Writing

Short Story: Rescue at North Point

This story was inspired by a piece of the same name by my friend Col Price, who is a concept artist and art director who has worked in video games, TV and film for the last 20 years. Definitely check out his work! I submitted this story as part of a recent Creative Writing assignment for my course at Kingston University that scored a First; fair to say, I am extremely proud of this one! – Richard

Rescue at North Point
by Richard Holliday

Spittle mixed with dirty, salty air caked her hair as the wind whipped it into her face. Andrea winced, but looking down toward the waves that grew smaller and more distant under her with every second, she finally felt dry.

“We’re nearly there, Ms. Cross,” a voice, battered with static and interference, said abruptly into Andrea’s battered helmet. “The Ranger is standing by.”

With a gust a sheet of icy rain tumbling from the grey mass above Andrea was blown into her face. She winced instinctively and looked up. What little sun that penetrated smog-like clouds was blocked by the enveloping mass of the VTOL rescue ship Ranger that had plucked her from the gloom below.

Andrea clamped her eyes and the blood flowing through her veins began to warm core. The wind, so vicious and angry before, now merely rocked her gently in the harness.

A brook babbled innocently. Reeds gently ticked her face as she wriggled through. A young girl laughing, joyful and merry. The brook babbled and the reeds gave way to a pond, reflecting the sunshine from the cloudless sky in the crystal-clear water. The little girl ran along the bank of the pond, her blonde hair whipping with the gentle breeze. She never saw the root, jutting from the grass like a troll’s dirty hand, ready to grab her sandal and toss her into the water. What was clear and immaculate now threatened to envelop her, the sky turning black with every cough and gasp for breath…

Andrea opened her eyes. Whatever that was, what she faced now was reality. She put the dream about the little girl back in her mind, locked away. She fidgeted in the harness as it bucked and swayed and felt into her soaked uniform. The little locket was still there.

That one summer’s day led the girl to hate the water. For years the girl was told that water was the source of life. How could that be true? Water wanted me dead. Water hates me. Water must be conquered. Water is my enemy. Andrea followed it to the ends of the earth. Watching the last glacier dissolve into a surging mass of liquid. She remembered being there, hovering from a VTOL and cracking the ice herself with a titanium pick. That was part of her revenge.

“Are there any more survivors?” Andrea called toward the hoistman. The wind picked up, and carried her words out to sea. The hoistman remained motionless against the buffeting chassis of the VTOL.

“I said are there any more survivors?! The crew must’ve gotten…”

“No,” the hoistman called back. His irritation was clear over the static. “No-one else survived. They’re all dead. So shut up and hold tight if you want to see land again.”

A few hours ago she’d walked the rusting walkways that made up North Point. The undersea observatory had creaked and whinnied. A trickle of icy liquid fell into her hair. That was when it began. The trickle became a surge that punched through metal. It wanted Andrea. It wanted to make her pay, and pay dearly she would. The frothing mass that had laid all around North Point, eager to smash it to pieces and claim its mortal enemy, had waited to exploit the tiniest of flaws. Which it did. Nature always did.

The sea roared victoriously, gurgling into the hole below. Above, sheets of rain cascaded from the angular sides of the Ranger, forming a curtain of waterfalls that enveloped Andrea. Feeling entombed, her eyes closed again.

She remembered running along metal corridors that groaned underfoot. The fluorescent tubes bursting and flickering, sending sparks through a gloomy hell. Irregular movements as the undersea platform disintegrated, throwing her against walls. The screams of all those around her washed away. Trying to catch her breath on the ladder, but slipping on the cold rungs. Her bare knuckles turning white and, as the grey sky beckoned, a surge of water coming through the hatch, as if to say: “Not so fast. I’m not done with you yet.”

Andrea took a breath and looked down to see North Point disappear, the light of the service hatch flickering through the waves. A hand grabbed from the gloom above. The hoistman sighed with effort as Andrea’s soaked form fell onto the deck. With a final glance, she looked down to the sea. It was finally over.

© Richard Holliday, 2016

Update: If you’d like this story in Kindle format then visit my Short Stories folder where you’ll find it and all of my other stories!

Reviews

Review: Divergent (Kindle Edition)

First of all, I received Divergent as part of an Amazon Prime deal which was pretty sweet, and I’d been mildly intrigued to give the series a go. I’d enjoyed The Hunger Games, which is a series of similar ilk prior to this. I’d had a few latent doubts about the Christian subtext that I had heard about but, putting those concerns aside, I found that Divergent largely excelled.

It is hard to discuss Divergent without also considering The Hunger Games. Both books are structured around a seemingly-‘normal’ young girl who finds herself at the forefront of a societal upheaval and a figurehead of the resistance against an oppressive and tyrannical government. Both books, too, fall squarely into a subgenre of post-apocalyptic or dystopian young adult fiction. I’ve received criticism for reading young adult fiction which I’d like to address: I don’t see anything wrong in my reading of this material, even if I’m 26 and “young adult” is a bit tenuous in reference to me personally. I’ll read whatever I damn well please and, if I enjoy it, I’ll enjoy it without concerning about judgment on its literary merit. I don’t subscribe to the belief that I should indulge in only ‘highbrow’ and learned literature; rather, I read books I actually enjoy. There’s nothing more to it than that, though this is a topic I will probably revisit later.

With post-apocalyptic fiction I usually enjoy a well-realised world and then observe how the characters react to it, and how that world reacts to them. With Divergent, the protagonist Triss is expected to choose a “faction” of society that she believes she most belongs to. There is no trial period, and choosing a different faction to that one was brought up in is a one-way street. The society in Divergent is geared around grouping people with similar virtues together to combat the notion of a wholesome human psyche being the catalyst for war. I identified with Triss’s angst and apprehension with being forced into a life-defining and irrevocable choice at the age of sixteen: in the UK, I was in a similar position about my future academically and it felt a lot like the world was ending, much as it does to Triss.

To aid the choice, every candidate undergoes an Aptitude Test (essentially Divergent’s equivalent of the Sorting Hat, for want of a better metaphor) which aids their ‘recommended’ faction based on the responses given to a hallucinatory simulation. Triss, naturally, doesn’t neatly fall into one category or the other and her ‘divergent’ status in society is quickly established as akin to being a dangerous thought-crime. I did struggle somewhat with the over-simplification of how society is divided in Divergent. I think dissecting society according to broad and singular virtues is somewhat simplistic, but the explanation of how general societal roles according to those virtues did click, and as the book progressed, the tensions between the factions and the challenging of the established status quo was interesting.

The science-fiction in Divergent did seem very lightweight, and for the benefit of the plot. I was somewhat sceptical of the injections that allowed the interface with technology to submerse the subject in a controllable, ultra-real simulation but these scenes did move the plot along where needed and gave an insight literally into the minds of the characters. In the latter stages of the Dauntless faction initiation that Triss undergoes, the confrontation of a simulated manifestation of one’s deepest fears was an intriguing look at – and also a quite overt confrontation and acknowledgement of – the candidate’s psyche and historical narrative. It was reminiscent of the segment of The Hunger Games wherein the psychotic episode of the Mockingjays in the Arena that preyed on the contestant’s deepest emotional identities to bring about madness. Divergent is considerably less brutal than The Hunger Games but deals with similar parallel themes – how can a society structured around such singular virtues function when those that don’t neatly fit into those expectations pose such a danger to that very framework?

Divergent was clearly a setup for the rest of the trilogy, which I have yet to read. The characters are nicely established, with Triss taking some pretty heartbreaking decisions near the hectic climax of the book that I am sure will shape how her character in the future instalments. I am concerned, however, that the series may take a turn akin to that The Hunger Games does, and that the heroine progressively becomes more angsty and resentful of the responsibility that falls onto her. In The Hunger Games, toward the end, I found this trait was dominating Katniss’ personality to the point where I found her quite unlikeable and ungrateful. In Divergent, Triss starts off trying to prove herself and vindicating her decision to choose against her birth faction while keeping her Divergent status secret. I quite liked the long-held prejudices between the factions – the knowledgeable Erudite being deeply distrustful of the selfless Abnegation – which flare up toward the end.  My thoughts are the system in the Divergent universe sets out with admirable aims but simply fails to take into account humanity’s innate ability and predilection to corrupt this system for individualistic or tribal gains (the parallels with a similar real world system that failed for just that reason are plain to see if you look…)

Ultimately, Divergent’s setting left me asking questions that I feel I need to read the rest of the series to answer. How did society in post-apocalyptic Chicago degenerate to the point where the faction system was deemed a necessary solution? And how will the apparent collapse of this system at the end of Divergent be handled? I’m sceptical of how Triss’s character can handle the responsibilities that her elite and dangerous Divergent status will encumber her with but, I will venture forward with the series across the year to see whether I was correct. Prose-wise, it was not a challenging read, and I did feel I was drawn in quickly to the pacey writing, making Divergent an easy read and one that rocketed along, though not without pausing at times to collect itself.

Buy Divergent on Kindle UK

Reviews

Review: First Activation (Kindle Edition)

One of the joys of Kindle is discovering books that I’d thrown on there in a sale but forgotten about; First Activation being one of them.

The story starts out with an interesting premise that does provide a pretty good hook. Ex-Army brothers Harry and Jack are travelling across the Atlantic on holiday but, after experiencing turbulence and finally landing in New York discover the city has been devastated by a strange affliction that leads survivors to claim a life before committing suicide. It’s an interesting take on the classic post-apocalyptic scenario and I did find myself wanting to read on to find out the cause of this.

First Activation is a short but pacy read. It leads straight into a cliffhanger that leads onto the sequel. The sense of atmosphere and impending doom does convey the severity and desperation of the situation. Accordingly, things are not as inexplicable as the party ventures around the devastation of the United States – in the second half it’s quickly revealed that a global conspiracy that promises to re-incarnate humanity from the ashes of destruction. It’s a bit trite and to be expected, almost, but the buildup is exhilarating enough that the revelation is justified.

The characters of Harry and Jack as joint protagonists are the most realised, and after reading the background of the authors, it’s clear that there’s a lot of inspiration from the authors’ real-world experiences in the Army. It was particularly interesting to see Jack’s psychological tension over the various horrors that the group is faced with (almost par for the course in a post-apocalypse). There’s a wide perception that military guys just ‘man up and get on with it’ so seeing Jack’s humanity poking through that perception was good to see. I can identify that, throughout the horrific scenes that a post-apocalyptic scenario would bring about, the affect on the survivors would be real. It’s an aspect to post-apocalyptic fiction that I feel is important to emphasise, but equally important to not overlook. First Activation succeeds in the former; the plot moves so quickly that there isn’t time to dwell on it too long.

Other characters are less well-developed, though there is a sense of connection between them. Unfamiliarity between the members of the group rightly seeds suspicion, along with the inability to trust anyone at face value, lest they be a psychotic killer, but there is a gradual sense of camaraderie and bonding, and during the dramatic scenes in the second half, there’s some surprising and sudden occurrences.

Overall, though First Activation wasn’t a terrible book, if a bit derivative of a lot of post-apocalyptic plot tropes. It’s almost too short – about 200 pages, and I feel that the atmosphere and characters could’ve been fleshed out more if the plot had slowed down a bit and allowed itself to expand with a bit of breathing space. However, I felt the writing wasn’t terrible, though the conclusion seems to be a little hackneyed, I am looking forward to seeing how this mystery is thwarted in the next instalment.

Buy First Activation on Amazon Kindle UK