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Flotsam and Jetsam

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Make of it what you will.  This is my interpretation of the phrase, in basic form and metaphorically speaking, I suppose.  Let me know what you think.

Dear Stephen,

Finding myself alive after what has happened in the time between now and when last I saw you is truly a miracle, or perhaps a curse.  How strange it is to be able to put pen to paper and to let someone, anyone know that I am alive and doing well, if well you can call it.  I wanted to write to you first, Stephen, since you are all I have left in this world.

Finding it desirous to give you a thorough and proper report of the bizarre things which have befallen me, it has taken a few days to recall it all.  I apologize for the lateness in my writing to you, but it has been a long and strange event and it has taken some time to gather myself back together.  When next you see me, you may not fully recognize the man who left your house two months ago.  In the time between now and when I arrived here in New Orleans, many parts of my life were lost.  Some on purpose, some against my will.  In the pages following, I will try my best to describe to you exactly what has happened before, during and after this phenomenon of a most disturbing nature.   

Perhaps you were right in trying to keep me from leaving that day, it being Friday the 13th, but nothing seemed strange until three days later.  I remembered your words the entire time I was gone.  “Don’t go,” you said.  “It’s bad luck.”  And what bad luck I’ve had!  Leaving Pittsburgh that day I had no idea how bad things would actually get.

Everything went swimmingly right after we left.  The crew seemed nice enough and the captain was a crusty old man with the worst foul language I have ever heard, but his heart was true.  Miriam was afraid of them and spent most of her time below deck, trying to keep herself busy.  Joseph, being the inquisitive little boy that he was, loved every minute of the time we spent with the crew, chasing them all around the boat, asking this, tampering with that.  I made him go below deck with his mother when I realized he was making the crew angry.  No sense in making a long trip terrible, I thought.  What little did I know then!  Problems with the crew would have been a doddle compaired to what I have endured, for it wasn’t some river rat ruffian, but mother nature herself and a man whose name I will never know whose nefarious actions caused such horrible events to be set into motion.

On the night of the 15th we stopped on the Mississippi.  It was dark, darker than I’ve ever seen it before.  No stars could be seen, for the clouds were so thick.  The crew of the boat was swearing up a storm about what appeared to be an oncoming bout of severe rain.  The last three days had appeared so, the sky being overcast and the air thick.

At two in the morning on the 16th, we were awakened by a violent shuddering of the boat.  The crew rushed above deck, the captain figuring we had run over a sand bar. I remember him yelling at the crew to ready their guns if needed, figuring it to have been savages who loosed our cables and left us thus floundering upon said sand bar.  But we were not moving away from the bank of the Mississippi.  Upon further examination, we found we were yet steadfastly moored. 

It wasn’t until the second shock that we all realized what was going on.  Joesph had wandered upon deck with us, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, yet wanting to know exactly what was going on at all times.  Not far away from us, an oak tree snapped in two. The falling part hurled to the edge of the river.  The trees all around us shook madly as if they were alive and moving about of their own accord. 

Miriam wished greatly to leave, fearing for her life and mine and that of Joseph’s, but the captain opposed, telling us how badly the river might get if the shocks continued.  So, our only option being an unpleasant one, we were compelled to remain for the night. 

The next day at dawn, I took Joseph ashore to see the effects of the shocks.  About twenty feet from the edge of the water there were deep cracks in the ground like as I had never before seen.  We could not go any further, for the captain was calling us.  Joseph was not happy, but I assured him that it was dangerous and that if we remained any longer where we were, more shocks might happen.  Wishing to leave as expeditiously as possible, the captain pushed off (much to Miriam’s joy, she was not happy at all that I had taken Joseph ashore for the few moments that I had).

How glad we were that we pushed off when we did, for at only a few rods distance from the shore, another shock happened, which was much more severe than any of those preceding.  The bank to which we were moored was rent and tumbled into the river as though it were nothing at all.  The trees seemed to run from the forest, precipitating into the river with such force sufficient enough to have turnend us all into jelly. 

By the time the day was in full swing, we were held privy to the full extent of the situation in which we found ourselves at hand.  There were four more shocks, causing great explosions, like unto the discharge of artillery that we could hear but could not see.  What I have now been told was “volcanic discharges of combustible matter” blew into the air at tremendous heights.  There was a terrible rumbling below us, like thunder but more hollow.  The water seemed to be boiling and growing more and more agitated.  A spout of air and mud blew just to the side of our boat.  Trees, trees that had been long forgotten at the bottom of the river shot up into the air while others surfaced for the first time in who knows when, floating along and ramming into the side of the boat.

I found this written in a newspaper, Stephen and I had to write it down, because it sums up pretty well what happened.

“Never was a scene more replete with terrific threatenings of death; with the most lively sense of this awful crisis, we contemplated in mute astonishment a scene which completely beggars all description and of which the most glowing imagination is inadequate to form a picture.  Here the earth, river, torn with furious convulsions, opened in huge trenches, whose deep jaws were instantaneously closed; there through a thousand vents sulphureous streams gushed from its very bowels, leaving vast and almost unfathomable caverns.  Everywhere nature itself seemed tottering on the verge of dissolution.”

Finer men could not have said it better.  But it wasn’t mother nature that proved the most vile of this experience, though we lost several men to the shocks, rocking the boat madly, the waters raging beneath us like the sea.  But the crew seemed to take no notice of it, at least at first.  They knew that if they stopped to weep, they, too would be torn asunder.  Their fortitude is all that saved them from mother nature.  It was what happened later that proved to be the most disastrous event of them all.

After repeated beatings from surfaced trees and underwater explosions, we were forced to land.  With the banks of the river ever sinking into the river and water rising by the foot, we were forced to make our dock upon an island in the river.  We fastened to willows where the land was extremely sunken.  We hoped that the horrors were behind us.  But still the shocks continued, though none of them were as ferocious as those that had come before. 

It was Wednesday when we were finally able to venture onto the island to see where we had landed.  It was large and covered with willow trees.  There were huge, gaping holes.  Burt wood seemed to be everywhere in vast quantities, spread all over the ground.  On the beaches by where we had landed, we found large, circular holes in the sand which formed funnels.  All around it and floating in the water we found coal scattered.  Some small and others large, weighing what seemed to be fifteen or twenty pounds.

The worst seemed to be over as the shocks died down.  But the horrors had not ended, for there was a house upon that island.  In that house there lived a man.  There may have been more, I do not know, for we never made it into his house.  He opened fire upon us as we neared his place, cutting down the captain first. 

What happened after that is hard for me to remember, Stephen.  Truly hard and I find myself at fault more than anyone else.  I have no explanations for what I did and what I caused, what I brought down upon myself and the families of those that I loved so dearly.

After that whole fiasco in New York, I wanted to prove to Miriam and Joseph that I was the father I had promised I’d be.  I had to be strong.  But I failed.  The man was crazy.  Raving about how it was the end of days and that we were all demons that had been blown up out of hell to come and steal him away to deliver to Satan.  After the second crew member fell, I began screaming at him to cease his firing.  I told him I had a wife and a child with me.  I stood to show him that I was just a man, Joesph rising with me.  Miriam tried to pull him back down, but the man’s bullet struck Joseph’s head and killed him.  I stood, shocked, unable to move.  The bullet that hit my ear tore it from my head.  I now have but a hole there, they tell me.  It is still wrapped.

I’m not sure what happened after that.  I have heard several stories, but all I remember is waking up on the boat, screaming for Miriam and Joseph.  Neither were with me.  I don’t know what happened to Miriam.  I don’t know what island we were on and I don’t know who the man was or if he is still alive.  As I said, I have heard several stories, but I will not repeat them here as they are hearsay.  I, being the fool that I am, was bleeding from the head as my son and wife died around me, my world falling apart much like the real world around me.

Forgive me for what I have caused, Stephen.  I don’t know how I will live with this torment.  When next you see me, I will not be the man you knew.  I am trying my best to carry on, to forget what has happened or at least to accept it.  Accept the fact that I was a horrible father and an even worse husband and for that matter, a worthless man, for I could not stand up for the two people I loved more than anything in the world.  I wanted them to know that after New York I had changed.  I really thought I had.  But I hadn’t.  I am a broken, worthless man, Stephen.  I wish Miriam had done what she said she would do.  She would be safe in New York with her parents and Joseph would be with them, not lost somewhere on an island with no name, gone forever.

Forgive me, Stephen, for I fear that God never will.  Do not fear for my life.  I have considered taking it many times since that day.  But I understand that it is my punishment.  I must endure this wretched life without the ones I love, for it was I who let them slip from my fingers.  I will return to Pittsburgh to see you as soon as I can.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Yours,
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Alexander
Current Mood:
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On October 3rd, 2007 10:51 pm (UTC), julibat commented:
Seriously CONGRATS! on being the very first poster for the September theme! And way ahead of schedule.
Way to be on the ball.

So I read this when you posted on the 16th and I just finished re-reading it. I like your idea & throwback to the letter-writing of the Victorian era. You managed to choose one of the most interesting historical events I have ever studied which is the 1811 earthquake on the New Madrid fault which caused the Mississippi River run backwards for a period of time, right?

Your use of flotsam and jetsam as metaphor is nice and neatly referred to in the next to last line. i think it works a few different ways with Alexander's emotions, the lives lost and lived...

The conflict with the madman is an odd twist and completely believable given a Southern religious upbringing coupled with an earthquake.

Granted I'm not a writer by any means, but my 2 cents would be the following:

*i would like to see the language get even more flowery and obscure. This might take even more research but one of the things i love the most about this type of writing is that important events are always blurred by the torrent of words which leaves more work for the reader, with greater reward i think. One way to accomplish this would be to describe emotions with physical actions. From what i understand, in this time period, knowledge of psychology wasn't as prevalent as it is today. Think about Dostoevsky who would go on for pages in order to describe an emotion simply because at that time there were not words to make it concise. (i.e. "I stood, shocked, unable to move." take out 'shocked' and give more description to Alexander battling with this invisible emotional force not allowing him to act.)

*get rid of the contractions to make it sound more formal: don't , it's

*describe the warnings that were given to Alexander before the trip without using direct quotes. It doesn't seem fitting for the time period. (i am just basing this from things i have read from a similar time period... however, see below:)

*I like the addition of the newspaper quote but could you put it in the context of time? At first i didn't understand that he was speaking of an article he had found -since- the event occurred because it comes in the middle of his chronological telling of the story. Also it might make it seem more real if Alexander gives a publisher name and date of the article. Again, more formalities.

of course, you can take or leave any of this. But I would like to see you come back to this story.

bravo again!
and THANK YOU for posting!
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On October 6th, 2007 03:12 am (UTC), megatron666 commented:
Thanks for the comment. I am interested in the New Madrid earthquake simply because it happened so close to here that I can see the results of it every day.

I wrote a much longer response to this, but it was lost. I am planning on re-writing this, it being only a first draft. I will take your suggestions into consideration while I'm re-writing it (especially adding more flowery writing and getting rid of contractions).

The newspaper article doesn't have a source because it's from the article I based the story on.
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