Troy Packham sits in his parents’ cold, porcelain bathtub. If you listen you can hear his breathing — harsh and rapid, faster than a runner’s. This is hyperventilation. Hyperventilation occurs when an individual (like Troy) breathes in more than 20 litres of air a minute. In comparison, the average individual breathes in less than five litres of air in the same time. This rapid breathing removes excessive amounts of carbon dioxide from one’s blood, causing weakness, light-headedness, dizziness, muscle spasms, and tingling around the mouth and fingers. Troy only notices some of these symptoms — his mind is elsewhere.

Many things may cause hyperventilation, including massive blood loss. Thankfully, death by exsanguination is not a common occurrence, except in soldiers on the battlefield. And suicides, of course.

While the colour of red blood on white porcelain is easy to notice, a more interesting curiosity is the rhythmic flow of blood from Troy’s wrists. This is a sign that he has severed his arteries rather than merely his veins. The rhythm is in time with his weakening heart. Harder to see is the cardiac arrhythmia and shock, but the smell of iron is pungent and hangs heavy in the air. Shock is followed by cardiovascular collapse, cardiac arrest and death. These can often be easily noticed, even if you’re not paying much attention to the scene.

Troy has not filled the bathtub with water. Even if he had, it would make little difference: he only grows colder until his last breath leaves him in a shallow, shuddering rattle.

20 thoughts on “Rattle”

  1. I liked the highlighting of some words like hyperventilation, I think this should have continued with some of the other technical ones like arrhythmia and the like. It makes for a clinical tone, which goes with the setting of white and porcelain.I also noticed that you definitely got a lot of different senses in there – missing only taste. That’s very good.

    Was the long-short-long-short paragraph structure a conscious choice?

    Not to pick on you, specifically, this is a general comment, but you are all a load of grim buggers, BTW. Even the funny ones are pointed, and the serious ones are depressing. Maybe ‘soup’ will lighten the mood…

    1. …also _surprising_ lack of sex, or is that just me? It’s the _first_ place my brain went when I saw the theme “Breath” (before the breath=spirit=life angle).

    2. Thanks! Also, regarding taste, I wasn’t sure where to go with that 😛

      The long-short-long-short pattern just worked out that way: I wasn’t thinking about it when I worked on it.

  2. This is dark, clinical, creepy and very well conveyed. I really like the juxtaposition of the intimacy of conversation and presence, e.g. “if you listen you can hear…”, with the cold theoretical descriptions of what is happening to Troy. It is beautifully described and a sensual pleasure to read, although I felt a bit sad at the end – again the interesting juxtapositions. I also really like the flow from hyperventilation to exsanguination

    The italics didn’t really work for me, I think because there were only two of them. They felt a little out of place. It could also be that, although they are grouped by the italics, their form does not correspond in other ways. Hyperventilation is introduced almost exactly like a dictionary entry. Exsanguination is not immediately described in this way (only later in the next paragraph) – it is introduced almost as a throw-away comment.

  3. I really enjoyed this story, the tone is perfect and makes the description of the suicide fascinating – just cold and clinical enough to distance you, with little teasers of emotion that suddenly trigger emotion (his mind is elsewhere).

    I loved the tone, the itallics made it more cold and clinical, the underlying story is touching, and – good name. Troy Packham is an excellent name, and using the full name-and-surname really works in terms of that clinical vibe again.

    I really liked it and thought is was very successful.

    Word repeat watch: individual, breath, blood. Nothing too serious though :)

  4. I really liked this a lot. It’s got a great feel and pace to it, and it really drew me in straight away and kept my attention.

    I liked the italicisation of ‘hyperventilation’ – that really worked well. I just think ‘exsanguination’ shouldn’t be in italics; it feels a little overly didactic with it emphaised.

    Other very minor things – the first sentence of the third paragraph just jolted me out of the story a bit; I’m not sure exactly why, though. Also, the “can often be easily noticed” was a bit hard to read first time. Perhaps just “is easily noticed” instead? Oh, and, you mention that the shock, etc. is hard to see. Can it be seen at all? Doesn’t seem a visual thing.

    But the quibbles are really minor – I thought this was great.

    1. Thanks Monty :) As to the shock: I have no real idea how easy shock is to notice 😛 But I think there are enough signs that you could notice it easily enough if you tried (the hyperventilation, for example).

  5. The creation of pathos through the tone of clinical detachment is beautifully sustained in this – it comes across as an extremely restrained and controlled piece of writing, which I really enjoy. You’re using the detail beautifully to construct the act of suicide almost as a negative space, by describing everything around it rather than the thing itself. It’s an extremely effective technique given how easy it is to descend into cliché with that sort of theme.

    Strangely enough, given the theme, the one bit of this that didn’t quite work for me was the rattle of breath at the end, possibly because that did feel like a bit of a cliché. It’s an extremely minor quibble, though.

    1. Thanks, Docinatrix! I had a lot of fun writing this one. As to the end bit, I think that part of what could be making it feel a bit clichéd is that the last sentence is slightly on the melodramatic side.

  6. This story made me cold just reading it. I agree with the general consensus within the comments that the story sustains a wonderful feel of detachment which, I imagine, mirrors Troy’s feelings (or lack there of) throughout the story.

    For this reason it reminded me of the Dexter books. Which, I hasten to add, is a good thing.

  7. I agree with Akichan. I thought the clinical feeling of the piece added to the detached way in which Troy viewed his life. Life appeared to be a process for him and so his dying was a process as well.

  8. This is ace! Cold, clinical, medical, detached and very creepy. Great writing.
    I felt close to the action. Reading it induced a mild claustrophobic kind of feeling.
    Despite that I really enjoyed the story :D.

    +1 for consistency on the italics – the way they come out, hyper feels like a tall, skinny, pale reaper pointing at a dictionary definition, whereas exsang feels more like the cheery morgue attendant munching on his burger while showing you the body. Iyswim… (-_-)


  9. Great feel – I love the science-y detachment – forces all the emotive stuff to go in the readers head without any of your help. I like the introduction of the technical words (although personally I too vote against the italics) as a way to make the voice more removed and rational; and this intellectual rational coolness is often how one personally observes traumatic events (or at least I respond to trauma this way at first).

    The ending bit where you don’t describe all the really nasty stuff (thrashing, gasping etc) really works for me; you couldn’t have done it better than my brain. And ‘even if you weren’t watching carefully’ a beautifully placed cynicism.

    Wish I could as write as deliberately and with such clear technical intent.
    Not sure if the repetition of what one does or doesn’t easily notice was deliberate but the similarity in form distracted me some small amount in a bad way.

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