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Grade: Middle

#4342. One Dark Night (intro to short stories)

Reading/Writing, level: Middle
Posted Mon Mar 16 10:26:35 PDT 2009 by Colleen Storiz & JBryan (Colleen Storiz & JBryan).
Shared authors web site of Jeffrey M Bryan
College of Lake County, Grayslake, USA
Materials Required: Imagination
Activity Time: 30 - 60 minutes.
Concepts Taught: stages of plot, protagonists, antagonists, recognizing simile, metaphores, etc.

Read the original short story "One Dark Night" by Jeffrey M. Bryan. Use the enclosed story and lesson sheet provided below.

One Dark Night
By: Jeffrey M. Bryan

A man once held a gun aimed at my face and made it clear I had better hand him my money. I can't recall now what the specific threat was, but a gun in my face was enough that I was afraid. His appearance alone would have inspired fear -- the bloodshot eyes, unshaven whiskers and ratty hair. He reeked of urine and body odor that had accumulated over too much time. His eyes radiated pure desperation. Those eyes weren't even seeing me; they were seeing only the landscape of the personal hell in which he lived.
I would like to tell you that I overpowered him through sheer strength and superior moral standing. But that wouldn't be true. I'd like to tell you I faced him confidently and made him fear me enough that he couldn't go through with his robbery. But that, too, would be a lie. Heck, I'd even be willing to take some pride in telling you that I snarled and swore at him defiantly while I gave him my wallet. But, of course, that's not what I did. The fear at first was more powerful than my convictions, and I knew at the time I was going to be a coward -- a sniveling, pitiful coward. I was already despising myself and I hadn't even begun to snivel yet.
The man shouted at me, his breath forming a cloud in the frigid air, ordering me to give him my wallet. His voice shook with a mixture of things; righteous rage, frustration, fear, and desperation. It was the desperation that caught my attention, and I feel certain, is what caused the emotional epiphany I experienced. Even as I began to reach for my wallet, the fear that filled me seemed to drain away and was replaced by calm. Not bravery, not anger. . . just a sea of calm.
I pulled the wallet from my pocket and opened it to take the money out, but the man snatched it from my hand. He looked like he was ready to shoot me then, or maybe feared he would have to if I reacted angrily. He moved his weight constantly from foot to foot, nervously. I simply held my palms up and smiled sadly.
"No problem." I said calmly, "It's not worth either of us getting hurt."
A look of uncertainty flashed in those eyes and he backed up, ready to turn and run with his ill-gotten money. I have no idea what came over me then, but I felt compassion for this man -- a man who was holding me up at gunpoint. Maybe I'd lost my mind. Maybe I didn't really understand the risks. Regardless, I held up a hand in a gesture to stop him as he seemed ready to bolt.
"Wait," I said in the same calm, hopefully soothing, voice, "hang on, I have more."
If the situation hadn't been so serious, the look of disbelief on his face would have been funny. I fished a small wad of bills out of my pocket and held those out to him as well. I often kept most of my money in my pocket rather than my wallet just for situations like this. I never expected to give it to a robber unless forced, let alone offer it freely.
He grabbed the money -- not quite as abruptly as he had with the wallet -- and was ready to bolt again when he noticed I was taking off my watch. He licked his lips furtively, his eyes were actually seeing me now and they flicked back and forth between the watch and my face. Finally getting the clasp open, I held the watch out to him.
"Here, this should be worth a little too."
He looked stunned. He worked his mouth a little -- almost as if trying to remember how to talk to somebody like a civilized human being. His eyebrows drew together over eyes opened wide. He seemed a man torn between the desire to escape and unsatisfied curiosity.
"Why?" he managed to croak, "Why, man?" His voice had a scratchy sound to it, as if it had become rusty with disuse, but he seemed to genuinely want to know. The hand with the money and the watch was still held out, almost as if he was in the process of offering it all back to me. I don't know what possessed me, and I've wondered about it many times in the years since, but I lowered my hands to my side and gave him a small smile.
"Because I care," I said softly, "and I want to help." He looked at me in disbelief and seemed shocked. I raised my hands again -- halfway between a shrug and a plea. I could see the pain in his eyes, the turmoil and confusion, and I asked the only question that came to mind -- the only one that mattered.
"Are you okay?" I asked simply.
His eyes, those bloodshot eyes that had looked out upon an existence in living hell, were suddenly very moist. He lowered both hands, with the gun and the money, no longer pointing the gun at anything, eyes locked on mine. Shaking visibly, his head was moving back and forth as if expressing disbelief. He started to reply, but then he closed his mouth and looked for a moment like a dazed man in a boxing ring. I watched as his face gradually changed, to reflect the pain I had glimpsed in those troubled eyes.
"No." he choked out, more a plea than any statement of defiance, "No." He dropped the gun into the snow and wrapped his arms around himself as though trying to hold himself together. Falling to his knees, he broke eye contact as he lost control. I stepped forward, knelt on one knee, and placed my hand on his shoulder. He flinched at first, like a wild animal, even as he shook with sobs he struggled to contain. Pressing his face into his raised arms, the sobs that split the night air were so full of pain I found that I was crying, too. I patted him on the shoulder as he experienced an overwhelming tide of emotions.
"It's okay," I said quietly, "everything's going to be all right. I'll help."
I didn't know if he heard or even cared what I was saying. I wasn't even thinking about what I was saying at the time. All I knew for sure was that there, before me, was a human being just like me who was hurting. Maybe he was homeless. Maybe he was starving. Maybe he was strung out and desperate for drugs. He could easily have been a murderer; he could well have become one that very night if not sometime previously.
Desperation and the accumulated issues that had driven him to attempt armed robbery were controlling him that night. That certainly didn't absolve him of responsibility for his actions, and I'd always been a staunch believer in the idea that a crime is a crime and criminals should be punished. But I had also been around the block enough to realize that no issue could withstand detailed scrutiny and remain black and white.
The man had regained control of himself for the most part, so I stood and encouraged him to do the same. He kept his head bowed. The shame he felt at what he had become poured from him. It was almost palpable. My hand was still on his shoulder, and I tugged at him lightly.
"C'mon," I said, "I'm hungry. Let's get dinner." I took my hand from his shoulder and his head suddenly snapped up to look me in the face. His expression was a complicated mix of shame, fear, and disbelief. He must have been wondering if I was insane; or maybe he thought I was gay. The realization of how different this outcome was from what he had expected actually made me smile and shake my head.
"No, I'm not nuts, or anything else. I just think you could use somebody to talk to right now. And I am hungry. There's a diner right over there." I said, pointing off to the brightly lighted corner of the street we were on. Somewhat reassured, his shoulders slumped again and his eyes traveled to the gun, still sitting half-buried in the snow at his feet. An errant tear fell from his eye as he stood transfixed by the sight of the gun.
I wondered if he was going to pick it up and shoot me after all or if he'd just pick it up and run. When he spoke, his voice was almost a whisper.
"Pick it up, man." He forced out, "Pick it up and just shoot me." It wasn't what I'd expected, so it took a moment for the words to register. The tone was that of total defeat coming from a man who had nothing to live for. Worst of all, he knew it and felt there was no option other than death.
I bent over to retrieve the gun.
"Okay," I said calmly, and his eyes widened just a bit as he fought down fear.
"But only to get it off the ground," I continued, "wouldn't want some kid to find it." I jammed the gun in my pocket with the snow and dirt still crusted around the barrel, and turned toward the diner. I took several steps before I turned my head to see if he was following. He stood there, silent, watching me walk away. I knew then that I could have left him there, escaped to safety. I could have gone home and counted myself lucky to be alive with the entire ordeal behind me.
But I didn't.
I stopped walking and turned around to look at him. His face still showed the turmoil, the defeat, the pain, all fighting to control who he was at that moment. And then I saw it - a brief spark of hope. A glimpse of belief that maybe there was a way other than self-destruction. I kept my face neutral, but nodded my head slightly towards the diner.
"C'mon," I said quietly. He started walking slowly toward me and passed by me like a zombie, as if he was in a daze of disbelief. I fell in beside him and knew that he was going to be alright. That here was a chance for him, an opportunity to reclaim a life abandoned who knows how long before. As we walked slowly, making our way to the diner, out of the corner of my eye I saw him look at my face for a moment. When I spoke, I think I startled him.
"You know," I said with a smile as I turned to look at him, "if you give me my money back I'll even treat you to dinner." He did a classic double-take, mouth open, and then stopped walking. He looked down at the hand still clutching the money and my watch. Shaking his head once, he held it out to me and then actually laughed. It was a sound full of regret and despair, more a harsh bark than a real laugh.
But it was a start.

LESSON WITH QUESTION/ANSWER SHEET:
One Dark Night
Mrs. Storiz (8th period)
After reading the handout of "One Dark Night" answer the following questions as best you can. Please think about your answers and use complete sentences where appropriate. List any unfamiliar vocabulary words followed by their definition. You have the option of typing out your answers or printing them neatly into your journals.

1.Describe the setting/locale.
2.Give an account of the mood portrayed using at least 4 expressions.
3.Who is the antagonist? Protagonist?
4.Describe the central conflict/problem the protagonist is facing. Is it psychological, physical or both?
5.In what ways are the characters personality revealed? (actions, words, others' words, etc.)
6.List and explain the stages of the plot.
7.What is the overall theme or message of this short story?
8.Has this short story had any effect on you at all? If so, can you personally relate and how?
9.Do any of the following occur, if yes, which one(s)? Give an example: Simile, metaphor, personification, onomatopoeia, and/or hyperbole.
10. Earlier we discussed hamartia which is a term coined by Aristotle to describe "some error or frailty" that brings about misfortune for a tragic hero. The concept of hamartia is closely related to that of the tragic flaw: both lead to the downfall of the protagonist in a tragedy. Hamartia may be interpreted as an internal weakness in a character (like greed or passion or hubris); however, it may also refer to a mistake that a character makes that is based not on a personal failure, but on circumstances outside the protagonist's personality and control. How does this relate to the characters in One Dark Night?
11. Is the style of the author familiar? What can you tell about the author from the written words?
12. Are you content with the ending? Why or why not.
Extra Credit:
Re-write, re-do and exercise your brain! You have the option (worth 25 extra points) of re-writing the ending if you choose. What would you do differently? Would you introduce any new characters or elements? Be as creative you like.
Finally, again this is optional. (10 extra points)
If you had the opportunity to talk/write him/her (the author), what would you ask? Is there one or maybe two questions you would like to be answered? Write a letter to the author stating your opinion or asking your questions.