The Great Commission

Stephen slipped.
A bolt of panic struck him in the chest as his feet flew out in front of him. He felt weightless for a sliver of a moment. He could see the land and the water stretch out around him, green and gray, in all directions for miles.
It’s a much bigger world than I would have ever guessed.
Look how far off it all goes!
For Stephen, God’s creation had just proven itself deadly. As he hung in the air, though, for that weightless moment, it also proved its unfathomable beauty. The sky was dark and gray like the smooth cold slate table where Stephen sat so many Tuesday nights with the Town Council at Council Hall. The water was gray too, but there were paper thin white lines scrawled all over it on the waves wherever they were cresting, and a couple of long dark brown aberrations which, he thought, were probably sand bars, though it was difficult to know for sure from two hundred feet above the water.Back in Paradise he often had nightmares about falling. He hated the way those dreams made his heart race, and his skin cold and clammy. He hated having to sit still for so long afterwards to calm himself down.
This wasn’t a dream. He was falling. He hadn’t realized how slick the bridge’s steel I-beams had become in the freezing rain. When the ice rain was intensifying as he made his approach to the I-Beam platform, walking wires weren’t getting slicker. He side-stepped along the bottom wire, and guided the top wire under his arms and across his chest and nothing felt different or any more dangerous than the previous two miles of bridge-wire he’d crossed. He must have been wrong though, because here he was.

The instance of weightlessness ended and he again felt himself being pulled back to Earth. Then, in an instant, he smacked down onto the frozen steel platform. He rolled onto his belly. His legs were hanging off of the edge, pulling him down. He was sliding fast and he couldn’t stop. He felt the edge of the platform pushing up against his ribs. He stopped sliding for just a second, as his bottom rib struggled to clear the edge.
His lower body felt heavier than he thought it should have. It was like the two hundred feet of open air between his feet and the gray storm of a lake below had somehow added a few dozen extra pounds. His ribs stopped the sliding, but just for a second. When he breathed in again, he slid another inch and his ribcage stopped him once more. His hands moved forward slowly across the slick beam toward the other edge. He thought he could reach it. His fingertips brushed the end of the platform, but he couldn’t grasp it.
He started slipping more rapidly. He slammed his palms onto the icy surface of the beam, and tried to dig his fingernails into the wet ice. He felt a hot dull tearing pain as the fingernails on his right index and middle fingers peeled backward and relinquished what little grip they were gaining on the ice. He was going over the edge. The edge was up to his armpits now. He couldn’t stop it.
The wire!
God called him to walk a thousand miles, in every direction, and spread the gospel to the rest of the world. Yet, there on that small steel platform, two hundred feet above the lake and less than seventy miles from his bed, his life and his mission nearly ended. Stephen rolled, put his arms out, and let himself fall off of the edge.
He was thankful he slid over this edge, and not the other. As he fell, his right arm bent at the elbow and hooked onto the walking wire. As it did, he brought his left arm around and clasped his arms together.
The rest of his body jerked to a stop. Stephen tightened his grip and everything finally stopped.

Stephen was able to bring his legs up to the green steel I-beam he’d just fell off of, and pull his body up over the wire. He stood back up on the wire and stepped back on the sheet of ice covering the steel platform.
His feet slid slowly, right back toward the opposite edge. This time he wasn’t surprised by the slick surface and he held on tight to beam above him.
He gained control over his footing, and his situation. He looked back at the two and a half miles he’d come on the walking wires, and then he turned his head south and saw the two and a half miles he’d need to cover before the ice storm got too intense.
The wires, which were strung between these steel platforms, and on which he’d traveled half way across this five mile long bridge, were interrupted here. Stephen could see the top wire continued on as normal. It looked strong to him, and it was anchored on the next platform several hundred feet away. But he couldn’t see the bottom wire. It was gone.
Jennifer taught him how to tie a double eight harness. She and Stephen used it to pull felled trees, but she said that it could also be worn by rock climber or to go across a rope that was strung between two high up places, like the tops of trees.
Stephen thought, these steel platforms are just the trees. I can tie a harness, sit in it, and attach the other end to the wire. Then I can hang on the wire from my hands, and go hand-over-hand the whole way across. If I got tired, I could let go and dangle in the harness.
He reached into his side bag to pull out his twenty foot rope.
I watched her tie them a thousand times. This should be no problem. Plus, she made me that book.
He tugged out his twenty foot rope and let it unfurl. When the last of the rope popped out of the bag, Stephen heard a snapping sound and looked down to see what it was.
The rope pulled something out of the bag.
That something, it turned out, was the handbook that Jennifer made him.

Ice and rain pelted his face, while his long coat tugged and snapped wildly behind him in the endless wind. With his stiff, blistered and carelessly ungloved left hand, he pulled his black scarf down to get a better look at Jennifer’s book, Tying Proper Knots, as it fell two hundred feet below toward the bleak, darkening lake.

6 thoughts on “The Great Commission

  1. vanessafowler says:

    I’m going to make comments as I read:
    I feel disoriented at the beginning, which I think you may have done intentionally, but the confusion lasts too long, I think. I have no idea what is happening to Stephen and his slip is not making sense.
    I’m guessing that sentences like “It’s a much bigger world than I would have ever guessed.
    Look how far off it all goes!” are italicized in your original?
    Comparing the sky to slate is cool – comparing it to a “council” table just totally ruined the imagery for me.
    The sentence where you describe the water is super long.
    If there is ice rain, shouldn’t that come first in the descriptions? I think that’s pretty important.
    Are you going back to describe how he is walking across some sort of wire bridge? That’s cool – why didn’t you start there? That context would have helped a lot, and falling off a bridge is interesting.
    The descriptions sound super cool – I love them! but I honestly have no idea what is going on – an you give even just a touch of context – like one sentence? Then I could relate to/understand what is going on.
    Okay, finally, you give a clue – but it’s still super vague. What is he trying to do in those moments, before he’s trying to survive his fall?

    hand-over-hand for over 2 miles? that sounds like a major stretch.

    I think this beginning could be super cool. i love that he’s trying to make it across this incredible bridge, and that he’s on a mission. i love that he falls and that he has to figure his way across creatively. But right now, the coolness is hindered by the lack of clarity. i think some simple switches/edits could go a long way and make a huge difference.

    Also, you go into his thoughts at the beginning, but then you don’t do it again. It would be neat to go back into his thoughts.

    From here I hope you give a bit of info about him really soon – age, description etc.

    I would be really curious to see what happens in this story!

  2. dlodes1 says:

    I must admit I was confused about what is going on here. Why is he here? What’s the purpose. I had a hard time picturing where he was. A five mile bridge? Not to many bridges like that. Why would he be up there? You mention he was suppose to spread the gospel, but what does all this have to do with that? Is he a preacher?
    I’m curious about the story, but not sure where you are going with this beginning.

  3. Andrew says:

    VANESSAFOWLER – Yes.. I do agree that switching around some of the descriptive language and adding some of the context early is a great idea. The intention was for the very beginning to be disoriented, but you may have a point that it lasts too long. Also, yes, several of those lines are inner-dialogue, and have their own paragraph and are in Italics… they are meant to help ground the reader. (please let me know which story is yours, and i’ll make sure to read it next )

    DLODES1: I understand that you/any reader might be confused about WHY he’s there… that is also intentional, though, it seems, not really well executed 🙂 Almost immediately after this opening Scene, the main character, once out of harms way for a moment, has more bits and pieces of narrative flashback, and there’s a bit of “artful” exposition as well. So the reader’s not kept COMPLETELY in the dark… BUT along his journey he’s going to deal with so many extremely perilous obstacles and situations that it felt natural to start with one… and keeping it intentionally ONLY about what’s happening just at that moment. (Please let me know which story is yours, and I’ll make sure to read it right after VanessaFowler’s)

    FOR CONTEXT: (this will be added / moved into earlier paragraphs now) He’s on a five mile long bridge which is a very old and rusted suspension bridge. the road surface has fallen into the lake years ago, but a person called “The Bridge Base Man” has build this wire path across it.. one wire to stand on, one wire to hold onto…and you side-step your way across. The wires are strung between Steel ibeam platfoms each about 100 feet from the next…and a person can stop and rest on them. He is crossing this bridge because he thinks God told him to go on a mission. He is a young pastor in a very small and totally isolated town. Outside of that town nobody has ever heard of/read about the bible, God or Jesus. (bonus: the bridge is the Mackinac Bridge which connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, and it actually is about 5 miles long) anyway my first draft is done, and i’ve written about 75 different opening scenes… this one seems like the most promising, and i REALLY REALLY appreciate your input and help… thanks!

    • vanessafowler says:

      Hi Andrew! Thank you for your willingness to read mine. It’s Mirror of Sparrows in the YA fantasy section- please see the comments for the updated version I posted. The beginning is pretty junk, but hopefully it gets more fun to read after that! Thanks again!!!

  4. Jen says:

    Overall, the suspense was well portrayed and kept me interested. I’d be curious know more about him and his mission. The beginning was confusing. Although you state Stephen is weightless it really didn’t register that he was seeing and thinking all of this during his fall. It became obvious a few paragraphs in but you might lose a few people in those first paragraphs. Stephen’s thought: Look how far off it all goes! seemed unreasonable, if someone is falling wouldn’t they have more worrisome thoughts?

    I’m curious about “Paradise” . hard to think of paradise in the middle of this scene. would look forward to learning more about that (and the dreams) as the reader.

    It’s hard to imagine why someone would be skirting across 5 mile steel bridge wires in that weather. Especially on the steel wires as opposed to walking across the bridge itself. I know he’s on God’s mission but did God give him a deadline? why didn’t he wait out the storm?

    You have an opportunity to build another moment of suspense by omitting or moving the line: (his life and his mission nearly ended)…… The next line is : Stephen rolled, put his arms out, and let himself fall off of the edge. As the reader I already know he and his mission will survive from the previous line, before I even read about the fall.

    The imagery of his ribs (and nails) holding him up was good. The line about the armpits was awkward. perhaps find another way to create the visual, but make Stephen/his armpits the emphasis of the sentence, not the edge.

    “He tugged out his….” awkward description of getting the rope but like the use of the word “unfurl”. Once I read that he had a rope I wondered why someone skirting across steel bars over water in sleet wouldn’t have already been using the rope for safety.

    What is he thinking when the book falls or when he is slipping? If he’s on God’s errand perhaps he’d be praying or literally screaming to God for help.

    I like the description at the end about the weather, pelting him in the face, jacket slapping, etc. that might have worked better earlier on. It would have made this harrowing fall that much more intense.

    the council stuff didn’t stick or resonate b/c I was too busy imagining the harrowing scene. as the reader I’d need to hear more about it later.

    good luck with your writing!!

  5. Pam Portland (@TruckingWriter) says:

    So I have been across Big Mac, and why would anyone be up on the bridge without being tethered unless they were insane or suicidal or, as you mention and suggest in the writing, is being, “called by God?” In all three cases, I am not excited abot where this story is taking me. If he commits suicide, the story is pretty much over. If the main character is insane, the entire story seems like it would have to be about bringing him back to reality. [A good book for similar reference is “I Am The Cheese.”] If he is called by God, and feels compelled to be up on a bridge, I refer back to my previous point.

    There is strong, creative imagery, but going back to Ellen’s first lesson, what is this character’s goal? Getting off the bridge? Regaining his sanity? Going for a wintry swim in Lake Michigan? If it’s just getting to the other side, maybe he should buy a bus ticket. I’m just not sure at this point.

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