Alright, I'll start off the editing process by asking for critique of my story 'Naut.

What I'd like feedback on is 1)do the characters feel real enough? 2)is the setting clear, or are there elements that are confusing or missing? 3)is there any place that you are "pulled out" of the story by something? And anything else that you see that warrants feedback. Thanks!

This is quite a pleasant tale, but I found it's context puzzling and the main character unconvincing. He seems too emotionally frail for too little reason, so I found the climax rather overdrawn and anti-climactic.

Why is there so much fuss about these explorers? What is the town getting in exchange for it's material and emotional investment in them, apart from a few tall tales such as could probably be heard in any tavern? Is there some great quest, some benefit to be sought, or danger to be averted - apart from a distant dump of bottles? If they have to be trained and sent out as a group, surely they should have a clear objective, and mark some progress, rather than wander randomly as individuals for years, and become strangely overwrought if some never return?

If it is so difficult and dangerous to explore their vicinity, (and returning explorers have to be kept in quarantine for a while) how can the town be only a couple of days walk from a larger town, and they have so many travellers passing through that the approach road is infested with beggars?

If there is serious risk of attack by bandits or savages, there would be some sign of fortification and a better defence force than an amateur sheriff with a scratch posse of shopkeepers. (Why are they carrying pikes into woods and undergrowth, surely they should be carrying hunting spears or javelins, with axes as well as bows?)

Why is scouting a possible camp of a few vagabonds just outside town so difficult that it would require a specially trained explorer?

You have explored the lives of townspeople to some extent, but not those of the people of the wilderness. The explorer supposedly trained to live amongst these comes across as a feckless bum, rather than as a Mountain Man. Is this to be covered in another story?

You may have a nice set-up for post-apocalyptic stories, but this one seems more of a semi-rural idyll detached from the main scene, like the Hobbits at the start of the Lord of the Rings. If you can rival Tolkien, I will certainly read your stories!

Hi, Wilson-

I sincerely doubt I will ever come close to, let alone rival, Tolkien. Nonetheless, you raise some really good conceptual points that are worth considering. I will keep them in mind as I work on the edit. Thanks!

I also wanted to mention that for electronic publishing there is no need to compress your story into 5000 words. In a PDF newsletter delivery format you could even add 2000 words and publish it in two installments of 5000. More for the money!

1) Do the characters feel real enough?
2) Is the setting clear, or are there elements that are confusing or missing?
3) Is there any place that you are "pulled out" of the story by something?
4) Anything else that you see that warrants feedback.

Lovely rhythm to the language.

I am being very picky here, bringing to a high sanded, beeswaxed polish the good hardwood of your creative construct.

I was stopped cold by the idea of July heat seeping through open windows and chinks in the wall. In my limited experience, July heat is muggy and never leaves even at night. I would change the tactile to visual saying the July sunlight was coming in through the chinks and the last of the night breezes dying down. Or specify a northern/south polar place that allows July heat to move gently into a room that is not weathertight. Also, I was confused by the wool drapes--over an open window? In July? Why? Were they wet drapes that dried out overnight, affording a coolish breeze? Then say so--"The drapes were dried out and the air moving in was now hot." Also, I would make the sentence starting "Sun sent glowing.." the second sentence in the parag. to cluster the setting elements thus keeping the POV feeling sentences together as well not shifting back and forth between the outside and inside of the character's head quite so abruptly.

Para 02:
Why is the compost in the front of the house? Most folks would keep it in the back or the side yard. Is it a pail or a barrel or a heap or a midden? The size and sanitary conditions of the compost tell the size and health of the household.

Why didn't Lawry throw in a handful of sawdust? Did he use a jug of water already filled to rinse out the chamber pot? Who filled the jug? Is there a pump nearby to refill the jug? Why is the kitchen garden that close to the humanure heap? Don't they know any better?

Giving the reader these kinds of details can enhance the reality of the scene, subtly define character (was Lawry too lazy and inconsiderate to refill the rinse water for the next person? Why didn't he tuck it under a bench instead of leaving it on the porch for one of the kids to kick or stumble over?)

Does Lawry move awkwardly or shakily or gingerly, babying his head?
Does the heat really feel good or does it hit him between his shoulder blades like the hearty slap of an incumbent politician? If images swam up in his head, tell us one--or two--or three. The scar he got in 8th grade when he slid down a rock face too fast--taking two girls to the harvest dance, one on each arm cause he couldn't decide between them--the wild horse he roped himself--or whatever.

Para 03--05
Good rapid setting up of character and conflict.

Para 06: Why is his face sore? Did he get into a fight? Should he feel the bruise under his beard or beneath the stubble when he first gets up?

Para 07--09
Story stream moving rapidly along.

Para 10--39
Story stream picks up remarkable speed---strong currents, sweeping along, breathtaking

Para 40: sprout school, excellent detail

Para 41-42: Marie's development good, loves color, attentive to surroundings, easy to be inside her head and easy to shift to what she sees/smells.

Para 43: Open doors let in flies--is there a cheesecloth curtain or a flytrap or a lazy circle of flies near the ceiling? Especially since breadmaking is going on down the hall in Para 47.

Para 44-50: Great exposition and story advancement.

Para 51: Janni should have covered the dough with a cloth or put it into a bread-safe with a tight lid. Maybe Lawry built the bread-safe or repaired it once.

Para 52--62: Great development of story tensions

Para 63-65: Excellent shift of scene, prolongs tension
Para 66: I would have said either bony backside or thin haunches. Butt seems rude to my ear.

Para 67-70: Good insert of hopeful note for Lawry as a benefitter of the community.

Para 71: Confusing sentence about gait and pace of Beast over rough road. Break up into two parallel clauses, one about the axle one about Lawry's hangover.

Para 72-74: Nice mix of setting, character and story development.

Para 75: How is Beast doing? Did it get water, a bite of corn? Is it tired having to haul 4 more people plus a load home?

Para 76-82: Good hint about a possible distant occupation for Jon to take up. Great to have Lawry's self-modifying of his baser emotions.

Para 83-91: All story threads gathered and a new complication introduced smoothly. Well done!

Para 92: A fork that lands with a bang must be a heavy one. Can it do anything less loud? Or even just hover in mid-air as Lawry goes suddenly still?

Para 93-106: Full rapids for story stream.

Para 107--end: Ran like a river to the sea.

I still want a resolution for Marie--to have her get a chance to go to another town next Harvest. I want to know how Lori survived with a useless arm. I want Jon to come back with a map to the Glass Mountain. Otherwise, pretty satisfied.

I think you could develop this into a longer story or series of stories if you liked.

I just read the story. I thought it was quite good. It hooked me right in, kept me reading, got me concerned about the characters and in the end left me with a good feeling of resolution.

Thanks! Sorry I've been off the blog a bit - spring planting and such have kept me busy and exhausted. I appreciate your reading and commenting.

Hi Cathy,

I spent a couple of hours this afternoon reading your story and making some comments.

Overall, I liked the story as it was an original concept in a dystopian future where society had reduced its complexity by necessity. It is also a good idea to relieve society of internal pressures as there are always those that agitate for more and different even when conditions are good. You write a good male character, although the main character Lawry is a touch introspective and anxious for my liking. It reminded me of the central character in Stephen Donaldsons series of six books about Thomas Covenant. You captured the spirit of Jon well in action and dialogue.

I made some notes about the town and society which can ignore if you want as they are only added for interest.

The other thing is that your story is long... 8,310 words to be precise! But not quite long enough for building characters with lots of depth. It's a tough one and you've done very well. The dialogue is excellent. The structure of the story is good and it flows well and I maintained interest the whole way through.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed your story.

Anyway, my comments are in italics below paragraphs:


What I'd like feedback on is

1)do the characters feel real enough?

2)is the setting clear, or are there elements that are confusing or missing?

3)is there any place that you are "pulled out" of the story bysomething?

The heat of July was already seeping in through the chinks of the house, breathing softly in through the open window. The straw tick rustled as Lawry rolled over and groaned. His head felt like it was being stung by nettles and pounded by bricks. The celebration had gone on too long and too intensely – he should have left at midnight, like Marie did. Sun sent glowing shafts under the thick indigo wool drapes. He’d overslept, and she’d let him. Hell to pay later.

Marie seems early on in the story to be a pretty easy going character and so why would there be hell to pay later?

Slowly, achingly, he dressed, then carried the chamber pot out with him into the hall. He could hear Matt and Jori shrieking in the kitchen and quickly changed his mind about breakfast. He tiptoed through the front door, emptied the pot into the compost, rinsed and set it on the porch. Today the sun felt good on his shirt as he awkwardly started to hoe weeds. The half-acre kitchen garden had an abundance of lettuce, peas, kale and cabbage; it was the season of fullness. In a minute, she’d glance out and bring him coffee – she was a wonderful wife, and he was grateful. Images swam up of last night’s fete for Jon, the first returning USAnaut in ten years. Jon Jimson, his classmate through eight grades, always the crazy daring one – now suddenly back and the center of attention.

I wasn’t sure who Matt and Jori where at this point as they were not introduced until much further on. As to the shrieking my first thought was that some sort of argument was going on?


Marie had come up behind him, patted him on the shoulder. He gratefully accepted it, looked away from her thin-lipped expression. He probably had made some kind of fool of himself; not the first time. The party was pretty much a blank, but by the end of the day Lawry was sure he’d have heard it all. Very little slipped through the gossip mill’s cracks. The bitter dandelion/chickory brew was almost too much for his shakey gut – Johnson’s homebrew had gone down so smooth, but stayed, like a vicious squatter, far too long.

Nice imagery on this paragraph

“Marie, I’m sorry, I –”

She shrugged. Her straw-blonde hair was cut just under her ears for summer; freckles beginning to merge into a tan. She was still lithe and attractive after five years of marriage. He’d seen the eager eyes turned toward her last night. If he wasn’t careful, she could be swept out of his life. He stretched his sore face into a smile.

She said, “I’m taking Matt and Jori to Risa’s, then I’ll order flour down at the mill – can you get it before midmeal?”

“Yeah, no problem. I’ll take a cartload of the birch to pay down some of it. Do you know if they want more potatoes?” Last harvest had been good, and there was still more than enough in the cellar.

“Well, I saw it on the list last Friday, so probably.” He almost missed her brief smile as she quickly hugged him, then returned to the house. The sun started to bake off some of his hangover, seeping into his skin, beneficent and soothing. The odor of moist loam rose up like sweet perfume. Alone with his thoughts, Lawry hoed with more vehemence, as if the aching muscles could push away everything else. But his thoughts were relentless.

I’m unconvinced about this paragraph, because if you’d been on a bender – and it’s been decades since I’ve had personal experience with such matters – where you had consumed so much that you had blank patches of memory, I’m not exactly sure whether you’d be wanting to do a hard days work? Your sun may be a little bit more gentle than ours though?

He had never wanted to be a ‘Naut, but Jon had been brimming with plans since they were seven – how he’d go off on the long, lonely trek through wilderness, charting what was there and what wasn’t anymore; mapping the places that might yield salvage, and the places too dangerous to go near; living on his wits and the small pack of precious tools to give him an edge against the barbarians.Why aren’t we called barbarians? Lawry mused. Somehow, it was always the others. Lawry had studied to be a restorer, had apprenticed at 14, perfectly content to live within the known world. His parents were still alive; five sisters and brothers had 22 children, and the family gatherings were joyous. Martinsville had what was needed – the other villages came over to employ their ironworker, weavers, and medic. The mercantile was the largest in the district. Why give that up to risk death?

Great background to the setting

He hadn’t even thought about any of this in three years; Jon’s return had shaken something loose inside. Lawry drew his hoe carefully alongside young cabbage. Stories from last night coalesced from the inner fog. There was a big new city two weeks southeast of here, tucked up in the Cascade range, living off trade from various salvage claims, the 2,000 inhabitants surviving on greenhouse plants and goat meat. The elders would be sending an ambassador out soon.

Jon had sworn that there was a secret rendering plant in the city that simply recycled the inhabitants themselves – but of course they wouldn’t admit to that, and he’d only heard it from an old hermit who lived a distance from the city called Crater.

“There certainly wasn’t a big cemetery,” he’d commented, as he’d told the tale to a mix of laughter and chilled silence. Lawry, who had been listening from a far corner, nursing his whiskey, remembered Jon’s wild stories from school.

Another item that silenced the room was the buffalope spotting – Jon had brought home drawings that he swore was an odd long-legged, shaggy beast wandering east of the Great Desert, among the foothills of the Rockies. Nothing in the zoology lists matched it, and Jon’s opinion was that it was a mutation wandered up from the nuked flats of California. Lawry wondered at that, too – although again, it sounded so much like Jon in the classroom.

This actually happened when the explorers returned to Europe from here, they were accused of mocking up the marsupial animal remains and the drawings were considered to be fanciful.

But as the evening got fuzzier, Lawry found himself paying more attention to the joyous adulation; the excitement as if each person there had taken the trip. What did they get from it? He had hung out in the shadows, watching Marie chatting among the cooks, watching his neighbors slapping each other on the back and cheering each of the stories. What use were stories? The town survived because of farmers and the craftsfolk like the miller Shon, and Al the blacksmith, and Mina the glassblower. This wild adventure was so frivolous – but look at the welcome Jon got. A month’s worth of food in one evening! And he would get a house, a garden plot and free medical for life. Lawry was sure Jon would have gone for nothing.

Fair question for a pragmatic guy to ask.

“So, how go the crops?” Jon’s voice cut into his daydreaming; Lawry dropped the hoe and turned, stumbling slightly.

“Jon? Didn’t you have a Q&A town hall today?” Lawry said. His voice rasped from a dry throat.

“I excused myself for a walk. Hadn’t sat that long in years.”

Jon had aged, that was clear – but still the same grin, gray eyes part-closed in amusement. His blonde hair was halfway down his back in a braid; there was a scar on his right cheek and some of his right earlobe gone – that was the brigands he’d told about last night. He was as scrawny as ever, but more muscled. And some other undescribable difference. Lawry realized he was staring stupidly, and bent to pick up the hoe.

Good description and about what you would expect.

“It’s – good to see you, Jon.” Was it? He wasn’t sure. “Glad you got home safe.” That part was true.

Jon grinned wider. “Definitely times I wasn’t sure I would… but what a country!” He took a breath, as if to begin recounting.

“What do you plan to do now?” Lawry cut in. He didn’t need to hear more tales. Tales didn’t grow cabbage. He slowly hoed out a few weeds while half-watching his friend.

“First, get re-acquainted with all my old friends.” Jon waved his hand blithely, but there was a catch in his voice.

“Was it lonely out there?” That was what Lawry wanted most to know – how did Jon manage three years alone? Three years without women. Probably.

Jon looked around, found a wooden box, carried it over and sat down beside the end row. That nudged Lawry – “I’m sorry. Would you like coffee or tea? We have mint, chamomile…” he trailed off, mind blanking. His head still hurt, and he vaguely blamed his friend.

“Nothing thanks. I was hoping to say hello to Marie – is she here?”

Occasionally, friends can be competitive for no known reason, it’s just how they are and you hit on and interesting human complexity. Still, so far the character Jon has little to offer Marie that she doesn’t already have and we don’t quite know about her nature at this stage of the story.

The fear that he had stomped on last night came up like old whiskey. “Uh, no – she’s dropping the two boys off at sprout school and putting in the milling order. Knowing Marie, she’ll be gone for a couple hours, visiting her sister. Didn’t – didn’t you see her last night?” Marie certainly remembered greeting Jon; she repeated the story twice after Lawry got home.

Had Lawry sobered up by this stage of the evening? Otherwise how would he remember this story that Marie repeated twice?

Jon shrugged. “I guess. There was so much going on. A bit overwhelming, to be honest – after all that time alone.” That was it – there was a streak of sadness that he’d never seen in Jon before. “There weren’t as many towns as the map said there’d be… well, they were still there – but the people were gone.” He frowned, kicked the dirt with his heel. “Lots of animals, birds – but if I ran into twenty occupied towns in a year, that was a lot. “

From a purely practical point of view, twenty occupied towns per year is quite a lot. That means coming across one new town on average about every fortnight. I’ve walked 130km in five days with a loaded pack containing all the provisions I’d need for that walk. If I had to hunt and gather to survive, plus find water, I probably wouldn’t get further than a couple of kilometres a day. Plus being by himself, he’d have to be extra careful that he didn’t get injured which would slow him further. Perhaps restate towns to villages? Was he able to trade something with the occupied towns, perhaps stories and news to get further provisions?

“I’m not sure I wanted to know that.”

“I’m not sure I wanted to know that.” Jon laughed, without humor. “I had a different sense of the world before I left.” He shook himself; stood up. “But tell me what you’ve been up to for eight years? We haven’t really talked since I went into ‘naut school.”

Lawry winced. “What can I say? Hoeing cabbage, making or fixing furniture for those who can afford it. Three children; two alive.” He shrugged – embarrassed, annoyed. “Life doesn’t change much here.”

“Right – old Morgan took you on as apprentice before I went into training – I remember now! Is he still as crazy as he always seemed when he taught shop?”

“Old Morgan died last winter. Flu. I guess I’m master now… not that I have his skills.”

Jon was silent, his face looked almost panicky. “Well, sure – they would have to…” he muttered, looking away. Louder, he asked, “What about Old Man Dyskstra? And Harpy Williams? I – I didn’t see them at the party last night.”

“Dyskstra hasn’t left his bed for about eight months. Widow Williams died two years ago. That’s her cabin you’re getting. ” They stared at each other.

“Oh. I guess I have some catching up to do.”

“Odd that they don’t make that part of the debrief.”

Jon frowned. “These two weeks of quarantine, they mostly wanted to listen to me. Guess they figured the townsfolk would fill me in. Or maybe they didn’t want to hit me with too much.” He jumped up. “Guess I’d better get back. They’re gonna think I ran away.” Jon grinned, walked over and gave him a fast hug, to Lawry’s shock, then hurried away with a wave, calling back, “Say hi to Marie!”

The last bit of dialogue was a nice touch and adds to Lawry’s fear

After Jon had vanished around the hedge, Lawry put down the hoe and went inside. He needed more coffee.

There was plenty of time to examine the alternate fallow and cropped fields as Marie walked the boys to the weekly part-lessons, part-playtime that everyone called “sprout school”. Matt was four and Jori three – they walked slow. She checked her stride, feeling antsy, trying to be patient. Jori of course had to have one of every weed and plant he saw – possibly he would follow her as herbalist. He already knew which plants not to touch or eat. Matt preferred to search for birds and animals, looking for spoor and glimpses of wild creatures. It was a fairly solitary walk along a private dirt path that cut across the fields, and sliced a quarter mile off the trip. When the path finally ended on the broad Tan Creek Road, Marie made the boys walk close to her. Too often horsemen careened along here like deer fleeing a cougar.

It was an interesting touch adding Jori’s interest in plants. Generally this is considered by some to be a female occupation – not my own personal view mind you. The children are also quite precocious at their ages to be showing interests in such things, if my mates children are anything to go by.

A half-mile later, the smithy’s dark smoke was visible, and the shacks of Martinsville’s humble folk crowded the road, the easier for their occupants to pop out and beg a little of travellers. Marie hated this part of the walk, even though none of the humble folk had dared ask her for anything in the past few years. They knew better. Still, she picked Jori up and hurried Matt a little as they passed one room stick-and-daub boxes, poorly thatched and leaning, their narrow windows and doors merely curtained. Beyond them, the town proper started: mud-plaster and straw cob on the bones of the former city; a few stone buildings, mostly one story or wood for the second floor. The place looked like a coat that had gone at the cuffs and collar, and was patched on top of its patches. Dust from the road tinged everything, the townsfolk reasoned, so why go to the huge expense of painting? Some of the homes had colored curtains, a rare few had glass in the windows and Sven Frank the cobbler had a tiny blue shoe dangling over the door. That was all. It grated on her. Sometimes when she walked, she imagined the town colored like the meadow flowers – pink, yellow, azure, purple. Streets of color and life! Instead, she had this dingy huddle of houses, supposedly the biggest town in the district? Five streets one way, three the other… ringed with ruins, gardens, farms and the more pungent businesses such as the tanner’s.

The sense of decay is palpable in this paragraph. I get the impression Marie considers that she is somewhat higher in the social order than the towns humble folk, which is proper for a herbalist given the usage in traditional medicine. However, traditionally townsfolk have considered that it is the other way around. I wasn’t quite certain about the role the humble folk played in the towns workings either.

Shaking herself out of it, Marie turned left on Second. As Matt recognized Risa’s, he started running. She let a wriggling Jori down to run after his brother and watched as they were let in to the low-fenced yard by Risa’s tween daughter Pat. Marie waved at Pat and the boys, and retraced her steps. The mill was at the base of Fourth, by the river it needed to run. But even the short half-mile to the mill would take an hour, since her sister Janni lived on Fourth and brother Tad worked at the salvage shop on Pitt. There would be no excuse good enough if they found out she’d passed them by!

What is Marie’s relationship to Risa? I’ve assumed that this is the sprout school, but it was previously introduced as the sprout school and not Risa’s.

Just an interesting thing to note. Traditionally salvage work has been done by the gypsies or those of their ilk – even today – especially in Europe. It is considered to be low status and unless there is a large pool of available resources to plunder it requires families to move around following the resources and then selling them directly or to an on-seller. I’m assuming that in this case Tad is an on-seller?

Janni’s two-story house was wedged between the weaver’s and the medic’s. A pre-Chaos “relic”, it had brick walls, fine wood trim, but of course only oiled paper in the windows. The door was open to give more light and air.

“Hi, sis!” Marie called out as she hurried past the elegant staircase, down the hall to the kitchen where Janni’s voice echoed reply.

“Hi, Mare! Have you come to give me a hand with the washing?”

Should be Marie, no Mare, unless this is also part of the joke?

Their old joke; as children, they’d fought bitterly about who had to pound the clothes on the river rocks. Marie usually lost even though she was the elder.

Janni was mixing up a batch of bread on the kitchen counter, up to her elbows in flour, while five-year old Gert sat at the table, braiding strips of scrap linen. Her tiny fingers swiftly flipped the free ends of cloth, over/under/over, until the strips were nearing the end. Then she groped along the table for more strips. Blind from birth, Gert was learning the rug trade.

“Why weren’t you at the fest last night?” she asked Janni. “The stories were just amazing!”

“Oh… ah. Well, I guess it was hard to think about listening to Jon, with Mick still…”

Marie bit her lip. “Yes. Sorry.” She should have remembered about Janni’s brother-in-law. Jon was the first of the five ‘nauts to return; now the “countdown” would become more acute for those waiting for the others. She tried to speak lightly. “Well, Jon’s known for his wild stories, and last night he had some real ‘rageous ones! Like a mutant buffalo rabbit, and people living in a raft city on a huge lake.”

Janni piled the dough into a bowl and set it aside to rise. “I’m so not surprised. Walk with me to the pump?”

Marie followed her out back, along the alley. Sunny, wide enough for bulky recycling carts, the alley was treacherous with broken asphalt and smelled faintly of sewage. The compost buckets by each door were the obvious reason. Only one of the back doors was open; old Syl was shelling beans in her doorway. She looked up as they passed but didn’t wave. Sour old woman, Marie thought.

Nice imagery. Waste not, want not as they say.

“Yes, Jon seemed an odd choice to me. How will we ever know what’s real?” Janni continued.

“I heard they have a drug that will make him tell the truth,” Marie commented. “They only use it on ‘nauts.”

“Oh, come on! That’s an old guys’ tale.”

Elder Marc was filling his two wooden buckets; Janni waited until he was done and around the corner before she continued.

“Are you still fond of him?” she asked. “Are you sorry –“

Marie shook her head to forestall the question. “No. Jon was funny and sometimes he could be really generous – but he was always too wild. That is not a ‘settling man’. I wonder if he’ll even be able to stay long.”

Ah, Lawry has nothing to worry about then. Was the competitiveness a sub plot or part of the tale?

“Even with the free house and garden?? He’d have his pick of the single women.”

“Oh, he might get married. But that wouldn’t keep him, I’m guessing.”

Janni looked shocked. They had reached her door; she glanced back inside, then lowered her voice. “He wouldn’t… just leave?”

“I don’t think he knows his mind. He might have the best intentions, but…” Marie shrugged.

Lawry was washing up the breakfast dishes when Gordon Allen poked his head in at the kitchen door. Catching sight of Lawry at the sink, the old man hobbled in, already starting to describe his order. Not a man of small talk, Lawry thought.

“… and if you can use the old back and insides, that would be good.”

“Hi, Gordie – take a seat. Would you like tea? Is this about the dresser you wanted me to repair?”

“No, it’s not, son – weren’t you listening?” The old man rested his thin butt on the bench. “I bought an old rocker washer from that salvager who came through last month. It’s got a perfect cradle and the gears seem to be free of cracks – but the outside got broke somehow. The curved sides might be hard to rebuild, but you might be able to re-use part of them. I’m hoping to gift it to Sukey for her birthday.”

Ah, his daughter. She took in washing, and a rocker-washer would make much easier work.

“Well, I’ll have to look at it before I can give you a trade-price. Can I come by this afternoon? I have to go to town before mid-meal, but I’m free after that.”

This is a new side to Lawry. I understand that people in such situations have to be generalists, but does Lawry also do this sort of thing as a trade. Is he a repairer, a trader, or did he owe Gordon a favour? It wasn’t clear to me why Gordon would come to Lawry with this item?

“That would be fine, son.” Gordon was already up and away, hobbling out the door. He was the perfect cemetery custodian, despite his limp. He lived happily alone on the far side of Cooper Hill, unworried by the thought of bandits, bears or bogeymen.

A rocker-washer would be a challenge. Lawry smiled as he considered it. He’d seen a couple of those sketched out in old books, and once in a news sheet brought by a traveller. He heard they were restored to use when the worst of the Chaos had settled and people started to think about how to live better. The pictures he’d seen had been too hard to copy. Maybe he’d have better luck with this one and could make a few more.

Tossing the breakfast scraps to the chickens, he noticed the sundial was showing 10:30. His sense of time had been knocked off by sleeping in. He hurried to the shed, hitched Beast to the cart and led him across the large yard to the woodpiles. It was hot work stacking the flatbed, and he made sure to fill his canteen from the pump before heading into town. Drinking deeply, he had a sudden resurgence of tipsy lightheadedness. Damn his idiotic drinking! He laid the sack of potatoes on the seat, with the top tied to the footrail. The large truck tires, patched with spare rubber, wobbled more than usual. The left front needed inflating; he’d have to stop at the smith’s and use their airpump. The fact that Oak Crest Road was still a washboard from the rough winter didn’t help matters. Lawry was forced to slow Beast to a walk as much to avoid breaking an axle or strut as to keep from throwing up his coffee. Fran’s hayfields passed slowly by, followed by Lou’s corn. He could see Lou and his son at the far side of the field and he waved. This was the kind of morning that he lived for, if only the little nagging worry – and his headache – would subside.

Nice, also consistent with his previous evening.

The impromptu houses of the humble folk came into view. Lawry recognized the walnut stained planks he’d help pull out of the old library after it burned. Joseph Crane’s old mantelpiece was now a door header, which always amused Lawry to see. He tossed three potatoes to Lin, Brody and Shirl, and they waved and sang their thanks.

“Save it for the travellers,” he laughed. He didn’t need a performance. He steered Beast carefully down the main street, shooing the dogs, pigs and stray children aside with gentle nudges of his whip. The sunlight gleamed on the soft weathered wood buildings, and the scent of baking mixed with the coal smoke of Al’s smithy.

Lawry has a different perspective on the town than Marie, possibly more accepting.

At the mill, he was happy to trade out the wood and potatoes for the full order; Marie had gotten ten pounds of oats and twenty of wheat. Shon was too rushed to regale Lawry with tales of last night’s drunken spree, for which Lawry was grateful. He hoisted the sacks into the cart bed and sat for a moment, watching the mill wheel and listening to the river. The Willette ran straight and deep here; a little more narrow than at Honeyvale where Marta’s ferry took traders across and down to Springfield. Up here, there was nothing to see on the other side but a lanky maple and alder forest springing up where the Burn had taken most of the cedars. He could hear the town behind him, muffled shouts and laughter… and old man Jesey cursing out his mule again. Lawry grinned, then frowned. If only Jon hadn’t… but it was evil to think that. It sure complicated things, though.

He heard the buzz of a crowd, and realized the Q&A had let out for mid-meal. He’d better move fast, to get this flour home in time! Then he caught sight of Marie walking along Main with Janni and Gert, a gaggle of children like sheep herded before them. He hailed them and stopped to lift his boys into the bed, nestled among the sacks, and to help Marie up onto the seat. Now the ride could be as leisurely as needed. He hugged her one-armed, and was thrilled that her smile was so warm. Maybe all was forgiven.

Gert was meant to be blind, in this sort of environment would she be necessarily walking with the rest of the children or would they also help her along?

Just outside of town, he heard running boots behind, and the boys cried out, “Jay! Jay!” In a moment, the cart shook as Jared scrambled aboard. Lawry turned and grinned at his nephew. “What’s your hurry?”

“Could you drop me at Lou’s? I’m supposed to be helping with the weeding.” Jared, 14, was almost as tall as Lawry. There was more scuffling as Jared played roughly with the boys, who were giggling and yelling. “Did you get to hear Jon today? I sat through all morning! That’s why I’m late,” he said. “Jon said there’s a new town down in the Gold Hills –“

Only good nutrition makes for tall people. Most peasant cultures have quite short people due to generations of nutrient deficiencies. I can’t imagine that the excess calories that are freely available in today’s society would be readily available in an energy constrained future. Just sayin…

“Yes, he mentioned that last night.” Lawry startled at his own harsh voice. He softened. “Did he mention the buffalope?”

“Oh, yeah – he had to tell that one twice! And a mountain of glass bottles just over the mountains that are just over the hills… that’s far away, isn’t it?”

“Yup. That’s far away. Probably too far for salvage.”

“Miguel doesn’t think so. He was talking about getting a wagon train started – Jon thinks they could re-blaze an old logging trail and bring carts through. Think about all those bottles!! Even the broke ones Miz Mina could melt down for slag!” Miguel says he wants real windows in his house,” Jared finished with a laugh.

Lawry dropped his nephew at Lou’s, and told the boy to come by for supper. The rest of the day he spent repairing an ornate glass-front dresser that was missing the glass, but would look otherwise as good as new, once he mixed the right stain to turn the pine to rosewood.

Ah, he’s a repairer then?

That evening at dinner, Jared was still full of Jon’s ‘nautical adventures. Lou had been one of the debriefers, and let drop a few juicy morsels, apparently.

“Lou said Jon admitted he once went totally crazy and started hacking down an empty house! And dressing up in other people’s clothes!!” Jared was a bit hard to understand with his mouth full of turnip.

“Well, if they didn’t have a serum in him, I wouldn’t take a bet on that,” Marie commented with a laugh.

The house was oppressive with the heat of cooking, so they had moved the table into the back yard. No breeze stirred, but the cedar’s shade was cool. Matt and Jori wriggled on either side of Jared – as bouncy as baby chicks, Lawry thought fondly. Marie passed the big oak bowl of potatoes, and the smaller blue glass bowl of shredded goat cheese. Lawry took big helpings of each – he felt hollowed out after not being able to eat most of the day.

Traditionally cooking was done in a separate room from the house to avoid this problem and also the very serious problem of fires in kitchens.

“What’s a se-er rum?”

“Nothing,” Lawry answered quickly, glancing at his wife. Do you want to get into that?
Marie distracted the boy with a chicken leg; the old Orp hen was not tender, but better than squirrel.

Haha! Like it. At least it wasn’t a silky chicken as it would have been like that + purple skin.

Jared veered onto another thought.

“Paul said they’d be starting another ‘naut school in five years… they will be sending out more ‘nauts when I’m 23 – I’d be old enough! Paul’s gonna sign up, too.”

“Jared!” Lawry set down his fork with a bang. “I thought you were apprenticing to the miller!”

“Yeah, well..?”

“Well, you can’t just go off after you’ve learned a trade! Miller Shon will be depending on you then.”

It’s not just learning a trade, but the miller was often a very wealthy member of society. It was important business.

Jared persisted, “Why can’t I become a ‘naut?”

Lawry could see himself ten years from now, waving goodbye to his favorite nephew. No!

“Training is tough, Jay. It’s five years of little trips, going out a little farther each time, learning how to survive. And only five get picked to go, after all that work. In Jon’s class, they only trained twenty; nine dropped out or were expelled, and two… were killed.”

“Killed in school? How?”

Lawry cleared his throat, glancing at the two boys who were luckily distracted by pudding. “They don’t say. ‘Naut school is pretty private. They don’t like the idea of just anyone going out on a Search. So what happens in the school stays there.”

“They have magic tools, huh?”

“Not magic.” Lawry stifled a chuckle. “Things like a geiger counter, a rifle with a little telescope, glasses that let you see in the dark, and lamps that run on the sun – they’re from the old time. We keep losing a few each Search, so that’s another reason they have to be careful who they send.”


Very good indeed.

“Was Jon the only one they sent?”
“No, don’t you remember the ceremony? You were 11 at the time. Five went out – so far, he is the only return. But it’s early; only three years. It’s possible that Garry, Jud, Mick and Lori will still come back.”

“They’d also get a hero’s welcome, too, huh?”


An unreasonable anger was building inside. Why did they enchant young kids with this wanderlust, and send them out into god-knows-what every ten years?? What was so damned important out there?? Lawry cleared the table and washed the dishes, refusing all offers of assistance. He felt too sour to be around others.

There was an almost palatable anticipation in the town, as everyone looked for the next ‘naut to arrive. A week passed with nothing more exciting than Jon escorting Shawna, the mayor’s daughter, to the Friday dance. Then Lori suddenly appeared at the medic’s, very gaunt and with her left arm hanging useless. She was immediately placed in quarantine, but her parents and brother spoke with her daily through the glass-paned isolation room as the town again buzzed with the second ‘naut’s return.

Palatable should be palpable. It wasn’t immediately clear that Lori was another Naut. Given that it is a new concept, should it be a new paragraph?

Lawry couldn’t hide a sense of desolation. How long before the town returned to normal? What if it never did? He tried to remember thirteen years back – he had been 11 – when the last ‘nauts had returned. But only two had – that was what he remembered most. Three simply had not come back, and three families, and many friends, had gone into a slow, extended mourning as the chances of return got slimmer and slimmer. The whole town grieved for at least a year, and the two other ‘nauts – Jim and Inger – had retreated into a kind of guilty isolation, as if it had been their fault. Jim had later moved to Grantsville, 35 miles away, and Inger had never married, becoming a kind of hermit. Lawry couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her in town. She certainly hadn’t been at Jon’s party.

That evening after the worst of the heat had eased, Lawry cut and brought a downed maple from the woods to the yard and began to split the rounds. Marie had put the boys to bed, and was raking out the chicken coop, carrying the soiled straw in the wheelbarrow over to the compost. Lawry glanced over and was startled to see her catch the rake on the coop door, then raise it as if she were going to throw it, before she stopped herself and bent over the barrow.

“Are you alright, Marie?”

She jerked upright, then turned with a smile. “Yes, just a long day, I guess.”

Always a long day recently, he thought. For both of us.

“Anything particular?”

She sighed and he braced himself. She doesn’t want to hurt me. This is going to be about Jon.

“You know that Harvest caravan to Springfield?”

“The one the craft and farmers’ trade delegation plans every October?”

“Yeah. Well…” she turned to face him. “Have you ever thought about going with them?”

He blinked. “Me?”

“Not just you – all of us.”

“What – Matt and Jori, too?? Why?”

“I dunno – just to see it.”

“See what?” He’d lost the thread; where did Jon come in?

“Just the big city and another part of this country, and maybe another small town in between…” she trailed off, seeing his puzzlement and biting her lip in frustration. “Never mind. Doesn’t matter.”

He walked over to the coop. Her face was smudged; he pulled his handkerchief out and gently rubbed the dirt off.

“It does matter. But I don’t understand. Why do you want to see another town? This one is just fine.”

“It is not! It looks like a dog with mange! We don’t even have a proper main street – just a row of slightly bigger shacks!”

Marie’s voice ended in a shriek, and even she looked shocked. Lawry was stunned.

“What – what’s wrong with Main Street?” Where had that tirade come from?? Jon! It must have been Jon’s stories that had soured her. He’d never heard Marie complain before, about the town at least.

Marie turned back to the coop. “It’s small and dinky and… and just for once, I want to see a proper town!” Her shoulders curved forward, and he recognized her defeated stance. She would get like this at her folks’ place, after some battle over kids or cooking or… just anything. He hesitated, then placed his hand lightly on her shoulder. What could he say?

You captured both the futility of life and the small horizons of living in a small community in the dialogue above. Nicely done.

“Marie, I know you wouldn’t want me to leave the crops… do you want to go… alone? To Springfield?”

Gee, I don’t know whether there are too many males that would make that offer, especially if they work long hours, things are tight financially and they have two young children. I read an interesting article recently on the famous author Agatha Christie and she went off travelling and left her young daughter with her sister. But then, Agatha was from the upper echelons of society and such things were done then. I have a few friends that attended boarding school and I wouldn’t quite say that they are terribly well balanced emotionally… Dunno about this one?

He fought to keep his hand from clenching. He wanted to break Jon into very little bits right now. Springfield was just Martinsville bigger – and probably dirtier and more worn out, with fifteen hundred residents! He’d heard Kerm talk about it last year after the trading delegation got back – didn’t sound like much. But there was no telling Marie, when she got hard and set like this. But what if she went and didn’t come back?

She stepped away from his hand, turned and attempted a smile. “No, of course not. I couldn’t leave the boys, or the canning – if this is another odd summer like last year, even setting the trip into October won’t be far enough past harvest. Only singles are going on this trip – and the widowed.” A spasm of pain crossed her face. “I should have gone before we got married, so I could’ve said I’d done it.” Both of them remembered why that wouldn’t have worked – Lila, now five years buried up at Cooper Hill. Life shat on them in so many ways.

I’m assuming that Lila is the third child that passed away? It is not entirely clear to the reader.

Jori’s thin wail coming from the house ended the argument; Marie hurried in the back door. Lawry stood a moment, feeling like a tree that had been eaten hollow from the inside. Damn Jon Jimpson to the bottom of Hell! A small voice suggested it could have been worse if Jon hadn’t gone to ‘naut school, but Lawry pushed it down vehemently and stormed into his workshop.

He hid out in his workshop all the next day, telling himself it would do no good to reason with Marie in that mood. He planed a curly maple board, admiring the intricate swirls. Why couldn’t she be pleased with the beauty that surrounded them?? She was a good woman and he had never regretted their lovemaking and subsequent marriage, but perhaps he should have gotten to know her better. These moods of hers hit him in the gut like a mule kick.

This paragraph is very consistent with male behaviour!

The rich aroma of cedar and pine mixed with the vinegary tang of wood stains. Dust motes shimmered in sun shafts; the plane whispered. This tiny workshop was almost filled with his worktable, the shelf of tools and the two pieces he was working on. He needed to double the space or move down to Morgan’s old town shop, and he needed to do one of them soon. Being within earshot of Marie and the boys for five years had been worth the cramp, but was he squeezing out opportunities? And would there be fewer fights if he worked in town? But hadn’t the fights had mostly started after Jon got back? Jon was the spider cleverly weaving his spell on her… the plane jinked and gouged a strip from the maple. Lawry cursed. Jon was spoiling his work, too!

The next two weeks continued the hot, sunny weather, and began to put a strain on irrigation. Every last bit of washwater went onto the crops. Farmers began mixing urine straight into buckets of water, to increase the volume, and mule trains were sent up over Cooper Hill to capture kegs of Hadley River water. It was normal, but still tricky. Lawry kept a worried eye on the garden as he finished up several woodworking projects. The town seemed to be settling back into the routine, albeit with one ear cocked for any sign of the other ‘nauts. Lori was due to come out of quarantine and be feted in four days. The delegation to Springfield had been picked and were discussing their preparations, with no further comment from Marie. But Lawry knew better than to think she had forgotten. The knot in his chest was growing as big as the heads of cabbage.

The rocker washer was just about finished – it was a beautiful contraption, gleaming resin-soaked wood and shining brass bolts. The brass would tarnish, but right now it was a work of art, in Lawry’s mind. He could ride it up to old Gordon in two days, once the resin coat was fully cured. Maybe he could ask Marie if she wanted one for herself… he had no clue what she really wanted. Would he ever?

Storm clouds began building on Friday, and on Saturday Lawry decided to get the washer up to the cemetery before the weather broke. At first light, he loaded the washer on the cart and tied it securely. It might be slow moving up the lightly-travelled path so as not to wreck all his hard work. It was close to noon when he finally pulled into the cemetery. The sky was black along the southern horizon and the wooden headboards, and beyond them Gordon’s house of gray fieldstone glowed white as sun glared down on the field, as if furious at being pushed aside. The humidity was intense; Lawry was soaked and Beast was dripping sweat.

Nice imagery.

Gordon helped Lawry take the washer off the cart and into the shed by the house.

“You did a fine bit of work here, youngster,” Gordon exclaimed as they got it safely under the roof. “Sukey is gonna be just beside herself!” Obviously he was giving himself equal credit, but Lawry didn’t mind. “Come inside for a drink before you go back.”

Lawry accepted gratefully; he lead Beast over to the trough before following Gordon into the house. Inside was blessedly cool and dark; the front room, both kitchen and living area, had three windows but only one of the heavy shutters was opened and the varnished table near it was shimmery with sunlight. Gordon brought a pitcher and two cups over to the table; the ale must have been fresh from the root cellar; it was cold and delicious.

When Lawry had taken his first few gulps, Gordon leaned forward, his expression grim. “I’m not one to spook at shadows,” he said, “but I’m almost sure there’s a band of thieves over the hill.”

“What??” Lawry put down his cup. “Have you seen them?”

Gordon shrugged. “Nope. Just smelled the smoke and heard the echoes of them rustling around in the hollow just past Boyd’s Peak.”

Squinting out the window, Lawry could just about see the little rocky outcrop named for Boyd Hardy, who’d been thrown by a horse from it and died about 40 years ago. Lawry had only been up that road once at fifteen, on a long trip to plead for planting seeds from Spruceton, after most of Martinsville’s spring crop had been washed out. He barely remembered the scrub-tangled dip in the ground just past the peak, but he recalled his uncle’s warning about being alert for thieves at that spot. He remembered being hungry that year, too. Spruceton had been grudging, but it was enough. Barely.

He didn’t want to distrust the man, but Gordon’s house – the cemetery guard house – had been built generations ago as an outpost of the town, and thick as it was, would any such far-away sounds reach? And could it have been noises from Martinsville? Echoes were tricky that way. But he didn’t say that.

“Do you want me to tell the sheriff for you? I’ll be in town today.”

The old man moved his cup around the table. “Aw, I don’t know that I want to call out the volunteers ‘til I know a bit more.” Obviously, he wasn’t all that sure. “Maybe just one or two scouts.”

“We don’t do it like that, you know, Gordie. Safety in numbers.” But the image of Jon creeping through the underbrush came unbidden to him. His renegade heart leapt. Jon would love to scout this! Jon was bored and cranky in his free homestead, chafing at the town niceties. And if Jon was ambushed…?

How does Lawry know this about Jon? Have they since caught up as friends? There was no mention of this aspect.

“Well! I’ll be going back, then.” Lawry jumped up, startled at the statement that came out almost a shout. What the hell was happening to him? He gulped the last bit of ale and shook Gordon’s hand. “I hope Sukey is really happy with your gift.”

The drive home was a pitched inner battle, like a ferocious town council of partisan thoughts. Jon would jump at this chance! Jon had no right, nor Lawry, to go rogue like that. Dangling vine maples slashed at his head; sun flickered and jumped in thickets. Time to re-cut this trail. Jon would thank him for telling him about this. Jon was the only person in town with enough training to handle a scout trip. Lawry was a nasty sonofabitch for even toying with the idea. How could all these statements be true? By the time Lawry got back to his land, he had a throbbing headache.

He felt chilled when he discovered Marie had invited Jon to dinner that night. It was almost like a set-up, but he didn’t know by whose hand. He watched dully as she put a slab of the salt pork on to boil with cabbage and potatoes; it probably was the last hock of the winter. His resentment bubbled like the water on the stove. Luckily the boys were loudly racing around the table; their exhuberance was a welcome distraction.

Jon arrived about a half-hour early, just as the storm’s rumbles turned to pattering rain. Lawry tapped a small keg of Marsha’s golden ale and the three adults sat on the kitchen porch, within earshot of the boiling dinner, watching the boys race around in the cooling downpour.

“Rain came not a minute too soon,” Jon said, leaning his chair back and lifting his ale in toast.

“It’s needed, certainly. I suppose this is too quiet for you, after – after your adventure?” Marie asked.

Jon looked down, considering, then shook his head. “No – it’s a nice rest after a long trek. One can’t spend all the time running away from bandits.” They laughed, though Lawry’s laugh was forced.

“Funny you mention that –“ he spoke before thinking. “Old Gordie thought he heard some bandits up past Boyd’s Peak the last few days.” Biting his lip, he felt his chest tightened. He’d done it now.

And Jon looked as eager as a hound dog, “Really? Just up over the ridge? What did the sheriff say?”
just as Marie cried, “Lawry - you didn’t mention that! That’s too close for comfort! You should have said!”

“Gordie’s not sure he’s right; it’s just some noise and maybe a woodfire’s smoke… he didn’t want to get out the volunteers until he was more sure. It’s nothing to worry about, I’m sure.” Damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

Marie shook her head. “Well, I’m keeping the boys a lot closer to me, and I don’t want you going too far off, until somebody finds out for sure! There’s only the Davidsons between us and the cemetery.”

Lawry risked a side glance at Jon; he was sipping his ale, looking off into the woods. Finally, Jon commented, “It wouldn’t take much… just wander up there quietly; wouldn’t even have to get too close. I got pretty good at sensing… anything I wanted to avoid.”

There – he’d taken the hint. Lawry felt as miserable as when he baited the mole traps. But – like Jon said, he’d gotten good at surviving, and who else would be able to scout out something that might be a danger to the town? Why did the ale taste sour? Lawry set it aside. Dinner was subdued, and even the boys seemed to recognize something was wrong.

That evening, in bed, Lawry held Marie against his chest, feeling her breaths. Were hers as constricted as his felt?

“Marie – I don’t want him to go alone. I’ll tell the sheriff tomorrow.”

She sighed. “It won’t make any difference. He’s probably already on his way up there tonight.”

“No! In the rain? You think? Would he just –” But of course, he would. “He should know that’s not how we do it. There’s safety in numbers.”

“But he just proved there’s also safety in singles.”

Lawry couldn’t answer that. But his dreams that night were wild and dark.

He can’t argue with that sort of logic.

The next day, as the storm passed to the north, leaving puddles and dripping trees, he did go into town, hunting down Sheriff Hal. But only after he’d broken a chair spindle, gouged two holes out of a nice pine board and slammed a hammer down on his finger. The day was ruined, and maybe he was cursed. Not that he was supertitious. But he needed to get free of this.

At this point in the story, I’m unsure whether a lot of males actually suffer from this sort of anxiety. It seems to me to be a more female response to guilt. Again it is a generalisation, but a lot of males in this scenario tend to be more focused on eliminating their competitors rather than worrying about them. Years ago, I had to get rid of an old friend out of my life because he was just too competitive, always nipping away here and there at things, when I just wanted to be friends and hang out. It became unbearable and he was unable to talk about it. I strongly suspect that Lawry and Jon are like two baboons sizing each other up to get the banana! Are they friends, possibly not as Lawry resents Jon, he certainly isn’t warm to him. I’m sure this was your intention and you’ve captured the mood nicely.

Hal was mending a book, in the small room that housed all the books rescued from the old library fire. He agreed to send a group out to Boyd’s Peak, and he accepted Lawry’s volunteering to be one of them. Every time Lawry tried to bring up Jon, it stuck in his throat. In the end, he figured he’d just wait and see.

Who is Hal? He seems like a new character? I’ve assumed that Hal is the sheriff?

It was late afternoon before they were riding up Cooper Hill, through dappled shade on the vined-over dirt road to the cemetery. With Lawry was Gerry, Hal, old Ron the tanner, and Margaret, Gene’s daughter who, at twenty, had surpassed all the other militia candidates this year. All of them had long hardwood pikes, and there were a few knives in belts, and Gerry had his short bow, in case they met resistance. They joked as they rode, but when they stopped to get an update from Gordon, they treated his descriptions with serious consideration. A five minute canter up to Boyd’s Peak, then slowing and moving as quietly as a group of five riders could. They paused where the road began to dip down.

As Gerry and Hal weren’t introduced, I’m kind of wondering at this point as to whether they are expendable characters - ie. the special guest death?

“There’s an old fire smell, but nothing fresh – ya think?” Hal asked quietly.

Nods all around. Lawry picked up the tang of washed-down campfire; he relaxed slightly. They road about 25 feet into the valley, the horses picking their way carefully down the pebble-slick path. The smell grew stronger and Hal signaled the others to dismount. Lawry reluctantly held the horses as the others crept into the dripping underbrush, but in a few minutes, he heard them speaking in normal tones – so no one must be there. A rustle and the scuffing of boots, and they came back through the underbrush. Maggie was holding a partly burnt bone; looked like deer.

“There was a crew, but they cleared off,” Hal said, taking his reins again. “Maybe there about a week; didn’t even leave much garbage. But definitely about five campers.”

“Can – can I go look?” Lawry knew he sounded like a boy, but he had to know, and it was too late now to mention Jon. Giving Maggie Beast’s reins, Lawry ducked and scrambled into the campsite.

The firepit was stone-ringed and full of wet ash. A deer had been sectioned and most of it cooked; the legs and head were off to one side, not yet gnawed by animals. Tamped-down brush in a ring around the firepit seemed to suggest at least five sleepers. Lawry quickly inspected each area, looked as far as he could in to the dense thickets, but there was nothing at all that showed Jon had been there. No broken brambles leading to a dead body, no fresh-dug grave or discarded shoe that he could recognize – nothing. He’d been crazy to think it. Guilt, relief and fear washed over him like bursts of storm – Jon had not been here, or if he had, he’d left with no trace. Probably he was back at his house and getting ready for dinner. Lawry rushed back up to the road, feeling a silly grin spread on his face.

“Okay – well, it was worth checking out, right?” he asked. They assured him it was.

“I’ll be sending a group up around here more regular,” Hal said as they road home.

When Jon hadn’t been seen for three days, the speculation that he had snugged up with a woman turned to more serious talk. Lawry, in the process of moving his workshop into town, had ample chance to hear the rumors and speculations. The leaden feeling returned; he reminded himself that there had been no sign of Jon at the campsite. Which meant very little. He teetered on panic the first two days, watching Marie for signs of worry. As the talk turned, she did get more serious, but seemed to have forgotten the conversation about the bandits.

Finally, the pressure inside was worse than over-fermented ale. He caught her alone in the afternoon, and blurted, “Do you remember talking to Jon about the… about Gordie seeing…” It caught in his throat again.

“Yes, I remember,” she said quietly. “I figured if you’d seen anything, we would have heard.”

Lawry nodded emphatically. “Yes. True. I looked hard at the site, and there was no sign at all that he’d been there.” He was sweating now. Did he want to know what she thought?

She smiled, though her eyes were somber. “My guess is he used it as an excuse to get out of town.”


She chuckled wryly. “Jon never was the settling type. I’m guessing he realized that he’d have to stay here out of gratitude for all the free stuff, and he was already beginning to feel smothered. He figured he’d look like a hero if he disappeared while going after bandits.”

Lawry blinked. Jon – run off?? Not dead in the bushes somewhere? Was that possible? The new scene imposed itself on his memory of events – a weird twin to his first scenario – all the same bits adding up to something wildly different. Even if it wasn’t true, Marie believed it. He felt like he wanted to scream, like a boiler bursting. Then Marie wrapped her arms around him, and he was aware of her warm hair just under his chin. He hugged her fiercely and closed his eyes. Saved.

Except that the Lawry who had found salvation was not the Lawry he had been. Jon had returned with wilderness, strangeness…and the strangest of all had turned out to be… inside Lawry. And once you’d experienced wilderness, there was no going back.

Thanks Cherokee -

Sorry I didn't get back to this blog quickly - Spring is not a good time for me to work on writing, since I exhaust myself in the garden. But I've copied your comments and I'll go through them in detail as I work on rewrite - I really appreciate your taking the time! It's amazing, sometimes, how clear something can be to me and then how surprising it is when someone reads it differently. That's why it's so good to get reviewed!!

I gave “‘Naut” a quick read this morning, so what I offer is mostly general impression with only a few specific comments. I hope I didn't read too quickly.

“‘Naut” is a good story, but I had difficulty keeping track of what was going on because of the numerous non-essential characters. You spend a great deal of time with some beautiful, even poetic, descriptions, and this provides excellent atmosphere, but at the expense of plot-driven conflict. Some of your set-ups, such as the “band of thieves,” led me to expect action that never came. I have no problem with languor, but I felt a bit cheated because the structure indicated action was coming.

My other central problem was the straight telling at the end. However, the observations I find too bald there may well hold the answer to the other problems I saw. Have you considered breaking this into two stories? “’Naut” and “Naught”? Restructuring this so we have Jon’s side of the story as well as Lawry’s could allow you to make your point in a more dramatic fashion. As I read, I found myself wondering more about Jon--the 'Naut of "'Naut"-- than Lawry, the central character. Adding Jon's views might allow you to weave in much of the atmosphere elements, balance the story, and explain your ending more clearly without telling or stalling the action.

One question:

USAnaut? So there's still a USA? Where's the school? When I read the title, I thought Terranaut. I'd like a little more detail on this aspect.

Some comments on specific lines that caught my eye:

Too often horsemen careened along here like deer fleeing
a cougar.

Is "careened" a typo? The synonym “careered” denotes speed and little else. “Careen” indicates swaying rather than speed, so it bothers me here.

It was late afternoon before they were riding up Cooper Hill,
through dappled shade on the vined-over dirt road to the

I love the image of the “vined-over road,” but the sentence loses power because of a wordy start and the past progressive. In most cases, what I call the “fancy tenses” weaken writing. How about something more like this: “In late afternoon they rode up Cooper Hill . . . .”

Lawry felt as miserable as when he baited the mole traps.

Absolutely beautiful. Deft character development and a great image as well.

Lastly, I’m curious about your use of “What??” for Lawry. Are you using it as a speech tag? It occurs in two places. If it’s not part of your character development, I’d cut both. Here are my suggested edits:

”I’m almost sure there’s a band of thieves over the hill.”

Lawry put down his cup. “Have you seen them?”


She smiled, though her eyes were somber. “My guess is
he used it as an excuse to get out of town.”

Lawry blinked.

She chuckled. “Jon never was the settling type. I’m guessing
he realized that he’d have to stay here out of gratitude for all
the free stuff, and he was already beginning to feel
smothered. He figured he’d look like a hero if he disappeared
while going after bandits.”

Lawry blinked again. Jon – run off?? Not dead in the bushes
somewhere? Was that possible?

To me, the blinking shows his “What??” more subtly.

I hope you find some of this helpful.

It occured to me that if I am writing from a first person point of view (Lawry's, then Marie's) that they would know the names of the various townsfolk, and so they wouldn't just think of them as "the tailor" or "the baker"... What is a good way to handle that, short of switching to a 3rd person omniscient POV? Thanks!

Pruning names would be enough in many places. Most of us expect named characters to have a substantial role in a story. If not, they can become generic. So--

The town survived because of farmers and the craftsfolk like the miller Shon, and Al the blacksmith, and Mina the glassblower.


The town survived because of farmers and craftsfolk like the miller, the blacksmith, and the glassblower.

As incidental trivia, do you know any women glassblowers? A decade or more ago,I remember reading a Norwegian study on elite athletes. The author's conclusion was that elite women athletes--his subjects were cross-country skiers--would beat everyone in the world except for elite men in the same field. The author concluded this on the basis of lung function. That is, women typically lacked the lung capacity of men, and hence could not develop to a point where they could beat the most well developed men. His study also explained why women marathoners had failed to overtake male marathoners as had been predicted many decades ago.

I do know several women farriers though, so it might be safest to switch those terms in your statement, unless of course, you actually know women glassblowers, in which case, I'd love to know they exist.


Thanks for the idea of trimming names - that makes perfect sense. As I mentioned, I'm more prone to novels and novellas than short stories. It's much harder to write short than long, IMO.

Yes, I know a woman who for a while was a glassblower, and yes, she said it was hard - as much for the heat as the lungs... but Oregon has many glassblowers and I've seen several women. So they do exist.

Short is DEFINITELY harder than long. One of the more interesting books I've read over the years was on romance novel writing. (Thank goodness, I've never had to deal with one of those.) The author of this book noted that one of the main reasons romance novel heroines are so often orphans is to conserve space. In short, forumulatic work like romances, there's no room to develop a family structure.

Good to know their are women in the field. Thanks!

David Trammel's picture

Here are some general thoughts on your story Cathy.

1) The USAnaut is distracting. At first I thought it was astronaut. Common names can usually drop the specifics. Think, you don't call them US Marines unless there is a need to differ them from other armed forces. If everyone know about Nauts, then I'd lose the USA.

BTW, you wait a long time before explaining that naut, means nautical. When you do the earlier hints make sense. I'd recommend you move that reference up to the beginning. It really helped me once I knew that.

2) I agree, you have alot of information and characters which don't add anything to your core story. They flesh out the world you have made, but distract from the flow of the story.

Case in point, the rocker washer. Great detail but does nothing to carry the story forward.

I would suggest, first step back and go thru, deleting everything that doesn't touch on that rivalry and the whole Naut story. See what you have there.

I would include the part with the guy in the cemetary, since the fact there are people in the woods is important for your ending.

3) You're basic premise is good, two friends who parted ways when one choose to travel and the other to stay at home, with the rivalry that generates. And you also have the character of Marie, which seems to be of interest of both men.

I would even go so far as make them brothers. That would increase the natural rivalry.

That would play on the tension between Lawry and Marie, as she sees Jon now and has to rethink all the decisions she made when he decided to join the Nauts.

4) There's is a bit of confusion for me on the return of the Nauts. The town can't afford windows, yet they have an glass walled isolation room and truth serum?

I can see some sort of "the local doctor checks you out", with perhaps a period of the returning nauts being sequestored before the feast. I can't see the whole isolation and debrief being that big of a priority, or that they have resourses to do that.

You have regular trade going on, people visiting other cities and nearby towns, so they are getting info from the nearby towns. You have the town wanting to know things way far away

The Nauts are a method of looking at things far away, yet you've made this town seem small and insignificate. Do they have the resources to do this?

What you might do is make it a regional thing. Perhaps talk a bit about the larger community. How does this town relate to the ones near? Is there a regional government? Perhaps Jon was just one volunteer of several, each from a different town?

You could have the isolation and debrief at the regional capital, and the Naut returning to his home village for R&R. It would explain why they don't usually stay.

5) Your ending...

Ok as a rule of thumb, I give my ending a full fifth of my word allotment. Its easier to cut back than to try and shoe horn your ending into a few hundred words. I did that myself in my submission to ADR.

You have a nice set up for the ending.

All I would add would be a scene on the porch after the meal, with Jon and Lawry. Have them discuss the bandits, and even have Lawry offer to go. Perhaps he wants some adventure, perhaps he's bothered he mentioned it. You could have Jon tell him no. Or promise they would go later.

I would cut out the whole part when the sherrif and them go to the camp. Simply make that a short paragraph in the ending. Just have that last part.

6) One last note: Your last paragraph make no sense with the rest of the story. Lawry never experiences any wildness so how does he catch the bug?

You can have him go with Jon to investigate the bandits, but then get scared and leaves.


I think a better finale, is to emphaisis that Lawry finds his place with his family and town, than the wild open spaces. Having Marie explain that she knows Jon isn't the man she really wants as father to her children and husband would make sense then.


Good story Cathy

Thanks for the suggestions - after writing/reading something for so long, it's very hard to know how it reads "for the first time"... the challenge with post-crash stories is getting the right balance of details - enough to let reader feel they know the area but not enough to slow it... I will work on shorter sentences and more direct verbs... as someone who's more comfortable with novels, it's hard for me to "write short" - I want to include the surroundings more than is possible. But I'll look at the other characters and see what I can prune.

And your specifics are very helpful, too - thanks again!