You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

I’ve had in mind for a while now to give you a taste of my progress as a writer, to let you steal a glimpse into the dark and horrific thing that was me in my teenage years (and the utter lack of skill that I then had).

Recently, when cleaning off my old computer, I came across some old files, including a copy of a story I first wrote when I was an immature 17 years of age.  And I have decided to inflict this upon you.

I say inflict, because I mean inflict. This is truly awful. The premise is unoriginal, the setting uninspiring, the characterization excessively poor, the dialog stilted and horror-inducing, and the logic painful backwards. This is, by all accounts, the worst possible story I could ever conceive of posting here on this site.  Did I mention that I was 17 when I wrote it?  (Although… things that I wrote just a year later were actually sort of readable, I guess i had a quantum leap that year.)

Why do I post it?

In part, perhaps, because I enjoy tormenting you. No, that’s not true. I don’t enjoy tormenting my readers at all. No, I’m posting it so you can get an idea of my history as a writer: of where I’ve been and where I’ve come.

So, that said, I present to you this 3,000-word monstrosity (not by size but by awfulness) in all its unedited glory:

By The Light of the Final Fire

By: Stephen Watkins

Darron Mcleod looked up for a moment from what he was doing. In the fireplace a log crackled and popped as bright orange and yellow flames consumed it. An old cuckoo clock ticked noisily on the wall. Darron’s surroundings reminded him of the rustic cottage where his parents used to take him when he was a little boy. Dark stained wood was the look, with several old looking portraits and paintings on the wall. There was a clipper ship sailing on the white frothy spray of blue waters, a portrait of an old lady who, at one time, was proprietor of this old winter cabin, and now a picture of the latest proprietor, Mrs. Witherby. Darron worked by candle light, because nobody had ever taken the time to install electricity in this old log cabin.
The cuckoo sprang out of its wooden confines and announced the hour in a clamorous din of tweeting. Darron paused and looked up at the cuckoo as it interrupted his work with its nonsensical bleating. When it had tweeted twelve times it finally returned to its hidden perch and left Darron in peace. He turned his head back down to the work at hand. He had been scratching noisily with a quill pen on a new piece of parchment, the only medium he had out in these colonial woods. Now that the disturbance had passed, he returned to scratching at the piece of paper, dipping his pen in a jar of ink, scratching more.
Outside, the wind raged with uncommon ferocity through the mountains. Ice and snow must have been piled several feet high outside. Inside, it was warm and cozy. Darron was all rapped up in a heavy blanket plaid in ancient Scottish designs, shades of green criss-crossing with veins of red. The candle, which was perched on a silver candelabra, flickered with annoyance at a rush of air.
The old oak doorway squeaked open as Mrs. Witherby stepped in. Old and bent now, she leaned over a shinny polished cane, and carried in her withered hand another silently flickering candle. Darron Mcleod paused once more in his work to look up at Mrs. Witherby.
“Uncommonly cold a’night, isn’t it Mr. Mcleod?” sounded old Witherby. Her used up voice was like sand paper scratching together.
“Indeed ‘tis, Mrs. Witherby. Uncommon frigid!” resonated Darron, “Makes a body wonder as to what all this cold comes from!” He paused a moment from speaking to lean back to his work and scratch out a few more words.
“You know,” consorted Witherby, “It’s all that testin’ what caused it! If they had a left well enough alone, none o’ this would’a come to be!”
“Yes,” sighed Darron, “All their testing, and warring, and feuding and everything. It was bound to happen sometime, though, Mrs. Witherby, it was bound to happen sometime.”
“Aye,” sandpaper scratched, “Aye, I suppose it would’a at that! It’s just, I don’t know if I be ready for such a change to everything. It’s always been the same old way, and now all of this change.”
“Yes,” Darron sighed once more, “Yes, the change.” He bent down to his work once more and scratched some additional words to what he was writing. “I can’t find the words anymore,” he complained, “So much has happened, but they don’t come easy like they used to. I have to do this, though. It must be done.”
“Aye,” said Mrs. Witherby, “It must, lad, it must.” Mrs. Witherby set down her candle and slowly lowered herself into a cushioned old chair. She fingered the soft work of velvet that was her cushioning and sighed. “There is so much good here, so much love and joy. So much hard work of the hands. The man who made this set all of his heart into the task. ‘Tis such waste!”
Darron sighed his agreement and wrote further in the manuscript before him. He dipped his pen in the ink well, then wrote a few more words. The cuckoo clock ticked madly, and the sound was loud in his ears. The crackling of the fire set his eardrums to a pounding rhythm. The wheezing breath of old Mrs. Witherby. His hand shaking, Darron set his pen in the ink well, and pressed his hands on the desk.
“I hope,” he said, “That some good comes of this! I hope that when it is read, they will take it to heart. Life is too precious not to!”
“Do you suppose,” asked Mrs. Witherby, “That there will be anybody to read it?”
“There has to, there just has to!” Darron told her, “We’ve all been through far too much for it to end so abruptly! Look at what we’ve seen! America, New York, Berlin, Hiroshima, the Moon, Mars! We’ve conquered all and survived everything. No form of life on Earth has ever done what we have done! And we did it in half the time, too!”
“To be sure,” said Mrs. Witherby, “But with all things being what they are, I just had to ask. It makes one wonder, thinking on it, just how great we really were.”
“Aye, it does.” responded Darron, “With everything we have done, it seems we have brought this upon ourselves. There’s no precedent in history for what we have done. A moment if you will, Mrs. Witherby. I must finish this manuscript and store it so that maybe what I write will some day come to good.”
Darron picked up his pen, now filled with ink, and scribed the last few words to complete his text. The scratching sound ceased, and Darron set down his pen for the last time. He picked up all the papers that were a part of the text and straightened it out. He reached under the table he worked at and brought up an old, iron box with an ancient keyhole. He inserted his key and clicked the box open. Carefully he laid the manuscript in the iron safety box, closed the lid and locked it. He pushed away from the table and walked over to the fire. Using an iron poker, he moved some coals out of the way and cleared a space. He lifted a metal grating and put the box in a cubby hole beneath the floor. He set the grate back in places and pushed the coals back over the grate. He stirred the coals up to get the fire really going again.
“Do we have any more wood?” he asked.
“That’s the last of it smoldering there.” Answered Mrs. Witherby.
“Well, then. It’s going to be a cold night.”
“Aye, and a cold, cold morning.”
“Well, goodnight, Mrs. Witherby. I hope to see you on the morrow.”
“And I hope to see you as well, Mr. Mcleod.”
Darron left the room with the dying fire and found his bed chamber. He had a fire place as well, but there was no more wood to burn. He turned up his blankets and prepared to settle in for the night. Before he could get under the covers and go to sleep, he heard a muffled pounding. It sounded like somebody trying to knock at a door. Was somebody trying to get into the cabin? Was there somebody left to try to get in? Darron opened his bed chamber and went down the hall. He saw Mrs. Witherby already heading toward the front door. The muffled knocking came again.
“By my soul,” mumbled Mrs. Witherby, “There’s somebody left. Praise the lord!”
The knocking sounded more urgent.
“Hold on, Hold on!” called Mrs. Witherby, “I’m coming as fast as these old bones can take me!”
Darron reached out a hand and laid it on her shoulder.
“Let me get it, Mrs. Witherby.” She quietly acquiesced and let Darron reach the door and open it. The door could not stay open for long. As soon as it came open, wind ripped at it and snow entered in flurries. Somebody in heavy winter clothes stood there waiting to come in.
“Don’t just stand there, Man!” shouted Darron, “Come in before you freeze both of us!”
The man stepped in and together they forced the door closed against the wind. With the door closed and latched, the man removed his heavily furred hood.
“Thank’ee kindly, sir. I’m much obliged too ‘ee.” The big man said. He was tall and heavy built, like a lumberjack. He had a long red beard and a big, bright pink nose. His eyebrows were heavy and droopy, and his russet hair was long and pulled back into a tail. He began to peel off stiff and frozen articles of clothing. Heavy gloves, thick coat, a sweater. “Name’s Pierre Coupebois. I was wandering around the woods here, and I caught light of your cabin here. I thought that someone must be home, so I tried for it. It’s been some long time since I seen the face of another human being.”
“Well, Your welcome here, Mr. Coupebois,” Mrs. Witherby told him, “Can’t deny a fellow human the right to a warm place to sleep. I also can’t promise a meal in the morning, all things being what they are. My pantry is bare. But I can offer a place to sleep.”
“And I thank’ee for it, ma’am. I much appreciate it!”
“So, you’ve been wandering around awhile, have you?” asked Mcleod. “Have you any news from beyond the woods?”
“Only that there is no news from beyond the woods. There ain’t nothing left out there to make news. The people are all gone.”
“So it’s almost over?”
“It?’ You mean the Process? Yeah, it’s almost over. Stupid bastards!”
“They thought they knew everything, didn’t they.” Darron agreed.
“Well, they all paid for it. They were the first to succumb to the Process. That’s what I heard before it started on the city.”
“You suppose it will happen here?” asked Darron.
“Of course, nothing can stop it ‘till it’s done. What do you think of this storm? It’s part of the Process.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Witherby, interrupting the conversation, “If you’ll follow me, I can show you to your room, Mr. Coupebois.”
“Thank’ee, Ma’am.”
“Well,” Darron reflected, “Hopefully we won’t make these same mistakes again. I’ve written a piece that might be discovered someday, and it will tell them what happened here. Maybe they can stop it from ever happening again.”
“I don’t count much on a future,” said Pierre, “I don’t count that there’s anyone left in the whole world, except us three.”
“Well,” Darron said again, “We can hope.”
“Yeah,” agreed Pierre, “There is always hope.”
Mrs. Witherby lead them down the hall the rest of the way in silence. Her hand held the candle that, flickering, lit the way. She came to a heavy door, opened it and announced:
“Here is your room, Mr. Coupebois. Mr. Mcleod here is just a door down, and I am at the end of the hall. If there’s anything you need, you can just call out, and I’ll do what I can.”
“Thank’ee, ma’am. Thank’ee very much!”
“Well, when you’re one of the last three humans on Earth, hospitality comes easy.”
Mrs. Witherby hobbled down to her room and went in. At the door she turned and bid the two men good-night.
“So,” began Darron, “How do you feel toward a nightcap before we turn in?”
“I don’t ever turn my head to a swig o’ whiskey!” answered Pierre.
Darron led the way down the old hallway and into the room where he worked. He found a cabinet and opened it. Within were several glasses and a fair selection of liqueurs to choose from. Darron removed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the cupboard and removed the top. He took out a couple of glasses and filled them with whiskey. He offered the glass to Pierre. Pierre raised the glass in a toast.
“To the end of the World!” he toasted.
“Aye, and to the Process which ended It!”
“Bottoms Up!”
They raised the glasses to their lips and drained them of whiskey in one, long draught. Having finished, they set their glasses back on the counter beneath the cupboard.
“So,” said Pierre, “You know anything about the Process besides the fact that it’s the cause of all this?”
“Ah, the Process,” Darron sighed, “That I could tell you a thing or two about. It started at some lab, I have no idea where. They were fiddling with genetic mutation, cloning, and that sort of thing. They thought they could play God!” he paused a moment and looked into the fire. It couldn’t really be called a fire anymore. It was a pile of glowing coals with the slightest hint of a flame rising every now and then. After reflecting on the smoldering kindling, Darron continued. “It was supposed to revolutionize the world, what they were working on! They had a brand new product that they promised would cure cancer. They promised, in fact, that it could cure any ailment that came along. It involved a complicated medical process in which they extract cells from the human body in various places—blood and skin and that sort of thing—and grew partial clones of the tissue. They would then use their genetic engineering product to personalize and medication that was right for you. It was actually an engineered virus that would rage through the system and correct any genetic errors. A few days of slavering and convulsing and staring stupidly would be followed by genetic perfection. No diseases, those would be attacked by the virus as well and wiped out by its corrective process. No broken limbs, everything would fit together perfectly, the way it was supposed to be. It wasn’t supposed to be contagious. They engineered it to be very specific. That’s what they needed the tissue clones for.” Darron paused again. It was painful for him to talk about it.
“You sure know a lot about the Process!” commented Pierre.
“Yes,” sighed Darron, “I know too much!”
“Well, continue.”
“Of course. Well, they thought they had the perfect cure. It was expensive to perform, but it could cure anything and everything. They proclaimed that money was no object! ‘Everyone, everywhere who needed ViroCure,’ as they called it, ‘will get the treatment!’ Unfortunately, they were right. Equally unfortunate, the cure was imperfect. They were sure it was, though. They had tested it on lab rats. The tested it on dogs and cats, cows and horses. They tested them in isolation, they did controlled variable tests to check for contagion. They did many, many tests. They finally received permission to begin administering to the public, once it was absolutely determined that it was safe.
“They underestimated the persistence of life. They were absolutely sure that it would not spread past those who were given the treatment. However, it began to spread. Nobody saw it at first. People just began to get better without explanation. Hopeless cases of Cancer and AIDS suddenly ceased to be. Nobody could attribute these inexplicable happenings to ViroCure, so it was dismissed at first as medical anomaly. They didn’t realize what it was until the change. The Process had begun. Something went wrong with the viruses in the ViroCure. They began interpreting necessary organs as excess waist material and began to eliminate it. People would come in for check-up at their doctors with a urination problem, and it was found that one of their kidneys had disappeared. Livers, muscle tissue, hair, teeth. People just didn’t have some of these things anymore. Then someone with a heart-attack problem was found dead. His heart was gone. The Process interpreted the damaged heart tissue as a genetic flaw, and eliminated it all together. By this time, nobody could stop it. It had spread past humans to infect every living thing. Not even the trees and grass were immune. The very genetic fabric of life on our planet was changing. With the change in forests and populations, weather patterns began to be affected.”
“And that’s why the weather is so bad?” asked Pierre.
“That’s the reason. And there’s no telling if any of us has brought the Process with us. Any one of us three may be infected with ViroCure. If that is so, then we will not long be on this Earth. Even if we don’t have it, nobody knows how it’s transmitted, since it wasn’t even supposed to be contagious. It could be air born, touch activated, anything. If we step outside tomorrow, we may breathe the air that will be our last.”
“That sure is a grisly tale.” said Pierre. “How come you know so much?”
“That’s the worst part of the story. It was my idea, my brain child. I developed the concept of ViroCure, and even worked out the initial genetic structuring that would create such a monster. It was all my doing, and I was only trying to help!”
“Well,” said Pierre, “It’s too late for killing you to do any good. Actually, staying alive is the best thing for you.” Pierre stopped. He turned his head down, then looked up again, into Darron Mcleod’s face. “It’s hard not to harbor feelings of hate toward the man who did this, but I think I understand. I just wish you had been right, and not wrong, about the Process.”
“I thank you for not cursing me with your last breath,” Darron told him. “I know that so many others have.”
The light from the fire was getting very dim. The smoldering coals were nearly out. Pierre coughed, a hacking sound. He covered his mouth with his hand, and it became covered in pink goo.
“It looks like it’s begun on you.” Darron sighed. “It’s too late for us now. Maybe someday, life will come again. Life without ViroCure. Maybe someday, they will find my manuscript and see the genetic coding that will be their doom if they ever let it become real. Good-night, my friend.”
The last glowing coal flared and went out.
The final fire was extinguished.

2 thoughts on “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

  1. Holy info dumps Batman! hehe, You know, the premise is actually pretty good here. I kept reading on because I was curious about this process, and I wasn’t sure if this story took place in the future or the past. Your 17 year old self showed promise, even if he lacked a little in the execution 🙂

    • Yeah, I’ve improved a lot, since then.

      But where I’ve really improved is not so much in writing but in rewriting. I’ve found that I’m getting much better at improving on something I’ve already written, polishing it up, and making it something worth reading. I think is hard to gauge that in the single-pass flash stories I’ve been putting up in response to your challenges. Still, those are good to keep me in practice, and hopefully my first drafts will be more serviceable for the improved skill as well…

      I’m glad you think I showed promise, back in my naive and younger years. I’m hoping I still show promise today!

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