Welcome to Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group and the sixth novel extract on this blog. This 5,007-word extract is by prolific Poetry writing group exerciser 🙂 Zac Thraves. Please do comment in the section below telling us what you liked about this extract and, what if anything, the author could do to improve upon it. Zac would especially like to know about character and if the plot flows. Thank you – it’s very much appreciated! I will chip in but I’ll let others have a go first. 🙂
Sea Of Ribbons – A story of depression; suicide and hope
She didn’t want to be saved; yet she was and now she has to re-live everything that has happened in order to remember who she is. Why did she insist on taking a lethal overdose? What led her to do such a thing when she still had so much to live for? As she remembers what happened, she is followed by a dancing sea of ribbons; always with her, pointing her in the right direction.
She took another long drag on her cigarette and watched snowflakes dance around her in the cool air; like fireflies, she thought, but without the fire. The cigarette sparked as she sucked in the toxic tar; she filled her mouth with smoke, felt it burn slightly and then swallowed it back, deeply inhaling and filling her lungs. As she exhaled she watched as her warm breath disappeared to be replaced by a thick blue haze that billowed in the night sky. She watched it linger, as if the smoke wanted to cling to her and never let go. If only, she thought, if only something would cling to her. The smoke drifted away, the warm air from her lungs replacing it and then evaporating. A snowdrop fell onto her nose, making her jump a little. She wasn’t used to being touched anymore.
Why was she doing this? She thought. Standing in the bitter wind at night, all alone save for her packet of cigarettes and her lighter. She wondered when she had first started smoking; a damp, grey day at school almost twenty years ago. She would have been seventeen, maybe sixteen, a late developer among her friends. Actually smoking mirrored her effect on boys, it seemed as though the two went hand in hand. She had been kissing Ivan, which she always thought was a terrible name for a child from Essex, but he had a good face, kind and open with enormous grey eyes. His kisses, however, tasted of old socks and this, she presumed, was due to the Silk Cut that he insisted on having at any given opportunity. She quickly realised that the best way to overcome the taste was to make her mouth taste like something similar. It worked; shame that her brief flirtation with Ivan was so short lived. Apparently he didn’t like girls who smoked.
Today was her first cigarette for a long time and she hated it. But then she had stopped caring a little while ago. She put her hands in her pockets and fished out the packet, flipping it open, she counted how many were left: three. Three more cigarettes until she goes inside and does what she had said she was going to do, what she had promised herself all day. After all, when you wake in the morning and know you cannot face the day ahead you have to promise yourself a little treat for getting through it. She had promised herself this, her denouement; no goodbyes, no letters, just her and a finished packet of cigarettes that she would crumple into a small work of art. She looked up into the thick black sky and blew smoke up towards the softly glowing moon. It danced, and she could not help but smile; her fog of cigarette smoke was dancing for her, waving goodbye to her, and she imagined it as a beautiful sea of ribbons.
It did not take long for someone to find her. As fate would have it, as she laid herself down after taking the bottle of painkillers and slicing across her wrists she leant on her phone and with it not being locked it called up her friend, Beth. Beth was one of those people who always feared the worst. So when she was shouting into the phone and could not hear any noise Beth thought nothing of going around to her house. When there was no reply, yet the TV was still on, Beth thought nothing of calling the police; who thought nothing of knocking the door down. Fate, it seems, was not on her side that day.
Saving a life, that didn’t want to be saved.
She stood up straight and looked down at the street below. She felt as if she was standing on the edge of a bridge, but instead of water flowing beneath her there was a parade; a myriad of colourful floats and people marching. A band played, their bass drum beating as one with her heart. Her naked toes flailed delicately over the lip of the bridge, the cold metal under her feet stinging her skin slightly.
Music blared; each different beat at odds with the other but somehow working together to form one glorious sound of celebration. She smiled and waved at the people in the float, though knew they couldn’t see her, she was way too high to be seen by anything but birds and low flying planes, but she so desperately wanted them to know she was here.
Beautiful swirls of ribbon danced in the easy summer breeze, like wisps of light playing with the dull grey landscape. They flew upwards, as if they were elongating arms trying to reach out to her, but they were just out of reach. Some eyes in the crowd followed this beautiful ballet, would they see her as much as they saw the wonderful pirouettes before them?
No, for there she stood; lost, alone, with bare feet and a naked upper body, her only protection from the wind was her faded blue denims. She raised her arms out to her side, lifting them up in a Christ-like pose and looked to the sky; the grey clouds echoed the surrounding buildings of the city. Everything looked grey, she thought.
A noose dropped beside her; she looked up. A small white cloud hung over her head with the noose hanging from it like an umbilical cord. She touched the tip of the cloud and small wisps circled around her fingers. Instinctively, she took the noose, noticing the wonderful array of colours: a multi-coloured noose wrapped in smooth silk.
She wrapped the noose around her head and pulled it down to her neck. She tugged on it to be sure that it held firm and the cloud did not budge, but it started to beep softly. She looked up, puzzled by this sudden noise. It was a soft beep, slow and measured; her heart beat to the same rhythm as did the bass drum below. What a wonderful coincidence, she thought. Satisfied at the clouds strength to hold her weight, she lifted a leg and stepped out into the sky to join the snaking dance of ribbons around her.
The first thing she noticed when she woke was the same soft beep. It reminded her of a smoke alarm warning her that the battery was low and for a few seconds she thought she was asleep on her sofa.
Her next sensation was the feeling of the heavy sheets across her body, crisp and hard on her skin followed by the realisation that a long pipe ran through her mouth falling deep into her throat.
She opened her eyes; the blackness around her made it feel as if they hadn’t worked at all and she first thought that she might be blind; until she noticed a small slither of light on the floor, creeping stealthily towards her. She did not move, choosing not to, or out of fear? She could not be sure. She’d seen enough hospital dramas on the TV to realise that if she panicked with a tube down her throat then things could get very messy.
She strained her eyes across the room and lifted her head upwards to look above her bed at the small alert button. She reached up, and noticed the bandages around her wrists. What they were was not clear and she tried to remember what had happened, perhaps she’d been attacked, she thought.
She stretched her arm up and painfully reached out to press the red button. Nothing happened, no alarms or light to show that it had worked. She had expected some sort of red light to start flashing, like the red alert button from Star Trek. She fell back into her bed and waited; listening to the noise of rushing footsteps from beyond her door. The machine continued to bleep regularly which she took as a good sign, she guessed if the beeping stopped then she stopped. Is that what she had wanted?
With hardly a sound the door opened and a silhouetted figure stood silently watching her. She bent her head towards the light and stared, at first she couldn’t make out if it was a male nurse or not until she realised that the silhouette was wearing a dress. They’re not that diverse in the NHS, she thought with a chuckle, not yet.
The nurse walked in quietly, unsure if her patient was awake or asleep, and headed straight for the pulsing life support machine. Satisfied, the nurse then came over to the bed and leaned over.
She opened her eyes sharply; the nurse jumped back in shock at seeing her patient wide awake. She tried to smile at the panicked nurse but the tube prevented much movement. The nurse nodded and smiled then switched on the small bedside lamp.
“Don’t try to breathe; the tube is doing the hard work for you.”
She nodded and a small tear fell from her eye onto her pillow.
She watched the dark figure of the nurse with hair pulled tightly back; now it looked messy, with strands arcing out at odd angles, she supposed that the nurse had tied it up a long time back in her shift. The nurse’s dusky eyes revealed hints of white as they stared sympathetically at her; the usual look of a nurse, she thought; her head hadn’t tilted yet, but surely that was to come. What she could make out of the nurse’s face gave the impression to her that at least this person was warm and smiling, with laughter lines in the corners of her eyes, she liked her instantly.
The nurse smiled. “Back with us so quickly?”
She nodded again.
“You gave us quite a story when you came in; the local press have been waiting for you to recover.”
“Is that uncomfortable?”
The nurse pointed to the tube dangling from her mouth. She looked up at her and nodded.
‘Don’t try to talk. I’ll get the doctor to see if it’s ready to come out. Wait here, are you ok?’
She moved her head slowly in the pillow and the nurse wasn’t sure if she was acknowledging yes or no. The nurse gave her one last warm smile before turning and striding out of the door with a squeak of her soft shoes. She watched the light in the room fade again as the door closed and as the room became dark she felt herself falling back into her swirl of ribbons.
Without warning, her eyes bolted open, as if she had been switched on at the mains. She tried to breathe but the tube in her throat forced her to choke. She fumbled about her bed, desperately reaching out for the panic button; her fingers felt around the side of the bed frantically, knocking the jug of water from the table beside her head, it fell with a hard crash that made her want to let out a loud scream. Panicking, she writhed around the bed, her arms waved manically but the tube in her throat gave her very limited movement.
She couldn’t breathe.
She couldn’t breathe.
She threw her body up; the tube tugged within her and pulled at the other end from the softly bleeping machine. She tried to pull at the tube but as she did she felt her body going into a spasm. She saw the switch for the alarm and pounded hard at it, it made no noise and she pressed it again, again and again. She wanted to scream; she wanted to shout as loud as she could.
She wanted to breathe.
She needed to breathe!
The door to her room flew open and a tall doctor rushed in; he took one look at what was happening and yelled back down the corridor for help. He then rushed over to the bed and braced her body back onto the bed with his arms; she struggled, but his strength ensured that she did not strain the tube any further. For a moment she stopped struggling and they were still, all she could smell was his bitter-sweet after-shave. After a few seconds the doctor was joined by three nurses who rushed in, flicked on the lights and immediately restrained her arms to the side of the bed. She tried to control her breathing and let the machine do the work, as her previous nurse had told her. Her eyes darted around the faces standing over her, where was she, she thought.
Another nurse ran in to the room, her golden hair dancing behind her. It reminded her of one of those movies where two lovers are running to each other in a field. She glanced over to the doctor; did she detect a glimmer of recognition in his eyes towards this nurse? Something more, she thought, than a platonic relationship. Why not, after all many partners meet at work. The busy white coats darted around her, but she wasn’t really sure what they were all doing. She felt a needle enter her arm and the doctor looking straight at her with sharp green eyes. He smiled, she tried to smile back but remembered the tube, she fell back and could see only the sky.
She was with him. They stood in his garden and the sun beat down on their backs. He looked at her, so adoringly, so purposefully; as if he had their whole life mapped out in his head and she didn’t have to worry about a thing. She hated that, but the thought of it made her smile. She reached up and touched his face with her fingertips, his skin was so soft, no imperfections.
He smiled at her, bearing his beautifully white teeth.
“Where are we?”
“Do you not know?” she replied.
There was a low rumble overhead; two planes floated dreamily in the sky. They looked up together.
“One day that will be us.” He said.
He kissed her and pulled away to go into the kitchen.
She looked up again, the sun dazzled her for a second and she had to put her hand over her eyes. The perfect silence was broken by a loud crunch of metal on metal. For a second she thought he had dropped a spoon on the kitchen floor but when she looked up she saw the two planes bounce off each other and plummet to the ground. She screamed and fell to the floor in a ball to protect herself from the impact.
The first thing she saw was red, a beautifully rich redness all around her. It felt warm; a golden hue as sunlight fell on her face. She stared into her still closed eyelids and ghostly images appeared; soft silhouettes and shapes. Her mind delved into itself, it began to remember until she heard herself breathing; a low hum, in and out, like a steam train waiting patiently at a station for its passengers to embark. There was no tube creeping down inside her; she was free to breathe for herself.
A voice came out from the red; it was clear and crisp, powerful and yet friendly. She opened her eyes.
She saw her white uniform contrast almost cartoon-like against her dark skin; the stark white glimmered with golden sunshine from the window in the room; catching her left side and making her appear angelic, otherworldly; distant.
She tried to speak and realised that she had forgotten how to do it. A moan came out instead even though her brain had thought of the word. She wanted to say hello.
“Don’t force it.” The angel said. “You’ve been in here for a while and the tube has caused some damage to your vocal chords.”
She moaned again, a rasping, grainy noise.
“It will come back, don’t worry, give yourself a couple of hours.”
The angel got up and came over to her; she knew her but could not think from where. She drank in all the information about her in the daylight; the window with a slatted blind; the bland walls; the sockets going around the room; the nurse’s white uniform and her open, friendly face, neatly framed by her silken black hair. The nurse smiled at her, then walked over from where she was sitting and checked her pulse.
“You’re going to be alright.”
“So, do you want to know where you are?”
She looked around some more, taking in the machine connected to a drip leading into her arm; a table with a jug of water to the left of her head and a small chair in the corner of the room from which the angel had risen. She shook her head, remembering the question and that she didn’t want to know anything.
“Ok. You know anyway and you know why. There’s a long process ahead I’m afraid.”
“Well, your heart is still beating and you’re no longer a high risk. So I guess we can talk, if you like.”
She closed her eyes, a tear formed and streaked across her eyelashes, to fall onto her pillow. She shook her head.
“No hurry.” The nurse said. “But you will have to soon, with the police and the social services. In the meantime, is there anyone you want to see?”
Her heart skipped; she wanted to say yes. If only she could say yes and that he would be here.
He sipped at his cold tomato soup while his mind wandered. A piano tinkled softly while a guitar strummed under the mellow tone of the lead singer; he listened, half dozing, his mind was far away from the room they were in.
Out of the window where he stood, a ribbon danced in the wind; its pink gloss sparkled in the warm sun. He watched it float by, staring out at the city stretching beyond him. He leaned his palm up against the pane and pressed his nose to the cold glass.
“Are you ok?”
The voice behind him was just the conscious side of being awake; that pre-yawn croak before the vocal chords have had time to reconfigure to the day but with a soft delicacy. He turned around and smiled at her, her tousled blonde hair fanning out like flames onto her pillow.
“I’m ok.” He said.
“What are you thinking?”
He smiled at her again, but his eyes were elsewhere. She saw the sadness and loneliness that he regularly put himself through and it made her feel cold, almost distant from him, like seeing someone you know intimately yet they have the appearance of a stranger. She watched him as he stared ahead, focussed on nothing material, only on his thoughts.
“You don’t need to tell me.” She said.
She put her head under the crumpled sheet, like a little girl hiding from something that might be lurking in the wardrobe.
“It’s raining.” He muttered as he stared out of the window at the small drops of water gently easing down the pane. A helicopter buzzed softly in the sky, high above the peaks of the buildings, beyond the low cloud that circled the various masts and antennae that blinked their heavenly eyes in the gloom.
“It’s always raining.” She replied from her bed. “That’s why I’m staying in here.”
She patted the empty and crumpled space beside her; he just smiled.
“I like looking at the view.” He said.
“Grey buildings and greyer clouds.”
“No, the people; they look like ants from up here.”
“You’re very melancholic.”
He turned back to the window, watching the slips of rain running heavier down the side of their apartment block.
“Isn’t that part of my charm?” he asked.
“Yes.” She smiled. “And no.”
He laughed, though it sounded more like a sigh.
“What?” she whispered.
He turned back to her and caught her eye, he remembered how she made him feel, tried to cling to some form of happiness that they shared together. In this mood his thoughts were tragic, at how lost he becomes when he stares into her eyes, lost and complete; almost lonelier when they were together than apart as it reminded him of a life that is only part-time, and that idea hurt more than anything.
They watched each other, not saying a word, their eyes telling them all they needed to know.
“Come on, come back.” She whispered.
“Yeah.” He hung his head low, stared at his bare feet and stretched his toes.
“I thought we were meant to be having fun this afternoon, watching you think, much as I enjoy it, isn’t what I had in mind.”
He tilted his head. “And what did you have in mind?”
“I think you’ve had enough rest, time for round two.”
Without losing her gaze he steadily walked over and crawled along the bed to meet her face to face. He lay on top of the sheet, his naked chest feeling her body underneath the cotton sheet. She took his cheek in the palm of her hand and pulled him in to her; they rubbed noses and then kissed delicately. She sighed passionately as he began to kiss her neck, tenderly at first, then with more purpose; she tilted her head back, opened her eyes and watched the raindrops tap at the window pane.
The nurse pulled back the thin curtains to reveal hanging blinds behind, blocking the view, she had to pull the curtains gently, as the stiff material was coming away from the plastic track and one huge tug would probably reduce it to dust.
She started to get up out of politeness to the nurse in her room; as she did so she winced with pain, with each movement her lower arms ached and she gingerly eased herself up to a sitting position on the bed. Her head felt light, dizzy. As her hand automatically rose to rub her head she noticed small pools of blood on the bandages around her wrists.
“Does it still hurt?” The nurse asked as she came over to the bedside.
The nurse checked the machine on the table that gave her patient the regular dose of morphine.
“I’m not sure you need this anymore, but the doctor will need to make that call. Has the psychiatrist been to see you yet?”
“No.” She croaked.
“Oh.” The nurse looked genuinely surprised; her brown eyes widened making them circular and full of wonder, almost child-like. “I thought they would have done by now.”
She laughed; a booming laugh that must have come straight from her chest. “Oh, don’t you start. Get enough of that around here, a hospital seems to be the place to feel remorse for your actions. You should be in A & E on a Saturday night.”
As she leaned herself back onto her elbows, she managed a small smile towards this nurse, it was the first time that she had really noticed this woman; she had a large body, that somehow made her look wise rather than overweight. Her dark skin seemed to glow with the light, making her appear as if she was made of plastic. Of course this was stupid, she thought, but then remembered how this nurse had looked the other night: angelic; and the thought arose that nothing had changed much about her appearance since then.
“Would you like me to get you something to read?” The nurse asked.
“No, thank you.”
“Anything at all?”
“No. I’m fine.”
“Alright. I’ll come and check on you later.”
The nurse checked the tube running into her arm. She watched as the nurse’s fingers gently went about their work; her nails seemed too perfect for a nurse, well-manicured tips to eight long digits that stood out on her pale arm like funereal finger-puppets. She closed her eyes as the nurse gently stroked at her arm while fiddling with the tube; her fingers felt soft and soothing, reminding her of that afternoon as it rained. She wondered to herself if she would ever feel like that again.
“Somebody came for you.”
Her mind raced back to the room and the nurse next to her as her heart raced, her eyes snapped open.
“Who?” she asked; her voice had a sudden strength and purpose that startled the nurse.
“Not sure, didn’t leave a name. One of our bank nurses told me.”
“What did they look like?”
Her eyes were now wide, manic, quizzical, almost pleading.
“I don’t know. But they said they’d come back later.”
The nurse patted at her arm as if she was a small child with a graze on her skin, but she held her hand there for a short while.
“I’ll try to find out for you. You’re quite an enigma in this place, the girls have started calling you Dorothy.”
“Yes, not sure why. I’ll find that out for you too. Don’t think it’s because you look like Judy Garland.”
She sat and stared at the nurse with a strained look on her face; forcing the nurse to laugh.
‘You should take it as a compliment,’ she giggled. ‘You’d be surprised what we call patients in here.”
“Who’s the worst?”
She watched the nurse nervously fumble with the collar of her uniform, rubbing the fabric with slightly shaking fingers.
“I’m not sure I should say.” She replied with a small smile.
“What’s your name?”
“I’m erm… Nurse Angelou.”
“Your first name, I’d like to know your name.”
“Maya.” She whispered.
“You’ve been here every day since I got here haven’t you?” She stared at Maya from her half-closed eyes as she gently leant back on her pillow, she could feel a headache coming and wanted to sleep.
“Not every day.”
Maya looked down at the ground, embarrassed at being found out though not sure why she should feel that.
Noticing her uncomfortable body language, she smiled at Maya and tried to find some strength to put her at ease.
“Thank you, Maya.” She muttered.
“You look tired.” Maya stated, as if returning to the room with new found energy. “I’ll leave you alone for a while.”
She laughed and turned to go, stopping at the door.
“I’ll be back later, before I go home, just to check that you’re ok.”
“Thank you.” She said under her breath as Maya pulled the door open and left without looking back.
“I love you.”
She stopped talking for a second and stared at the empty tracks glistening with rain ahead of her. The station was a hive of activity, waiting passengers chatted loudly above the noise of the wind; some in couples; some on their phones; some to themselves, mumbling under their breath as they attempted to both stay warm and to justify another late appearance by the seventeen twenty from London Bridge.
“Are you still there?”
The voice at the other end of her phone sounded worried, unaware that she had got lost people-watching.
“I am.” She said softly.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.” The deep voice in the phone said.
“It’s fine.” She answered. “Thank you.”
There was a pause, long enough for the phone-line to give the impression that it had gone dead; no sound came into her ear, not the usual interference of the wind or the clatter of a microphone hitting a cheek as the phone gets manoeuvred about a face.
“Is that it?” The voice arrived suddenly and with a hint of anger; or was it panic.
She didn’t want to admit to it, but had been thinking it for some time too. A fluttering of excitement in her stomach whenever they were about to meet and the crushing sadness she felt when they parted was enough for her to realise inside that she felt the same way that he did. But she hesitated; it was too quick, too soon for her and it was also impossibly dangerous; there was a voice in her head that warned her of falling too deep again, telling her to back off and give this room. She was not ready for anything and he certainly wasn’t; a wife at home was testament to that.
“Ok, I better go.”
His voice sounded sharp and business-like.
“Yeah.” Was all she could bring herself to say.
“I’ll call you when I can, not sure when that will be.”
Her eyes wandered around the cosmopolitan array of people waiting on the platform, all gritting their teeth in an attempt at fighting the bitter wind that howled around their ears.
“Don’t be angry.” She whispered into the microphone.
“I’m not, I’m fine. I really better go. See you soon.”
She was about to explain what it was she was thinking when she heard the line go dead; she knew it had from the small electronic thudding from a finger hitting the red button at the other end.
As she sat on the train she could think of nothing but what she should have said. She stared out of the window at the rush of trees hurtling by as if they were flying; she thought of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, while the twister raged about her and all of the objects passing by her window. She closed her eyes and saw his face, beautiful and delicate, with soft brown eyes pleading towards her heart. Why had she hesitated?
Thank you, Zac.
If you’d like to see my notes, click on the links below but please give your comments to Zac here first. That way you won’t be influenced by my feedback, and we can see if we think alike. Thank you.
- My critique (page 1)
- My critique (page 2)
- My critique (page 3)
- My critique (page 4)
- My critique (page 5)
- My critique (page 6)
- My critique (page 7)
- My critique (page 8)
- My critique (page 9)
- My critique (page 10)
- My critique (page 11)
Zac Thraves is a writer and actor from Kent. He has published two novels and a collection of poetry for Kindle. Two plays that he has written have been performed on stage. Zac is currently producing a play about Charles Dickens for the Sevenoaks Festival and is writing copious amounts of words that he hopes to put together in some form or other. Zac lives, has two children and a car and he is attempting to spend 2013 paper-free.
If you’d like to (family-friendly) submit your 5,000-word max synopsis / extract for this blog, see the Submissions page.
The other critique writing groups are:
Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group
Thank you for reading this and we look forward to your comments.