract from the character. Because, the war stories I know, haven't been about bombs and bullets (or in this case battle drones and mutants). But people.

Thanks again, and I'm thrilled you liked it. Sorry for the rambling. :D
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