Wednesday, March 7, 2018

March Secret Agent Contest #23

TITLE: In Jake's Shoes
GENRE: Adult Southern Contemporary

November 28th
Khost, Afghanistan

I knew the chow line would be long, so I stayed behind to let it shorten. No one wanted to stand or eat too close to anybody serving in the Mortuary Affairs Unit, anyway. Working around dead people left a smell.

I lay still as a bird dog on point. My eyes were open, but I couldn’t see a thing. I had taken off my boots and socks, because I wanted to feel the smoothness of the plastic under my heels and on the tops of my toes. As the plastic settled over my body, its heaviness was comforting, like the thick wool blanket mama used to lay across me on cool nights when I pretended I was asleep. I felt its weight and coolness where it touched my naked forehead, nose, cheeks, heels and toes. I tried not to let my chest heave too much, so I took deep, slow breaths. It didn’t matter. Each breath heaved my chest enough to crinkle-crackle the plastic, as if bone beetles scurried across the outside surface, searching for ingress.

Time stood nearly as still as I lay. No red dirt swirled up my nose. No fingers sweated inside my blood covered gloves. No dog tags lay crumpled on the ground to collect and catalog. No tattered pockets to search for hidden “I love you,” notes from wives. No wrinkled, bloodied photographs of unseen babies to smooth and place in plastic baggies. No leg-less, foot-filled boots to un-lace to remove the ragged stump.


  1. I think this is great. The second sentence is a surprise and hooks me with its strangeness and morbidity. Then the third sentence adds humor to the shock of having a mortuary worker as the main character. Nice juxtaposition.

    I think I'd cut a little from paragraph 2 to get to paragraph 3 faster. Paragraph 3 contains wonderful, if awful, details.

    I'd definitely read on.

  2. You have a lot of wonderful details that draw the reader into your story. I'm not sure if I missed the link between the opening paragraph and the the next two? While I thought they were both well written and highlighted with compelling specific details that drew me into your story, I was confused. it seemed one minute the character was waiting and watching the chow line and the next they were laying on a morgue table. Okay, after rereading, I get that that's where they are while they wait. Awww. I would suggest making that a bit more clear. Took me three reads to get there. Good luck!

  3. Not knowing much about military affairs, I enjoyed a different twist on the MC working for the Mortuary Affairs Unit. Can't say I've read a military story with one of those in it!

    I with say, though, that I was confused by the MC under the plastic. I guess my question is...why? Perhaps you get to why later on, but I would agree with shortening a bit of this paragraph in order to get to the third one. You have some very lovely details in there that really set the tone.

  4. This is really striking. A unique character (I didn’t know about the mortuary unit!) and really vivid and poignant mise en scene. I too had a slight bit of confusion of whether our protagonist was standing and observing the chow line or not, but otherwise, really strong writing.