So I'm working on a short story called Life In Hindsight. It's about an elderly widower who travels back in time and kills his past self so he may spend time with his late wife.
I'm on my first draft of it. I'm utterly dismayed at its current condition, and wish to scrap it. I'm going to post what I have written so far and take your comments, critiques, and suggestions into consideration.
A flock of birds sat perched on an old oak tree. They sang a chorus that could put any professional choir to shame, the tune gliding across the spring sky before dissipating in the warm air. The birds unwittingly propelled the song into a nearby funeral, disrupting the sober proceedings. It was a quiet affair with a small crowd of stonefaced men and weeping women adorned in black. There was an elderly thing old enough for a pension, a widower. With eyes bloodshot and bordered by red rings, his emotionless face splintered and grief crawled from his throat with choked sobs. He hated the song of the birds, the clear blue sky above, the blooming trees, warm, humid air and even the flowers on the coffin. The World proudly, cruelly stood in mockery of the deceased, sneering at the ill mood.
The widower arrived home. It was a large house, buried deep in nowhere, living only in the company of itself. Trees were encroaching on the property, a forest line slowly retaking farm land that had long since been of any use. Where crops were once herded and cattle left alone to graze, tall grass and weed had sprouted as the lichen of the wild, heralding nature's advance. A barn, striding through decay and disrepair, slowly fell apart at the climate's demand. The house's age was showing in the absence of a few fresh coats of paint.
He walked inside, greeted by a mess, as the funeral reception opted for discard rather than cleanliness. He was shocked by the friends of his own and the friends of his late wife, all of whom seemed to have forgotten any pretense of decency for that special occasion. Littered everywhere were plates of uneaten food and condiment, dinnerware, disposable cups, and food he had forgotten to put away. The elderly man went to the hardwood table, pulled back a chair and took a seat. Unbuttoning his suit coat, letting it hang freely, he cleared a space on the table upon which his elbows occupied; his bent arms were used to cradle his forehead, and he felt free to sigh. The pouches beneath the eye were starting to sag, painted a dull black by exhaustion.
The widower rested there for a short time in reflection. Bored, the man picked himself up and exited the kitchen, heading for the living room. He targeted the couch, moved to occupy, and proceeded at a slow and measured pace. He found a remote and turned on the television.
That evening, he migrated from show to show, channel to channel, and nothing he watched remedied his disinterest. After an hour, a sound of thunder broke his apathetic stare at the talking heads. A window in that room had been left open to cool down the house. The man sighed, and began the tired process of lifting himself off of the couch. When the widower crossed over to the window, he noted a few interloping water droplets that had breached the screen on the windowsill and promptly closed it shut. By the time he reached the couch, rain started falling. The storm clouds were cracked open by lightning lusting to smote the earth, causing them to discard torrential rain on the ground below. Light flashed through the glass while thunder pounded like war drums without command.
Sitting upon the cushions, he slowly grew tired without realizing it, as the night moved forward his consciousness gradually shutdown, and awareness was enveloped by the subconscious. He dreamed dreams he would not remember, each one starting without exposition and ending without closure as the sleeping mind processed, organized, and roiled quietly beneath the surface.
Days were no longer distinct. They lost their flavor, their meaning, and no longer made any effort to distinguish themselves from one another as if they were fabrics sewn together in a crude fashion. Every day shared the same feeling of absence that refused to be filled by anything, as if he were a man who was trying to open a lock and did not accept any key that it used. He tried to find solace in his wife's vast collection of books, but it led to only frustration as his mind could not make sense of their unexplained equations, formulas, variables, esoteric concepts and terminology. All offensives made to understand the texts broke upon walls of confusion, amounting to helpless incomprehension. He tried the yard instead, tried to make it respectable, and made efforts to clear it of unwanted weeds and wildflowers and saplings and to tame the leg-high grass. Toiling day after day, burning pile after pile, he soon gave up. The task he took upon himself bested his persistence, and any dulled feeling of futility soon lost its potency as he moved onto something else.
A forgettable month after the funeral, he stumbled upon something in his wife's workshop. She had meddled and dithered in sciences he made no attempt to understand, evident in the chalkboards filled with writings and equations that he ignored. It was the centerpiece that caught his attention.
It was a crude thing, a contraption of immense complexity, an aesthetic beast that assailed his senses. An array of tubes, wires, rivets, and metal plates that seemed to have been thrown upon a four-wheeled dolly. In what he inferred to be the front was a massive metal cabinet. Curious, he investigated and opened the protrusion's doors. On the back wall of the “cabinet” was a console- a screen and keyboard that came alive when exposed. The ugly, unpolished interface appeared on the display, and his eyes were drawn to a pair of words on it: “ZEITKONTROLLEGERÄT.” German? It must have been German. Zeit was Time, Kontrolle was control, though he was not aware of the meaning of Gerät. The elderly man leaned closer and climbed up some narrow steps to the computer. The device gave two options he could choose, “DEVELOP” and “TRIAL”. Opting for the latter, it became cluttered by lines of code and data that rolled down the screen. A line near the bottom read, “CURRENT: 05/13/2013”, and was superseded with a single inquiry: “DESIRED? (MM/DD/YYYY).”
The man was in no way an idiot. His eyes widened when he finally realized what it was his late wife had crafted. Cautious of what it may do, he climbed out of it and opened the garage door. He pushed it out, seeking to move it beyond the treeline a hundred meters in front of him. It was difficult, tiring, and fed upon his dwindling strength, but it took near an hour. Rubbing his palms almost greedily, he walked back up the “ZEITKONTROLLEGERÄT.” steps. He pondered for a minute before answering the Machine's question, typing in “05/13/2011.” It prompted the machine to reply with, “PLEASE CLOSE CASKET AND PRESS 'ENTER'.” As fast as he could, he turned around, pulled the doors shut, and pressed the rectangular key. He heard the machine hum to life, whirring and pulses growing so loud that he was going to plug his ears before dying down and trailing off.
The door hissed and divided, throwing itself open to reveal a disappointment. Nothing seemed to have changed, nothing to indicate that he went back, just the world's loudest novelty item. His eyes lost that activity and luster that comes with excitement, and his facial expression morphed into a sad one. He slowly, solemnly stepped out of the machine and followed the short stairway towards the ground. The man growing weary began to move in the direction of his house. He squinted in the evening's dying visibility, made even more difficult by the forest canopy soaking up the increasingly-scarce sunlight like a towel to a spilled glass. His progress was cautious, his eyesight both watching his feet and in front of him.
When he broke the treeline and he no longer had to press his eyelids together and squeeze the last drops of light into thirsty eyes, he noticed something about the house. There were lights in the windows when an hour ago they were unnecessary. Had someone entered the house in the short period of time he was away?
He resumed the caution he had left at the treeline and approached the house with as much wariness as his weariness allowed. Every step raised his apprehension, every foot of the distance crossed filling him with dread and anticipation, but refused to force him into wakefulness. Thoughts raced, hypotheses raised, propositions posed, time slowed and incredulity creeped over his doubt of the machine's function. Was it real? Did it really work?
Within the house he heard voices, it was his words and his voice coming from another man's mouth, and...
Her voice, her words, from the mouth of someone else.
He awoke from an hour of stunned silence, sitting against the house. The strangest of feelings permeated throughout his mind, a suffocating, smoggy haze of the queerest caliber. Perhaps it was incomprehension? The mind, unable to grasp a tangent it had embarked upon, plunged itself deep into surreality?
The door opened. The man glanced at his watch, noting the time, and realized that his wife's favorite TV show was on. In the low light, the person exiting the house passed by a far window, the light illuminating his face for just a second. The man, standing up, quietly gasped as he approached himself. Something about this mimic offended him at the very core of his being, and he walked towards him, a large rock with hand, and brutally broke open his head. His mind subsumed to instinct, and he unconsciously picked up the body by the arms and began dragging it out into the woods.
The man changed clothes with the cadaver, brushing dirt off before covering the corpse in various forest materials, a temporary burial. He was too shocked to do any of this consciously, willfully; something deep within him was doing all of the thinking, all of the moving, all of the deciding, because he was too much in shock to do anything.
He returned to the other man's, no, his wife... how much later? Whatever it was controlling him, time was unimportant. The night had stayed its normal dark, and no visual was available for the Moon that hid behind dense clouds. He entered the house, expecting questions, but she simply nodded to him as he entered. He stole a smile, rushing into a dark adjoining hallway where in the absence of light his will broke, and tears rolled down his face.
The elderly man walked upstairs, meeting a corridor at the top with two doors per side and one at the far end. He went to the first door, opening it, and turned on the light. It was a girl's room, Cristina’s room.. The bed was covered in dusty, flowery spread and a collection of stuffed animals. The walls were a faded pink, the shelves were covered with fashion magazines.
He proceeded to the corresponding door across the hall. This room was a painted a light brown, as if someone had smeared the walls with wet clay. Sports memorabilia and paraphernalia were littered throughout the room, from baseballs and footballs to posters of old sports stars. He thought that Daniel would have loved sports, something he never really grasped. A real athlete, perhaps.
The last room on this end of the hallway was another girl's room. Jane, she would have been. Books on philosophy, on science, on history. A real brainiac, he thought, someone whose gifted mind would be built to change the world, to achieve greatness, to make things better for the rest of man. The bedsheets were nothing special, dusty, the walls an indistinct color. She would not have cared for such things.
Skipping the bathroom, he went straight for his room and the bed. The man laid upon the mattress, head on the pillow. The day's strangeness had taken its toll and he quickly fell into sleep. His dreams were troubled, nightmarish, anxious, fearful, many featured the same segment ad infinitum, his own head caving in from the bash of a rock. If he had a say in the matter, he would have forgotten them as soon as he awoke, but the mind denied him any choice.
He woke early in the morning, and she was beside him, turned the other way. He glanced at the clock, a digital clock, that in red numbers indicted it was around 5:00 AM. The man groaned and leaned forward, swinging his legs slowly over the edge of the bed and stood up. He tip-toed across the room, fearing that she would wake, and headed downstairs.
Even sleep had no effect on his lack of comprehension. He was suspended in this state of incredulity fortified by his unconscionable act of murder. The man realized that the body had yet to be buried, even in a shallow grave. Without hesitation, he grabbed a flashlight and went out to an old shed to grab a shovel with as much speed as his old body allowed. He walked the one hundred meter gap to the Forest's broken wall, and found the body undisturbed beneath the leaves and rock.
Some changes I'm going to make in the next draft involve making the time machine a mysterious pool in the forest and introducing an experimental method of narration.
So... what should I do? Scrap or continue?
"Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person that doesn't get it."