Here we are, about to conclude the fourth draft for this story! I’ve become very familiar with the story of Oscar and Harry, and I’m hoping that I’m closer to the end of this process than the beginning. Still, the idea was to learn what it takes to bring a story from rough draft to the highest quality I can, and there’s no question that the story as it exists today is far better than when I first published it.
Here is the link to draft three for comparison, and now let’s get this new iteration finished!
Harry had said it himself, they couldn’t survive this together, so why shouldn’t Oscar cut the rope? No one would say that he hadn’t done his duty. No one would say that he hadn’t tried. He had. He really had tried his very best. But there had to be a point where they accepted this just wasn’t going to work, and they let things go.
Oscar rested his palm on the control panel, fingers stretching for the button, but his arm didn’t extend out to reach it.
Because no matter how justified he might be on paper, there was no way for Oscar to press that button without a vengeful heart. There was no way to separate his emotions from the action and to honestly say that it was a matter of procedure and nothing more. The truth is there would always be malice behind it. How could there not be? This man had killed his son!
I’m only making minor changes here and there, which is pretty encouraging. I’ve always thought this was one of the better written parts of the story and, evidently, I still do. But these next paragraphs are newer material, and I’ll be paying close attention to how well they match the rest of it.
But rather than fuel him with anger, the memory of James took away what little he had. Oscar sidestepped the controls, exited the wheelhouse, and looked vacantly upon the black horizon. What did any of it matter anymore? It was already too late. Whatever life had remained was now expired into the storm and cutting Harry loose wouldn’t change a thing. And so, Oscar stared into the abyss, arms outstretched, welcoming oblivion.
But it was not oblivion that came next. There, before Oscar’s eyes, a strange discoloration was appearing in the dark. It was a small patch of gray that grew lighter and lighter, yellower and warmer, larger and larger. At the center it became brighter and more focused, but at its edges it expanded wider and softer. And then, all at once, it pierced through the storm and became a shining light! A light that tore through all the mist and dark, crossing the great void of night, and filling Oscar’s eye!
I think Oscar’s staring into the abyss still works very well, and I think it fits for his anger to dissipate to numbness before he gets that ray of hope. In the last paragraph I made another try at describing how the spot of light gets more focused at the center but also broader and more blurred at the edges. Hopefully it reads better now, I’ll give it another look later with fresh eyes later.
“Sam?” he croaked.
“Is that–is that the lighthouse?” Harry’s awed voice crackled over the radio.
“Yes,” Oscar said to himself. “I do believe it is.”
Ahead of them the shoreline crawled into view as the light-beam rotated around its axis. Briefly the figure of the Broken Horn was illuminated off to the right, which the two men had evidently gotten around some time ago without even knowing it! The light briefly disappeared as it rotated landward, but then it returned to illuminate the sailors once more.
And in the face of that light Oscar could no longer consign himself to the watery depths. Now that the path was illuminated ahead, all he could think to do was follow it. So, he stepped back into his wheelhouse, placed his hands on the wheel, and slowly raised the engine back to life.
Originally I now had the part about the Broken Horn being illuminated, but it was breaking up the flow of Oscar turning up the throttle and the sailors returning to the shore. I realized I could move the offending paragraph up to where the light first appears, though, and it runs much more smoothly.
With all the power of the sea behind them the two trawlers pounded their way forward toward shore. The large waves collided with the rising seabed and broke into a rapid chorus, slippery and erratic under the boats’ sterns. But it was no matter. The shifting of the sea was meaningless noise now, and all Oscar had to do was keep his prow pointed towards land and let nature do the rest.
He didn’t try to navigate a proper landing at the dock either. Any other time it would have been the most routine of maneuvers, but today he had only enough nerve left for one unmissable target: the white sandy beach just south of the harbor. Oscar remained affixed upon it until his hull crunched across its granules, his boat keeled over to its starboard side, and everything came to a shuddering rest.
Oscar tried to let go of the helm, but his clenched hands would not accept the order. “Let go!” he cried, awkwardly wrenching them loose and stumbling sideways across the tilted deck and into the railing. Fumblingly, he tried to lower himself over the railing’s other side, but halfway across his arms gave out entirely and he landed unceremoniously in the wet sand below.
He did not try to rise from the spot. He just sat there with his back against his boat, the water lapping against his feet, the rain pelting his face, and the wind roaring in his ears. But he didn’t register any of those things. He just sat there in silence as Harry’s trawler also rolled onto the sand some twenty feet away.
“Oscar!” Harry’s voice called from above. “Oscar, where are you?!”
Harry flung himself over his own railing, landed on the wet sand with a splash, and almost ran straight into Oscar before he saw him sitting there.
“Oscar, are you alright?”
Oscar just looked up and blinked silently.
“Oscar, I–I’m sorry,” Harry cried. “I know that doesn’t change anything, but I’m sorry. I am!”
“You killed my son…” Oscar whimpered.
Previously I described Oscar’s statement as being “mumbled brokenly.” In dramatic moments like these I feel it is imperative to use as few words as possible and to use the exactly right ones. Thus, it may not seem like much of a difference to say that he “whimpered” instead, but I think it is quite significant.
“I–” Harry could think of nothing to say, so he just nodded solemnly.
“I don’t know what to do, Harry. I just don’t know what to do. I’m too broken to feel or think anymore.”
“I know, Oscar.”
“I should hate you. I’m sure I will when I can feel again. Probably even want to kill you.”
I had Harry give an understanding answer here, but it felt strange after the magnitude of what Oscar was saying. I think prolonged silence is better. I added some new padding in the following paragraph last time, but it didn’t hold up as well as the rest of this segment, so I’m going to make some changes to it.
There was a long silence as the two men just stared at one other. Words lost their usefulness, so they waited, and looked, and an unspoken understanding passed between them.
But the rest of the world continued around them, and presently the sound of a voice called out, coming from the long slope at the back of the beach. A lantern accompanied the voice, bobbing through the darkness towards them. It was Sam, coming to find them.
Harry regarded the bouncing lantern, then turned and extended his hand to Oscar.
“Oscar, what do you say we go and see Sam?”
“Let’s go to Sam. He’s a good man, you know. He’ll get us warm clothes and food and rest. He’ll take care of us. Wouldn’t you like that?”
“Harry…I don’t know what I want.”
“I know, Oscar, but you don’t have to. Sam will know what’s best for right now…. Isn’t that enough?”
Oscar thought for a moment. Then, slowly reached out his hand and took Harry’s. Harry pulled Oscar to his feet, then got his arm around his shoulder to support him. Together they turned their backs to the shrieking sea and hobbled away, making their way towards the solitary swinging light.
And done! A few more changes here and there, but I was still quite content with this ending overall. Next week I’ll put all this work into one neat package, and then take in the entirety of draft four. See you there!