Quitting Life: Finish the Story Competition Entry

in #writing3 years ago



Quitting Life

She picked up a resignation form today. She had been thinking about it for a while, handing in her notice, taking her last year. Every day is just the same, different faces, different flavours, but underneath, it was all the same. Was there any point in the endless forward march, the slow decline into ill health, unemployment and poverty? She didn’t have children, no friends who came to visit, and it was at least three years since her last match.

She sat on the corner of her single bed, in her single room, the thin long window illuminating the bare floor. She pushed a loose strand of mousy blonde hair behind her ear, and picking at her thumb, she wandered in thought.

She could travel, she could see the ocean, she could stand beneath trees, she could sit in silence. For one year. It was as good as it got, some people only got 6 months. But was she ready?

She couldn’t keep going, not like this. She had seen the lifers, the people who worked for 65 years and collapsed, decrepit, into the hands of hapless, half-hearted “help”. She had even been that half-hearted, hapless help, she had worked for minimum wage, clearing up bodily fluids, spoon feeding, doing what she could, but it destroyed you, seeing all your future had to offer.

A lot of people who worked there handed in their notice; you had to do it between 40 and 55 to get the year. Some people applied for special circumstances after 55, but generally they got less time.

She was 47. A lot could change in her life still. She could meet someone, she could have children, grandchildren, she could grow old. Couldn’t she…? Did she want to? She turned it over in her mind. She had accepted a lot in her life, but she just couldn’t face the rest of her life, playing out, day by slow dragging, hardworking, lonely, day. Night after empty, starless night. If she took her year, she could get away from the cities and their thick rank pollution. She could escape the crush of the masses, the regimented flow of preoccupied people. Her parents took her to a forest once, before the regulations changed, and closing her eyes, she could almost hear the hushed whisper of branches, almost feel the dappled sunlight on her upturned face. Almost. She opened her eyes, was there ever really any question? She had dreamed of it for as long as she could remember, and in that moment, she realised, she was always going to quit, it was never a question of did she want to, just when. Was she ready?

She flopped back onto her bed, bouncing back against the overly springy mattress. Relief coursed through her. She was going to quit, maybe not today, but she would do it. The digital display in the wall flashed, green numbers ticking over, 23:00. Instinctively, she felt around her bedside tablet, and pressing the button, retrieved her small blue pill. Blue before bed, white before work. It dissolved on her tongue, and she felt the thoughtless relaxation wash over her.

The next morning, she woke before her alarm had chance to rouse her. She stood at the window, watching the constant ebb and flow of people and traffic, the living city beneath her never slept. Her resolve had only hardened overnight, it felt right. She retrieved the form. She would quit. She would take the year. One good year, then call it quits.

She remembered clearly her fingers tensed against the cold slippery steel counter as she handed over the yellow form. The clerk mirrored her in appearance, blank features, dull hair with a hint of grey. She had wanted the woman to look at her, to start this new chapter of her life with the hope of something different. A small smile, maybe a word of encouragement. But the woman’s gaze had never left her screen, fast and efficient hands simultaneously adding her paper to a geometrically perfect stack while disgorging the yellow receipt into the tray.

The month since then had passed in a rhythm of pills, shuffling papers, and thin sleep. Only one event out of place. One day bought several new faces at the food dispensary, then as her tray clattered into the output area she saw a rounded shape adorning her salad. It was not her unit’s day to receive the weekly egg ration, and as she quickly flicked her eyes around the room, it seemed like she was the only one to have received the unusual gift.

That had been a month ago. Now she stood, belongings packed into a single brown faded suitcase. The grey metallic bulk of the train hummed in front of her, almost fully loaded now as the line of people shuffled into it. One of the last to enter and take her seat, the door closed after her with a grating hiss. With the metal capsule sealed, the hum rose, gathering itself into a higher note, then they were plunging down the blackened concrete walls of one of the city’s main arteries. Lessor vessels branched off occasionally, but they continued on their straight path. Hours later and the towering city apartment blocks began to give way to crouching four story structures and crumbling concrete factories. She knew where she was now, at the top of one of the cities sprawling limbs, carved through the low hills that surrounded the old city.

Another day of travel, steel tracks giving way to highways, then potholed roads. Finally she arrived, a small poor village beside a grey sea. An old forgotten place beyond the last concrete outstretched finger of the city. A mile from the village was an overgrown chain-link fence, marking the boundaries of inhabitable land. Past the fence was the beginnings of a thin twisted forest, the land said to be poisoned by pollution and the radiation of an old war. There was little beauty, but there was stillness. She took to walking along the fence often, listening to quiet broken only by the stones crunching under her shoes.

One day she saw it. A white round shape lying in the middle of a bare cracked earth clearing just past the fence. She easily climbed the low creaking fence and soon stood in the clearing. A second sight caught her eye, barely visible behind a tree, but never visible from the other side of the fence, a flickering yellow flame. A low whistle then, similar to a bird call but not quite the same.

She walked towards it.


Very evocative and I would dare to say mysterious!
The pending final gives hope for something about to happen, much more extraordinary than the gray life before the resignation

Sorry for the late reply, been travelling. I was trying to suggest hope for a new start and something better at the end of the story.

Oo this is a very attention grabbing ending! I like the detail of the egg, and the possible ways a reader can take it, did someone care about her? A final gift from someone whos life she had inadvertently brightened? A message of something to come in the new world? I initially took the very ending to be she found wild humans, the pale white, the fire, the calling, but reading your comments, this could have been taken a lot of ways. I see this as a really good thing in a story, I say this far too often, but a story is not the words on a page, but instead something intangible that forms in the space between author and reader, and here, you have created a story with many possible incarnation, depending on what the reader brings.

I struggle a lot with how much to say, and tend to over or under do it. I like things being left a bit vague, you could have put more in, to create a stronger link between to the images, but I totally appreciate the wanting to respect the audience and not spell things out. And anyway, something a bit of mystery makes things more memorable ;)

Sorry for the late reply, been travelling. I did intend for the ending to indicate she had found wild humans as you said. I did want to leave a bit of mystery, but I think I left a little bit too much! I think it would have been better with a couple more sentences, to make things clearer. Thanks very much for taking the time to write a review. Really enjoyed your prompt, built a great atmosphere for us to work with.

what was it? a bird representing hope? an actual flame like a fiery ghost spirit? you caught my attention. I wanted to know

haha you and me both @dirge!!

Nice work @flyingkiwi; I enjoyed your writing :)

A signal from a resistance of some sort. The egg was meant to represent freedom and new beginnings. I think I need to make my ideas a little more clear to the reader, something for me to work on.

Like the metaphor. It does leave us wanting more. You could write the intro sometime.

Sorry about the late reply, been travelling. I’m glad that the metaphor worked, at least a little bit:). I would like to write the intro sometime, but I think my writing is still too rough, it’s been a long time since I did creative writing.

Just read through it again. Trying to connect the egg with the bird. Just try to extend the metaphor a bit. Talk about the egg as a new life or something. Drop in some more lines like chipping away at the inside of an egg. Then end with a new bird leaving its nest or something.

Yeah you are right, it did need a few extra lines to extend it. It’s a mistake I am making at the moment I think, not making my meaning clear enough.

You wouldn't need much in there to convey that message @flyyingkiwi; perhaps a slight reference to it near the beginning in the cafeteria would have done it 😂 Thanks for the explanation though, and it still is a great "end to the story"!

I noticed the hint of the unexpected egg ration and, in a way, connected it with the yellow flame. Perhaps, what you could have done was to better link the two elements in a way that one was reminding the other. Still, it's a great reading, with a bit further polishing could be very engaging. I also loved the description of how the landscape changed during her trip our from the city. Well done @flyyingkiwi, as always!

Sorry for the late reply, been travelling. I’m sure you understand how difficult it was for me to write about something different from fashions shows slaughters and assassinations! I do need to work on linking and explaining my ideas more clearly.

Yes my friend, you've all my understanding heheh in fact it was difficoult for me too and most probably I would have blown up everything with a bomb like in gwilberiol's story.. just as a reaction 😂. I hope the trip was great.. if you want this week I took the ship's rudder back to a better known route .. On the linking, I think that's all about putting yourself in the reader's point of view.

...thin sleep

Gems like that, casually placed, that make a piece worthy for me. Plus, I kept thinking of Chernobyl. It's almost as though you were looking at a snapshot of one of the abandoned villages.

I like the fact that the reader doesn't know what lies ahead. This is not the end of a story, it is a continuation. Opens possibilities, for her and for us.

Of course, the yellow flame, and the bird, do suggest hope and life. Well done!

Sorry about the late reply, been travelling. I was trying for the atmosphere of a deserted industrial landscape. I actually really like looking through photos of the area around Chernobyl, it’s like a snapshot of what the world would be like if humans suddenly disappeared!

I wrote a small book once, for kids, on radioactivity. Included the picture of an abandoned village near Chernobyl. Your scene was exactly like that picture. Haunting...

This is quite lovely! There were several word choices that made it sing to me, particularly using "arteries" in context with the train. Great job :D

Week #19 emerged from the shadows.. good luck, brave storyteller!

Greetings, brave storyteller!
Finish the Story Contest - Weeek #21 is out, crispy and warm, for the first time on the Bananafish blog!