Hello from the Dogpatch, and welcome to the dogfight! Here’s a selection from a short story by Wes Pierce, followed by critical comments. Dogpatch Writers Collective occasionally posts these excerpts of our group critiques of work in progress, and we’d love to know what you think about the excerpt or what we had to say about it.
This story isn’t titled yet. Wes called it “A Work in Progress.” To give you some context, a feckless ranger is assigned to lead a busload of work-release inmates to build fire breaks during the Great Western Fires:
This was when Shoehorn took over. Never in my life had I seen a man handle an instrument the way Shoehorn did an ax, nor take such joy in physical mastery over an object. He would set his initial cut on a downward slope, one clear ringing thwak! burying the head of the ax right up to the handle. With a booted foot he pushed to dislodge the ax-head from the tree; then another thwak! at an upward angle, lower down from the first and right up to the handle again. Finally a third and a fourth stroke to the topmost angle — then a fifth and sixth, maybe a seventh, to the bottommost — and out plopped a hunk of tree the size and shape of a large slice of watermelon. He would do the same to the other side of the trunk, lower down: seldom more than two or three dozen strokes total and the heart of the tree lay exposed and vulnerable. You almost could have pushed the tree down with a good shove of your boot.
Shoehorn was taking down trees twice as fast as any of the rest of us. He was like a machine. Looking again at those arms of his — it seemed now to me that they ended in massive knuckled appendages, hard and shiny from usage, like hooves — made me think of the hydraulic machinery in those old black-and-white movies based in newspaper offices, with their shots of the giant presses churning out the next day’s breaking news in those swirling montages.
And so while the rest of us dug trenches or paired off and went to work with the whipsaws, Shoehorn struck out on his own, taking down the smaller and medium-sized trees in a more or less straight line several hundred feet ahead of us. Since there wasn’t always enough equipment to go around now, there were times when each of us got to rest; which was fine, I guess. But I didn’t feel much like sitting back and watching, for it always had been my unhappy lot in life to sit by and look on, with envy or disbelief, at those guys who knew how to accomplish things with their hands. On a branch above me a squirrel watched too, a small pine cone paused ruminatively before its mouth, while all around us men busily went about their business. Just about my whole life it seemed I had been unwilling poster child for the inadequacies of a Liberal Arts education. I could only stand aside as other guys fixed their own cars, or impressed the girls in our dorm by rewiring a broken washing machine so those luscious young honeys could wash their delicately-soiled underthings, while I watched my t-shirts and jeans and white cotton briefs roll and tumble impotently in a dryer nearby. Continue reading