The Gloom of Righteousness

The pain was gone at last. The rest was is easy, just head into the light and ignore the distractions of the world. Silently John congratulated himself on preparing so well. Slowly, savouring the moment, he opened his eyes.

“After all”, he thought, “you only get to die once.”

The light, the glowing doorway to eternity, was before him. John felt the warm satisfaction of being right. Jackson might have got that corner office, the girl and the BMW but one day he’ll be sitting here and know John was wise to invest in the spiritual.

As his eyes adjusted he saw Master Sighn sitting on the dirty maroon floor. Dressed, as always, in simple black cotton he looked, as always, utterly serene.

John looked up sharply and spoke, “You taught me all about the light and a place of eternal gloom but you never mentioned a maroon carpet. So you don’t know everything after all.”

“Moron,” Master Sighn uttered impassively.

“I studied at your feet for seven years; paid good money to learn to die – and you ripped me off – any idiot can walk into the light.”

“You’re an idiot,” replied Sighn, “what are you waiting for?”

This reply, delivered with such disinterest, irritated John.

“Did you ever teach me anything useful?”

“It seems I never taught you anything.”

This time Sighn’s gentle tone really upset John who snapped, “Well I might have missed some lessons but I read the book and it didn’t mention any smoky, red office cubicles.”

John sat snarling and considered all he had sacrificed: the steak he resisted; the hours of Zazen practice, endless fees and classes and the hours of practising detachment. He always hated that stuff with a passion.

Master Singh sighed quietly. He stood slowly. He walked away into the light – closing the door behind him.

9 thoughts on “The Gloom of Righteousness”

  1. The idea is interesting. I love the way we have found all these different lights.

    I like how annoying John is and the marriage of enlightenment with one-upmanship.

    I had some trouble with the development of John’s experience – his mood changes from warm satisfaction to bickering very quickly. I kept reading back thinking I had missed something about the change. There are other moments where I had him standing and suddenly he was sitting which made me go look for when he sat down (it’s not important normally but for a man about to walk into the light, sitting down is a big change).

    I don’t know if it can be avoided, but I found the repetition of “John” distracting.

    I would watch adverbs, they can be evil.

    Consider commas or differently constructed sentences.

    A lot of things I’ve read about writing recommend just sticking to “said” with dialogue as the alternatives can seem contrived.

    These are nitpickings though! :) Hope they help.

    1. Thanks Parf,

      Crit is useful – I chose this idea because I don’t like my dialogue writing much – it appears more and braver dialogue practice lies in my future.

      Standing / sitting – good point, obvious in retrospect – and easy to fix

  2. +1 for annoying John, in a good way. Even the Master is annoyed!

    Great idea. Like how convinced John was that going through the motions was going to be enough, and how he hasn’t actually been able to shake his worldly, um, problems.

    [Constructive Criticism!]

    Dig the content of John’s “I studied…” mini-speech, but feel the delivery is slightly stilted.

    I felt that some of the descriptions could’ve been ditched. “This time Sighn’s gentle tone really upset John who snapped” felt a bit forced and could have been implied a bit more in John’s choice of words instead.

    1. Yeah dialogue is not my friend atm.
      Agree trying to spice up dull dialogue interludes with bits of content-light description is a failed tactic for me.

  3. This was twisty and satisfying, rather a fun take on the “head for the light” cliché. I agree with the other commenters that the names are a bit distracting, possibly because the piece is so short; if there are only two characters you could actually not name them other than calling one “the Master”, it should be easy to differentiate him from your point-of-view character. My feeling here is that you’ve wasted words a bit in description which isn’t strictly necessary.

    “Uttered impassively” jars on me slightly. You have to be very careful with verbs other than “say”, they can sound too much as though you’re obviously avoiding saying “he said”. Which, I’ve just realised, Parfles said above. Ignore me.

  4. Your micfic is about John, a man who has just died and “followed the light” into his afterlife, only to find that it’s not what he’s signed up for. He meets his previous Master (who, I presume, is also dead), and John complains to him about the quality of the lessons the Master had given him. The Master is not impressed with John’s behaviour, and says that John has not learnt anything. John himself seems to reconsider the worth of his previous self-denial.

    I enjoyed the style of the dialogue and the conflict it brought up, in which both people think the other is wrong. I took the Master’s side because John was an idiot, but I had no reason, other than that, to suspect that the Master is right.

    I had a problem with the sense of place, especially between the second paragraph (in which John is moving towards the light) and the third
    (in which John sees his ex-Master sitting on the floor). I assume the
    floor was not in the passageway (was it a passageway?) that John was
    previously walking through?

    Some nitpicks:

    There are a fair number of adverbs, if you’re the sort that wants to cut down on them.

    There were a number of places where I thought a comma could have been placed before the word “but”.

    A nit supreme, but it’s about dialogue so I thought you’d be interested:

    > “You’re an idiot,” replied Sighn, “what are you waiting for?”

    The two things Sighn is saying here sound like two separate sentences. Consider instead:

    “You’re an idiot,” replied Sighn. “What are you waiting for?”

    Thanks for sharing you work :)

  5. I really like the idea in your piece that the self-righteous man has a lot more to learn. I thought the dialogue with an old master was a lovely way of showing it.

    I found your tense changes a little abrupt at times. I also thought that the paradigm in which the story is set was a bit unclear. You clearly state that John practices zazen, which is part of buddism. So, he must be expecting to have reached enlightenment and in fact be in a waiting area for his reincarnation. I really like this setting. But, the line at the beginning about only dying once, and the colour of the waiting area (which for me had strong overtones of the red of hell) both confused me.

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