I remember when I first began studying literature and was taught about the four kinds of conflict:
– Man vs. Man
– Man vs. Self
– Man vs. Nature
– Man vs. Society
Now, of course, it’s taught as “person” instead of “man,” and readers and critics argue passionately and with compelling evidence for other types of conflict (e.g., person vs. supernatural, person vs. technology), but I still like the original four and generally can figure out a way that any conflict falls into them.
Another of the things that I was taught is that man vs. nature is one of the trickiest for an author to write without turning drama into melodrama–nature can be so big, so ferocious, so daunting a force against a single person.
In his story “Foundations,” Timothy Forry uses a cataclysmic natural event–a hurricane and its aftermath–to tell a more personal story of a man struggling with a crumbling relationship and his dread that he’s waited too long to repair the damage.
The road was so uneven that my head nearly hit the roof of the cab as the truck bounced. I slammed on the brakes as I neared the turnoff for our road. The normally babbling stream running down the mountain had become a raging, red-brown torrent that had taken large sections of the road down the side of the mountain with it.
I shut off the truck and leapt onto the waterlogged road. The washed-away section was nearly five feet across. I knew it was a crazy idea, but I sprinted down the road away from the roaring gash. When I was about fifteen feet away, I turned and looked back toward the far edge.
You can make it. You can make it.
The ground’s too wet; you won’t have enough speed.
You can make it. You can make it.
I ran. My boots slipped at first, but soon found purchase. Time seemed to move differently. As if watching a movie in slow motion, I could see myself in the air and the raging water beneath me. It looked hungry as it dashed over rocks; tendrils and hands made of water seemed to reach up to pull me down, to take me with them as they raced down the mountain toward the river.
But they didn’t get me. I slammed into the other side of the chasm, barely grasping the ground with my arms and torso. My boots dug in as I pulled myself up the other side. I stood and looked back at the truck. As I watched, another piece of the road tore away, widening the gap by an additional two feet.
I felt giddy; my muscles went slack with relief. For a split second, I forgot there was more to my mission. Then I remembered Claude, and the urgency of that thought obliterated any fatigue or slackness of muscle. I had to keep going on foot. I attacked the road that led up the mountain, taking large uphill steps. Some of the thin trees lining the way tore from the ground with the slightest tug. Others that I grabbed assisted me in my climb. The sound of the raging water taunted me, reminding me of dire possibilities. My boots slipped and sometimes sank into the earth, but nothing could keep me from reaching the first plateau where our house was situated.
This is the time when I tell you that you can read the entire story in Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, when it goes on sale on January 14, 2014. Except you can actually read it as soon as you order it, because it’s available from online booksellers in paperback and ebook format RIGHT NOW. Time to treat yourself to a Christmas present. Buy extra copies for gifts, too!
Excerpt reprinted with permission from Cleis Press. All rights reserved.