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Author Topic: EP505: Falling Leaves  (Read 3404 times)
eytanz
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« on: September 30, 2015, 08:24:32 AM »

EP505: Falling Leaves

By Liz Argall

Read by Emily Hickson

---

Charlotte and Nessa met in Year Eight of Narrabri High School. Charlotte’s family were licensed refugees from the burning lands and the flooded coast, not quite landed, but a step apart from refugees that didn’t have dog tags.

Charlotte sat on the roof, dangled her legs off the edge and gazed at the wounded horizon, as she did every lunchtime. Nessa, recognizing the posture of a fellow animal in pain, climbed up to see what she could do. The mica in the concrete glittered and scoured her palms as she braced herself between an imitation tree and the wall and shimmied her way up.

She had to be careful not to break the tree, a cheap recycled–plastic genericus — who’d waste water on a decorative tree for children? The plastic bark squished beneath Nessa’s sneakers, smelling of paint thinner and the tired elastic of granny underpants.

Nessa tried to act casual once she got to the top, banging her knee hard as she hauled herself over the ledge and ripping a fresh hole in her cargos. She took a deep breath, wiped her sweaty hands, and sat down next to Charlotte.

“‘Sup?” said Nessa.

“Go away.” Charlotte kicked her feet against the wall and pressed her waxy lips together.

“You gonna jump?”

“No. I’m not an attention seeking whore like you,” said Charlotte.

Nessa shrugged her shoulders, as if that could roll away the sting. Rolling with the punches was what she did. “You look sad.”

Charlotte bared her teeth. “I said, I’m not like you. Leave me alone.”

Nessa wanted to say, “Fuck you,” but she didn’t. Nessa wanted to find magic words to fix Charlotte in an impatient flurry. She couldn’t. Nessa scratched her scars for a while and felt like puking, but she didn’t think that would help either. Neither would hitting Charlotte’s head against a wall and cracking Charlotte’s head into happiness, although Nessa could imagine it so violently and brightly it felt like she’d done it. Nessa had banged her own head against walls to get the pain out of her head and chest, but it never worked — or rather it never worked for long enough, leading to a worse, moreish pain.

Nessa didn’t know what to do, so she just sat there, feeling chicken shit, until the bell summoned them into class.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Father Beast
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« Reply #1 on: September 30, 2015, 08:25:59 PM »

What I saw was a couple of girls in the throes of teenageitus, who become friends, and one of them is terribly hurt in an accident (or was it?). Could be set in any uncaring inner city school.

The story was OK, though I was kind of meh on it. But, did I miss something? was there some sort of fantastic element to the story? Both the intro and the outro talked about post apocalyptic stories, but I failed to see that in the story. Is that some sort of reference to the apocalypse of the deadly fall?

Or maybe the story wasn't holding my attention enough for me to see the fantastic parts.
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zoanon
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« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2015, 02:24:43 AM »

I loved this.
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Moon_Goddess
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« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2015, 12:47:11 PM »

I wanted to like this story, it had so many elements that are perfect for me...   

But the protagonist, she's just so unlikeable.  I couldn't stand her.   Alasdair seemed to identify with her, and I guess my childhood was just not that angry.
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Was dream6601 but that's sounds awkward when Nathan reads my posts.
literatish
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« Reply #4 on: October 12, 2015, 01:05:03 AM »

Wow, this story didn't fuck around. I appreciated Alasdair's commentary about exploring the lives of apocalypse survivors. I imagine part of why that's difficult to write or read is that those lives can mirror modern ones so terribly closely. I mean, we've all had our drunken outbursts of, "We're living in the zombie apocalypse and the vacant bodies are our own," right?

I can't help but appreciate stories like this, that show young people trying to live normal lives against a background of unspeakable trauma, both in their own lives and at large in the world surrounding them. It's so easy to criticize the coping mechanisms of teenagers, especially girls, as frivolous, attention seeking, dramatic... This story expressed the untruth of those criticisms beautifully for me. The presence of the Burners, and each character's relation to them, both legitimized self-harm as a response to trauma emphasized the individual, personal nature of any coping mechanism. Support is important, but there will always be people who feel like outsiders, even among those with shared experiences.

I loved that Nessa was represented as violent and brimming with anger. That's a coping mechanism that isn't often represented in female characters. Moon_Goddess thought this was a pretty unlikeable character, and I kind of agree, but I don't see that as a criticism of the writing. I thought Nessa was a really well-written character. She doesn't get along with people and she's not a likable person, but I can't see why she should be. I loved her.
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Zelda
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« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2015, 02:06:26 AM »

Wow, this story didn't fuck around. I appreciated Alasdair's commentary about exploring the lives of apocalypse survivors. I imagine part of why that's difficult to write or read is that those lives can mirror modern ones so terribly closely. I mean, we've all had our drunken outbursts of, "We're living in the zombie apocalypse and the vacant bodies are our own," right?

Wrong. Not all of us have. Nor did I experience adolescence as the agony that Alasdair's second person outro told me I had. The difference between widely shared experiences and universal experiences is at the core of much of the discussion on this forum.

Nessa came from the most privileged group in the story, she was one of the landed rather than a displaced refugee. Given that, I would have liked some hint why she was the angriest and most violent character. As a near-homicidal cutter she came across to me as significantly more emotionally damaged than Charlotte and the Burners. I can't help wondering how that came about.
« Last Edit: October 14, 2015, 02:15:41 AM by Zelda » Logged
Father Beast
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« Reply #6 on: October 14, 2015, 05:29:44 AM »

Wow, this story didn't fuck around. I appreciated Alasdair's commentary about exploring the lives of apocalypse survivors. I imagine part of why that's difficult to write or read is that those lives can mirror modern ones so terribly closely. I mean, we've all had our drunken outbursts of, "We're living in the zombie apocalypse and the vacant bodies are our own," right?

Wrong. Not all of us have. Nor did I experience adolescence as the agony that Alasdair's second person outro told me I had.


I agree. My adolescence was pretty alright. However, thanks to an evil parent figure, my childhood was a nightmare. Since I spent so much of my childhood being actually scared, I have no desire to seek out scares. Horror has no appeal to me. I don't listen to Pseudopod, despite its popularity.
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Chairman Goodchild
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« Reply #7 on: October 15, 2015, 04:16:18 AM »

 In the setting of an ill-defined post-apocalyptic world, two teen-aged girls make friends, one a member of the upper class, one a member of the lower class, then there's a suicide attempt by upper-class girl while the other struggles not to cut herself with razor blades, then both resolve their issues with a climb to a mountaintop that becomes a life-defining spiritual experience.

I suspect I'm not the target demographic for this story, so I'll let it pass.
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hardware
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« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2015, 02:35:38 AM »

I might not be the target demographic either, but I kind of loved this anyway. I thought the way it captured the messiness of the emotional state of a teenager was pretty impressive. Is it the experience of everyone ? No, but I bet most people had people in their school like these. And no, social privilege is no vaccine against being messed up or self-destructive (also, in a post-apocalyptic story it's not like you need an excuse to be a bit damaged). 
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Father Beast
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« Reply #9 on: October 16, 2015, 04:19:07 AM »

(also, in a post-apocalyptic story it's not like you need an excuse to be a bit damaged). 


Once again, where's the post-apocalyptic setting? Is the world today a post-apocalyptic world? Because I can't tell the difference between today's world and this setting.
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literatish
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« Reply #10 on: October 16, 2015, 03:39:21 PM »

Once again, where's the post-apocalyptic setting?

Oh, it's vague - deliberately I think. The people in the story were safe from "the burning lands," but it was implied that those lands were still actively engulfed in fire and no one could live there. I personally made the wild extrapolation, based on the burner practice of using the sun to burn their bodies, that certain areas of the globe were exposed to powerful solar radiation because of a damaged atmosphere.

So not exactly end of the world, but a huge refugee crisis. There's also a strong implication that population is way down because teenage students go to school not to learn, but to do factory work. So, a lot of questions left unanswered, but I think the sparse world building managed to suggest an atmosphere of global upheaval.

The difference between widely shared experiences and universal experiences is at the core of much of the discussion on this forum.

That's a really good point, and I think it's also at the core of this story. Everyone, including Nessa, shares the trauma of living in a world where the burning lands have devastated the population and high schoolers are compelled into factory work. But some people have, obviously, suffered a lot more and lost much more. Some of the refugees are literally unable to let go of the experience of being burned and transform their bodies into memorials of the burned lands, reliving the experience of their pain the whole time. And, humans being what they are, those with something still to cling to agree that the people who've lost less deserve more, and refugees are called scum and marginalized even more. So the extent to which the experience is shared is erased by those who aren't forced to face it and want to believe that it doesn't affect them.

I want to point out that Nessa has a private trauma too - it's implied, again pretty vaguely, that she has some kind of chronic illness and has been in pain for a lot of her life. "Nessa had banged her own head against walls to get the pain out of her head and chest, but it never worked — or rather it never worked for long enough, leading to a worse, moreish pain." So despite her landedness, it's not as if she's living such a privileged life because she's defined by a private illness.

She's sort of forced to hide her personal pain because of the much more visible pain surrounding her, so her self-harm is a way to show her pain outwardly. Charlotte contrasts this by sharing in the world-defining trauma of being a refugee from the burned lands, but preferring to keep her pain inside and try to forget. There's a huge gulf between their experiences, but something in common, too.

Also, my comment about the zombie apocalypse outburst was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I'm entirely aware that most people do not think that way. Sorry if that seemed to be dictating experiences.
« Last Edit: October 16, 2015, 04:07:20 PM by literatish » Logged
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #11 on: October 29, 2015, 11:43:58 AM »

I felt like this story was good, but not in a way that clicked with me personally, if that makes sense?  The characters felt real, their struggle felt real, and I did get a sense of post-apocalypse too, though it was very suggested rather than stated--the hints at the burning lands, the talk about the extreme absurdity of having a non-plastic tree just for decoration for children.  I feel like it should've been powerful for me, but something that I haven't figured out made it not stick the landing.  I felt like there were a lot of interesting happenings and powerful thematic elements but they didn't quite tie together into a story that really struck home, for some reason.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #12 on: November 06, 2015, 11:44:21 AM »

Hm, this was a difficult one for me. I can definitely see why it would speak so strongly to people, and I really appreciate the commentary by literatish. Many of those contrasts and parallels were muddled for me as I continuously struggled to remember which one was Nessa and which was Charlotte.

The self-harm element is also tough. I know that it's a prevalent response to pain and trauma, particularly at this age. However, in my mind it's similar to suicide. As in, not a helpful option and please please let someone know so that they can help you find a viable, helpful option. Yet the society in this story pretty much glorified self-harm, which made it much harder for me to become engrossed in it.
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Fenrix
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« Reply #13 on: November 25, 2015, 07:48:52 AM »


Wow, this story didn't fuck around. I appreciated Alasdair's commentary about exploring the lives of apocalypse survivors. I imagine part of why that's difficult to write or read is that those lives can mirror modern ones so terribly closely. I mean, we've all had our drunken outbursts of, "We're living in the zombie apocalypse and the vacant bodies are our own," right?



Also, my comment about the zombie apocalypse outburst was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I'm entirely aware that most people do not think that way. Sorry if that seemed to be dictating experiences.


I thought it was rather clever, and captures an element in much of the zombie fiction I find entertaining. The zombie film started as social commentary, and that's where it excels. Night of the Living Dead includes all kinds of social commentary including government and race, and Dawn of the Dead includes consumer culture commentary, and Shawn of the Dead includes discussion about change and our slacker culture.
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CryptoMe
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« Reply #14 on: November 02, 2017, 10:07:48 AM »

I am not sure how I feel about this story. To me, the characters here were so alien that, if they had been written as non-humans, it would have made more sense to me. Don't get me wrong, I understand teen angst and trauma (my adolescence was definitely worse than average, though not at the far end of the scale), but I so don't understand these kinds of coping mechanisms. It didn't help me that the author used the "show don't tell" technique of conveying what the characters were feeling. Generally, this is a good writing technique, but because I so cannot relate to these characters, I really needed a lot more "tell" in this particular case.  Oh well...
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