This is the story that received an honorable mention in Elegant Literature‘s “World Builders” issue several months ago, and after a lengthy internal debate, I decided to post it directly to IGC Publishing instead of seeking out other platforms for it. Since these Elegant Literature stories are prompt-based, it seems a little strange to submit them elsewhere, even though the prompt is pretty subtle when viewed through just a single piece of writing. Besides, I still want to build up our library of original content here, so if I keep up with these stories (and keep not getting published), that will provide plenty of extra content for the site.

In My Defense is an epistolary story. If your last literature class was a long time ago, ‘epistolary’ refers to letter-writing, and is often used to describe stories that are conveyed through the conceit of in-world artifacts. Frankenstein, for instance, or The Island of Doctor Moreau (and many other works by HG Wells, Jules Verne, and other period authors) are all epistolary novels, presenting their story through letters or journals or similar media ‘created’ by the story’s narrator. I even recently came across a story, if you can call it that, which consisted entirely of a in-world scientific paper discussing ‘findings’ about elven evolution, which was a really neat mechanism, although I do not know if it would technically constitute epistolary. Regardless, In My Defense is presented as a letter (and editorial, really) written by the narrator to defend his actions during a pivotal scientific expedition.

My main inspiration was Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth, and, indeed, I even reread that book before sitting down to write this story, but don’t think of this as a two thousand word twist on that story. While that was the genesis of the idea, and the inspiration does come through, I’d like to think that I provided an original story within something of that framework. Unlike Verne’s novel, this short story focuses more on the consequences of the expedition than on the adventure itself.

What makes the epistolary form so interesting and useful is that it is highly immersive. It forces the author to do a lot of the heavy lifting of story development via implication, which I found made it especially suited to this word-limited format. Writing this from, say, a third person omniscient perspective, the story would have quickly become a lengthy adventure story that may or may not have been interesting, and the emphasis would have become the adventure, instead of the discovery. Instead, whether we want to call it implication or show-don’t-tell, In My Defense does almost all of its storytelling in that mode (which is ironic, since such ‘plot’ as there is in a traditional sense is told in plain, brief words by the narrator in his letter). That is probably the piece’s greatest strength.

That, and the questions it raises, but you have to be somewhat invested in the world sketched by the story to find those questions really engaging. It does, though, beg questions about how our own world might react to such discoveries. The concept may not be the most original, but I think, for just two thousand words, I managed to provide a somewhat new spin on it, and I hope that you enjoy reading In My Defense.

            With all that has happened since that fateful expedition, I wonder at times if I was wrong to aid Mr. Shortop in his endeavor.  Could I, somehow, have known what would result, and prevented it by withholding my services?  My dear sister assures me that I could not have known, and that Mr. Shortop would have employed someone else in my place had I not agreed to his contract, yet I cannot stop wondering.  Certainly, there are those who hold me responsible for what has since transpired.

            It is in part to answer them that I write this letter, and in part it is an attempt to set my own conscience at ease, but it is mostly that there might be a complete and accurate record of those events which led us to this present crisis.  Such records have been compiled by others, but aside from Mr. Shortop’s lengthy memoir, no account is offered from someone who was part of the expedition.  I, as you know, was there.  This is what I saw.

Click here to read the rest of In My Defense

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