Here be my two cents on your frankly wonderful piece
His temperature rises. Its been days since he was fished from a taken trench, but there are no anti-tetanus shots for a boy-prisoner with flak in his lungs so liquid fills them oh-so slowly. There is no healing from this. There is no point in propping up a man already lying in his grave.”
^ Its -> it’s
Have you considered putting a comma after “so liquid fills them” just for a pause to emphasise the slowness of the filling?
“There is no point in propping up a man already lying in his grave.” – this sentence is brilliant. There are so many other sentences in this that I love, that I’d essentially copy and paste the entire piece to show them all to you.
In the “3:39:34” and throughout, “nurse” is both capitalised and not. For continuity, perhaps either capitalise or lower case throughout, rather than both?
Also, perhaps hyphenate “icy eyed ”
In response to you questions:
1.) Does this piece evoke the time period? (late WW1, German prisoners hospital)
- Honestly, unless you knew the terms Orderly etc I don’t feel that there is an obvious pointer towards any particular war, but it does clearly describe a war hospital predating modern medicine.
- After reading the artists comment, it adds to the poinangcy of the piece dramatically, and for those readers like me who didn’t feel compelled to think of one war or another, it really hit it home.
2.) Does the formatting (especially the constant breaks with the time) add to the feel of the piece?
- Definitely yes. This is the first piece I’ve come across which directly uses time to break up events. Very well executed
3.) Does the piece flow correctly, even with all the breaks?
- 100% yes.
4.) Does Jack feel like a real person to you?
- Again, 100% yes. You have rather a knack for character building.
Overall this was a stunning read, heightened by the artist’s comment. Thank you for constructing such a wonderful piece, and for taking the time to explain everything clearly. I for one gave it a second and third read over, and fell in love with it again and again.
Keep up the fantastic work, dear
Let me first say that I loved this piece. The way you went with the framework was brilliant, the pacing is great. And, for the most part, I think you captured the essence of the war. Futile death really sums up for me where you went with this, and I will admit it was a hard piece to read.
I don’t think you need to do anything in the way of changing content, or fact checking. This is an impacting story and it leaves you by punching you in the face before it walks quietly out the door. However, I think there are some places that could use tightening, to make the end punch harder, and really drive home what you wrote about here. Also, the flow is already good, but eliminating some bumps and making it seamless will help it with impact, I think.
Remember that in the end, this is all my opinion, so take it or leave it as you see fit.
He goes about his business with a sigh and ties a futile knot.
^ I feel like maybe this would have more of an impact if he didn’t sigh. He holds in a sigh and ties a knot even though he knows it is futile.
Once he’s tied the catgut sutures and wrapped the paper crepe bandages, the Orderly moves onto the next man because the next man had a chance to keep breathing.
^actually, what if you combined this with the line above? You have knot-tying in here twice, so, what if he ties a futile knot (please don’t lose that line) with the catgut sutures while not voicing a sigh, then moves? Also, if you do combine these, it should probably be somehow kept in Jack Mercer’s POV. Doing 3rd person omniscient is really hard (and I never do it because I always fark it up). But seeing this all from the dying man’s perspective would be wow.
More orderlies take the bedding from the cot because there are men with a chance to keep warm and alive. A Nurse in a grey uniform that might have once been white almost leaves the sheet underneath his limp heaving body because a dead man should at least have a burial shroud. But she takes it anyway.
^ there is awkward phrasing in the first sentence. Can I suggest: “…take the bedding from his cot, because there are men with a better chance at surviving, and they need to be kept warm.”
The rest is bloody brilliant. Keep it all.
His temperature rises. Its been days since he was fished from a taken trench, but there are no anti-tetanus shots for a boy-prisoner with flak in his lungs so liquid fills them oh-so slowly. There is no healing from this. There is no point in propping up a man already lying in his grave.
^ first, *it’s – it has. Second, at first ‘taken’ sounded weird and I didn’t catch the meaning. It is totally correct, though, and this may just be me. However, maybe ‘conquered’ or something would make it more immediately clear. Third, you need a comma after “his lungs” to break the clause and make it flow correctly.
His chests rises and falls more painfully as his breathing is more and more like a struggle than a function.
^ I absolutely love the sentiment but it is a clunky sentence, let’s get rid of some un-needed words and adverbs. May I suggest? “His chest rises and falls, painfully, as his breathing becomes more like a struggle than a function.”
His hair falls onto his forehead in damp curls. He thinks he feels someone pushing it back. He thinks, more desperate than ever, that someone is gently hushing him like they would a feverish child, not a dying boy-soldier.
^ I am going to assume his hair was already limp, as it probably wasn’t gelled in the trench. So how about his hair sticks to his forehead? The rest is heartbreaking.
“I’m sorry-” He whispered.
“-I didn’t mean to leave-”
“I don’t want to-” His voice breaks and he barely finishes at a whimper. “I don’t want to go!”
^this whole section feels off to me, mostly because this isn’t the kind of thing one actually says when dying or in a delirium. I understand he might mumble or moan or groan or ask for someone he knows by name, maybe call for help, but at this point if he’s dying of fever or tetanus, he’s probably to out of it to be this coherent or realize that he is even leaving someone behind, in this coherent a fashion. He might be thinking how he’ll never see so-and-so again or have a vague passing thought that he’s dying or someone won’t get by without him, but in a trench warfare situation, without more context, it’s hard to think someone in this state is reasonably going to assume responsibility for their own death, and speak so clearly about it.
I could see keeping the idea of trying to talk to someone though, trying to voice things, being confused, but it may end up unvoiced or disjointed when it actually leaves his mouth. Also, might do well to define his audience. Who is the message for?
He imagines someone thumbing away the tears that come anew as pain cuts its way through his ribs and now grips his heart. He doesn't, however, imagine the Nurse with icy eyes that melt for a moment on the almost-gone boy. She murmurs softly in her harsh language. He snaps up and grabs her wrist, his eyes seeing another. He doesn't see the nurse but another girl with icy eyes that only melt for him. He wants the girl now. Now, so he won’t go alone. But the Nurse gasps and flinches away, trying to pull her wrist sharply out of his vice-like grip. She wants to go, so he lets her go. He falls away again, limp as ever. The nurse strides away and loneliness mounts with every new swish of her skirts as she leaves him, down and down the row. She must have taken the image of the icy eyed girl with her, like memories are photographs that can be stolen, because he cannot picture her cold face after the nurse is gone in sound and in sight.
^I think this needs serious trimming. There’s a lot of repeated phrases and things that don’t need to be there. I really like the idea, though, that the girl is standing over him and looks a touch sorrowful, despite only looking hardened. Part of the problem for me, though, is that a few lines take on an almost romantic tone which doesn’t seem appropriate considering he is horrible pain, desperate, and dying. Is there any way to distill this part to its base parts?
His fingers curl weakly, but there is no blanket for them to grip so they just furl into half fists. No one spares him even that much thought. Just another body in bloody olive to bury.
^great first and third line but I think the second needs to be changed, or it borders on angsty. Could it be maybe something like, “No one seems to notice, though.”
He stares at the swathe of canvas above his head. It is watermarked and filthy, so he strains his eyes on the curve of a stain and etches into his head.
^ it isn’t literally etching into his head. But it can be etching into his mind’s eye.
It ease the pain.
^ what eases the pain? I don’t understand this line.
He can’t close his eyes. All he wants to do is close his eyes. But the water stain is the silhouette of a spinning woman's petal shaped skirts so he can’t close them. He can’t- He won’t.
He closes his eyes.
^this is weird in conjunction with the one above. Can you combine the two, saying that he doesn’t want to close his eyes but eventually they are too heavy and he has to?
He can feel a hollow in his chest throbbing. It blurs and softens the rest of the world as it sharpens and overwhelms everything else. It aches fiercely now that the agony in his flesh is fading with the last of whatever solid strength was left in him.
^ how is it aching fiercely if the agony in him is fading? Probably should be that it aches all the more fiercely as the last of his strength leaves him.
The throbbing hollow beats against his ribs like a prisoner throwing himself at iron bars. It keeps at it until it slows. Finally, the prisoner must be exhausted from hitting metal again and again because the prisoner falls and the iron bars never give.
^I would say hitting the bars, not hitting the metal, and then to keep from repetition, ‘the iron never gives.”
Private Jack Mercer’s heart laid still.
^ tense switch, keep it in present
And the gilded, glowing watch on his limp wrist ticked on.
^ last thing, is the watch gilt? If he is a private, he’s likely a drafted lower-class person. Still possible there was a gilt watch in the family that he wears, but as it never was brought up before, it seems like a strange detail instead of just saying ‘the watch’. Plus, now that I read your completely awesome research (I never knew that!) if it was mostly a high priced officer thing to have radioactive watches that glowed in the dark, I would consider either making him a lieutenant, or just removing the glow part so it's a normal watch for a private to have. Secondly, I would keep it in present as well, I think it gives the ending more weight.
Ok, like I said, take this or leave it, I hope it is helpful. And honestly, if you do brush this up, I cannot wait to see it in second draft form. I think it has LOTS of potential and you really grabbed the emotional aspect to this theme; cleaning up words and phrases is absolutely the easiest part.