Just show us your first chapter here and well give you some feedback!
Sure, why not? Mine is a bit extensive, so may run to a few posts, but okay.
I t’s late, very dark, as I walk up Maynard Avenue. A figure stoops in front of my office, shoves something in the mail slot. I slow down to watch. Who hates me enough to bomb the office?
Hospital whites, maybe a nurse. She straightens up, peers down the street, then turns to pop into a waiting hover cab. That’s okay then, bombers don’t normally arrive by cab, in my experience, and if they did, wouldn’t have the cabbie wait around to watch.
Odd though. I continue up the street, and let myself in.
My office lights are off, but there’s a lot of neon from the street sifting through the French glass window. Watery, like street glare always is. The marquee, Wander Investigations, a barely visible scrawl across the office’s glass front. Shadows from the window’s latticework wobble over everything. An inch this way, an inch that way, while headlights add their magic to the mix.
The midnight package delivery is on the floor, barely small enough to have fit through the oversized mail slot. The paper and twine wrapped lump has my name on it. Since it doesn’t tick, I take my pocket knife to it.
Maybe my knife isn’t sharp. It slides back and forth, cutting here, then skids a bit, severing a thread, skidding again. Pull up harder, and the edge finally catches. The cording severs with a pop. I drop it, to rip away the brown paper. There’s no return address, so whoever dumped it on me didn’t want it back. My name, my mail slot; no postage of course.
The box isn’t taped shut. I thumb up the lid. Inside, is a colored plastic cube. A four inch block made of little cubes, one of those Rubik puzzles, but with hand printed letters on every face of it. I give it a twist. More alphabet characters. The letters are random, don’t line up to spell out anything. I twist it back; drop myself into an office chair crowding a brown lamp table by the window front. Don’t particularly like puzzles; no idea why someone would send me one. I deal with people problems for cash, not toys. No cash retainer, no Richard Wander, Private Investigator.
I look at it anyway, then snag the brown wrapping paper off the floor. There’s something penciled small on the inside of it; " go B.C. -Tab 6n."
I put the cube aside. Its been a long day and I’m greasy. Bald guys hate greasy. It builds up on the dome, makes you feel crawly. There’s a gilded oval mirror on the wall and a towel on the coat rack by the door. It’s been a bad day. I check my reflection in the mirror, looking for any new damage – that kind of day.
Grey eyes water back at me. Still in my late thirties, the bald thing, a gift of genetics. A scar crosses my dome from front to back, where a part was, when I still had hair. A gift of some creep I had words with once. Not my only scar. It seems a little angry. I jerk the towel from the coat-rack, wipe my grimy face and hands on it. The wipe down will have to do for now. No water around, except from the dispenser jug near the desk. Cheap office.
Still have my overcoat on, so I swipe the cube back off the table and dump it into one of the pockets. One of those with a flap, not the slashed ones I jam my hands i n when hoofing it. Grab my hat.
The ‘BC’ scribbled on the wrapper strikes a memory. BC’s is a bar, pass it daily on the way to my flop. Been there lots of times. Good stew on Saturdays, cheap fish on Tuesdays. Attracts a rough crowd though.
I like the walk. Going home, all that. Sometimes it feels like when Marcia was still with me. Before everything fell down. When there was still some history left between who I was yesterday, and who I am now. Like walking back into another life. Peaceful like.
The city sidewalks are blackened, pitted, busted – kind of like me, but I’m used to them. The oval mark of some municipal payola recipient is stamped in every fourth square, and I know each emboss by heart. The city air is damp tonight, like most nights. Something nice about the older street lamps around here. They still use those off-yellow bulbs. Not very bright, but more comforting than that glaring orange junk that beats down on you uptown. Past midnight, so there’s nothing but me, a few stray mutts and shadows. An occasional neon winks liquor-dancing-food , or Pawn-Jewelry . I’d get one for the office, if I had the money to certify bails, or anything else to advertise but my two mitts.
Behind me, a small shadow flicks from one doorway to the next, maybe three buildings back. Probably just a mutt. Catch the shadow again at the next street lamp, just as I step out of its soft pool of light and cross Bingle. Have to go left here for a block, to get to BC’s, so I make the turn, but stop at the next alley to watch for a tail. Force of habit.
A black and white mongrel lopes across, clear under the lamp. I know this dog, one of those genetically engineered hybrids. It makes the left and trots my way. I back farther into the black alley and bide my time. The dog had its nose down coming across the street–they do that sometimes. Sniff after you instead of watch you. This one comes sniffing right up to the alley. I step forward and confront it.
“Following me, Blackie?” Mutt almost jumps. Tongue pulls in, mouth snaps shut, ears up. It whines, then the tongue comes back out. “Sure, play dumb. You been on my heels for blocks now. Spill.”
The mutt husks deep in the back of its gullet, like it was clearing it’s throat. “Hung-rry, Richie. Some Meat? Some Meat? Got Wo-rrk?”
I don’t do much tracking that requires a Vox dog, or a sniffer. If I did, I wouldn’t use a street mutt anyway, but I’ve thrown Blackie a bone or two to run a message before. Must be starving to hit me up on the run like this.
“Sorry, pal.” A thought strikes me. “Wait.” I scrabble around in my pocket for the cube. “Smell on this – get anything off it?” Blackie snuffles around the obsidian gleam of it, then sits on his back legs, mouth open, tongue back out.
“I’ll pick you up something from BC’s. You get anything off it or not?”
“Smell you,” it coughs out, “smell a girl.”
“Someone you know? Someone you’ve sniffed around here before?”
“Just girl smell.”
Well, it was something. Female, like I saw making the delivery, likely not local. If it was someone that hung around here much, the mutt would remember the scent.
“Okay, let’s go. BC’s could take me a while, Blackie. You’ll have to wait outside.”
“Wait for Richie.”
There was a time when gene-jacked dogs cost bucks. Some still do. Yammering pooches started turning up on the streets almost the same year they were introduced. Smart talking doesn’t mean smart rutting. The genes didn’t always breed true, and the streets don’t offer mongrels much of an education. Even genetically modified, it’s painful for a dog to make people sounds, has to be learned. Anyway, the dog trots along behind me, and the dirty yellow glow of BC’s draws closer.
Push through BC’s cheap brass-colored door. A smell of fry grease and fresh booze rises up. It’s a clean smell though, not vinegary or decayed. Like the air wasn’t changed out as often as it should be; a little close, maybe.
No heads turn. Bobby is setting up a tray of beers. Everything besides the bar counter is lounge lit. Carey, the server, is waiting on a couple lone customers. Most of the six tables jammed against the left wall are unoccupied. The place, come to think on it, runs north and south, I recall. B.C. Tab 6n – Table six, North? I think about the note again. A glance shows the table is empty. So much for theory. I go to the bar and wait.
“Dinner menu, Richie?”
Bobby, finally free, pulls up in front of me, still playing with glassware. Nice enough guy, maybe forty, a little older than me, more hair, all of it black. Blue eyes look out, mildly attentive, one fake, over white tooth sparkles in his bartender’s smile.
“Just a ham sandwich to go. Don’t bother to bag it though – it’s not going far.”
“Drink while you wait?”
“Naw. You seen any new ladies around here, recent like?”
“Always a few new faces. Anybody in particular?”
That almost sticks me. No idea who I was looking for; or why, come to that.
“A possible new client, like always. I was told a lady might have stopped in here tonight – maybe yesterday. Don’t know her looks.”
Bobby thinks a little. “So, there was a little redhead, a business type, in here this afternoon. I don’t remember seeing her before. Carey waited on her – could ask Carey.”
“The dame took a table?”
"Yeah."He nods toward an empty booth. “At the end. She ordered lunch.”
“Gimme an order of fries; I’ll take a table after all. Talk to Carey when she comes around with it.”
“You got it, Ritchie.”
A brass tag on the Table, says it’s number six. It’s cleaned off, if a little wet. Heavily lacquered wood, whacked up with plate scars, ring marks, initials, little mementos left by bored patrons. I sit at the far side, back to the wall. There’s some fresh scratch work marring the top, not yet lacquered over. Bunch of numbers: 1,1,1; 3,2,4;2,5,4; 5,3,5, like that. Something about the list reminds me of the cube. Jot 'em down. Carey comes up with my fries and a water glass as I finish up. I give her a smile, shove the paper back in my coat.
Carey’s a little worse for wear. The joint is open sixteen hours a day, and she’s here for twelve of them, every day except Sundays. Short hair and skirt, a little mousey, good classic Mediterranean features,almond eyes, but legs like a soccer player.
“Bobby, he says you wanted to talk to me, Ritchie? What is about?”
I ask after the girl, but Carey doesn’t know much.
“I remember that one. Small, young, with nice clothes. Maybe, has money or rich boyfriend, I think. The girl, she order a chicken special, ate slow, tipped light, leave a mess for me. This is all, I think. Lady-friend to you, Ritchie? Long time since you and Marcia…”
“Uh, no. Nothing like that. Just business, maybe. I take it I wasn’t asked after, anything like that?”
Carey looks at me a little sadly. “No, Ritchie. I tell you right away, or Bobby too. This you know. You be careful tonight, OK?.”
I dawdle over the spuds, pick at the numbers on the table with a fingernail until a lot of 'em are gone. Get no visitors. Guess the lead isn’t panning out. I pay up, leave a tip I can’t afford, grab up the sandwich Carey drops off.
The mutt is still at the door. He wolfs it down.
“Good,” the dog huffs. “Good Richie.”
“Don’t mention it. Please…go follow somebody else.”
To hell with the puzzle box. There’s a wire mesh trash can in front of BC’s. I dump the cube and the wrapper into it. Two blocks to my house. Next time, I think, try the phone, make an appointment, or send cash.
The house is dark, don’t notice anything up until I reach the door. Scratch marks on the latch plate. Reach one hand to an inside pocket, but my stunner is still at the office. There’s a sap, six inches of leaded wood baton, in my bedroom drawer, not much help right here though.
Ease in real quiet like, just inside, and wait till my eyes adjust. Old brindle carpeting, sparse furniture trying to cast even darker shadows on it. Mostly stuff even repo men wouldn’t bother with. A shuffle whispers from behind the door. Bad mojo. I turn as fast as I can, but not fast enough. An anvil drops on the back of my head. I go black.
Come to on the floor. Head really pounding. The front door’s wide open now, so that’s that. I manage to roll over and stagger up from the floor with a groan. Head’s hosting a migraine that throbs in time with my high blood pressure. Pissed, I look through the tossed house; only thing gone is my head knocker from the bedroom drawer. Probably laid me out with my own sap.
Nice. Kick myself for even thinking about slipping inside. I get stupid sometimes. Put some ice on the lump, lock up, head back to the shop.
A block further on, my implant buzzes. I pull at my right earlobe, find the gel switch there and squeeze. Cheap cell phone implant. I’m annoyed, because it’s not a number I give out, and because it makes my head throb more. Had it done a year ago, for making emergency calls. Only four people have the number. One’s the doctor who installed it. The other three don’t know it’s an implant.
“Wander? The box that got delivered to your office. It was a mistake, it belongs to…someone else. The somebody wants it back. A hundred credits to you for a finder’s fee. Have it at your office tomorrow. Somebody will come around to collect it. Be smart. You really want the money more than the box. Trust me on this.”
There’s a quick disconnect. That’s all. I stop and get pissed. The call means someone has been watching my office, and I didn’t even spot that. You’re slipping, old man.
The caller wasn’t the Doc, my accountant, Frank over at the fifteenth precinct, or my bookie, and that’s pretty much my address book, for the implant. I fish the cube back out of the trash as I pass B.C.'s. Rummage the wrapping paper out too, then start back toward the office. Use the earpiece to call in a B&E as I walk. Not for the house break-in, for the office.
Somebody knows the cube isn’t still there, got that much figured. A somebody who has my unregistered cell number. Only one way to get that; from the office Rolodex. The phone implant gets used so rarely, I keep the number copied down in it, case I forget. Anyway, I want some flatfeet at my shop door before I show up. Less trouble that way. Never flex your own muscle if you can get it done free.
Blackie is still nosing around on the street, so I whistle and the mutt’s ears shoot up straight, like shortwave antennas. He comes on at a run.
“I maybe got some more work for you after all. Go over to my house, sniff around. Come back to the office and tell me who was messing around over there.”
Red and blue lights are putting on a show out front by the time I make the office. A cheap suit leans against the brick facade. Two blue-shirts are getting out of the curbed cruiser. I wave at the suit, who pries himself off the brick and shoves his hands into the wrinkled jacket’s pockets.
“Trouble in paradise, Richie?”
Frank’s a great guy. He won’t book you unless you look at him funny, smile, or ask about the wife, most days. Used to be a neighbor, when I lived in the burbs. He looks me over, like something vaguely remembered. That’s okay by me. That blondish hair above his bony face is running to white. The kind of mop you have to cement down with grease to comb. But at least he still has hair. I think it makes him feel superior to me sometimes.
“Got a weird call on my private line a few minutes ago, Frank. Somebody I didn’t recognize. Seemed to know a lot about the contents of my office desk, for some reason. Figured it might be smart to call it in. Somebody might still be in there. You check the door yet?”
Frank’s eyes bore a couple holes in me. He clips, “You shouldn’t call me direct. There is a desk number, you know.”
“So yeah. It’s been jimmied.” He throws a beam on the knob. It cuts through the black to show fresh scars on the brass back plate, like at the house.
“I put a flash through the window. It looks tossed inside, or possibly your cleaning lady hasn’t been by recently. Stand back, and let the officers through. Just in case you still have visitors.” Frank spots the back of my head. “You been in a fight? That knot makes your skull look pregnant.”
“Yeah, its a new look for me. Like it?”
Got to be careful around Frank. If he thinks you’re maybe getting too much action, he pulls you in for questioning. Can put a crimp in your work day.
“That bump have anything to do with this?”
“No. Hit my head earlier.”
The flatfoots clomp through the place. We wait, then go inside. Looks like a hurricane made an indoor appearance, just for me.
Frank sweeps the room with a professional’s gaze, then shrugs.“Whoever it was, they’ve been and gone. You want to file a formal report? I can get a fingerprint crew in here if you do.”
Don’t even hesitate to wave the offer off. He’d find on-file prints everywhere. Last thing I need is all my clients jerked in for questioning. Thing like that, can ruin a man’s business. It was just good to know I wasn’t going to get sapped again. “No point. If they’re gone, they’re gone. Nothing here to steal.”
“You ought to get some kind of alarm on that door. We might have caught someone in the act.”
“I don’t keep cash here. Surprised anybody would bother. Probably just kids. Thanks for coming, Frank. I owe you one.”
“Yeah? Well, next time, call the desk.”
“I mean it, Richie, the desk. You started talking to Marcia yet?”
“It was all my fault, Frank. She doesn’t want to hear from a bum like me. Just cutting the lady some slack. Maybe when things cool down.”
Frank brushes a hand over his forehead, scratching at his vestigial sense of concern. “Two years is a lot of cool, Ritchie.”
Frank packs up the troops and leaves. I start picking up the office. Some scratching pulls my attention back to the front door. Blackie. I let the mutt in, since the office was a mess anyway.
The dog husks out, “fish smell. Nobody there. Just fish smell. Man smell. Leather.”
That kind of report used to drive handlers crazy. Eventually people figured out the dogs were picking up odors from the docks area. Anyone who spends a lot of time riverside builds up fish odor on their shoes. The mutts pick that up. This means hired help, fresh off the docks, not local bums. Anyway Blackie knows most of those by smell, and would have given me a name.
“Meat now? Meat?”
These Vox-dogs all sound the same. Like somebody with laryngitis talking through a fan.
I keep some bacon in a small office fridge behind my desk. It was on the floor now, along with my hotplate, thanks to the toss. I point to the meat. Blackie trots over and noses the package open. I finish up with the office.
Maybe somebody was going to get a little free work out of me after all. Usually takes money to get me going, but being beat on works too. I pull the wrapper back out of my pocket and run over the numbers I wrote down at BC’s. Still looks like a string of code to me, not my forte. I know someone, well, something, that might help out with that though. I start to dial for Special Dimensions Agency, think the better of it, and use the computer’s internet service instead.
There’s this A.I. named MICAIN. Chatty nano-bot I ran across online. Thing’s smaller than a flea. Works for an engineering firm that specializes in troubleshooting micro-circuitry. Somehow, the Micro-machine thinks it’s some kind of P.I. because it got its name in the papers a couple times. Real famous-in-its-own-mind type, but friendly. Maybe I could get it to look at the code on the cuff, so to speak. I rattle off its web handle. The A.I. is basically a computer, so it’s always on-line.
> M.I.C.A.I.N. here, your friendly Mobil, Independently Cognate, Artificially Intelligent Nano-factory. That you Richie?
Takes me a minute. The glow from the screen barely lights the keyboard, and I’m no whiz at poking keys.
> It’s me. How’s business?
> Well, the Harbor Patrol got me in the papers for my work in capturing those tech bandits that hit the city last month. Did you see that? The publicity really ramped up the work load around here. Good money though; so I can’t complain. Had to fork a bundle out to fix up my Waldo. It got pretty beat up. You?
> So-so. Getting by. My office was ransacked tonight. Could mean other trouble. Hoped you might help. Read about that spy thing in the papers. Good work. So, you interested?
I cross my fingers. This could really save me time, if the A.I. agrees. A line of type appears, crossing the display.
> Thanks. Be happy to help if I can, Richie. What have you got?
> Some numbers. I can’t make anything out of them. Thought you might. Want to see?
> Sure. Pop it to me.
I two finger the numbers from BC’s.
> It’s not code exactly, Richie. It’s an X,Y,Z coordinate series. Strings of three. A dimensional series .
> Can you give me that in baby talk?
> Plot points used for engineering drawings and such. Length, width, depth.Like a 3-D crossword puzzle reference, or cells on a spreadsheet. So many points across, so many down, and so many back.
Like the cube with all the letters on it maybe , I think. I type back, asking if it could reference the blocks on a cube puzzle.
> Sure, don’t see why not. Programmers used to build 3-D grids like that, referenced entries by statements called DIMs – Words or numbers, organized like a brick of spreadsheet cells. For instance, DIM(3,4,6) would reference a word or letter in the third column, forth row, on the sixth sheet, or layer, kind of. Get that? Someone send you a set of spreadsheets?
> No. Got a cube puzzle with lots of letters on it though.
The screen cursor sits there, pulsing for a bit, then type rattles across the screen again.
> A cube? A Rubik cube? Might be code then, after all. That used to be common spy stuff. You got a book, say, then to decode the reference, you look up the page, paragraph and word. Look, want me to stop by?
> You? How? You’re a computer the size of a dust mote.
> You’re a funny guy, Richie. That’s what my Waldo is for. You want me in on this caper or not?
Takes me a minute to catch on. A Waldo is a sort of mechanical appliance. A mechanical arm, or hand sometimes, but nowadays, usually references a whole body substitute, a drone.
> Don’t know what this is about yet. I can’t pay Special Dimensions rates, especially without a client. I can send you a picture."
> In 3-D? Hey Richie, I got a life you know. Pro Bono just for you, bald-as-an-egg . Yeah, I’ve seen your picture. Office at 453 Newstrom, right? You’d be the old looking fart that answers his own door there, right?
The 'bot is getting a little fresh. Beggars can’t be choosers though. I let the comment pass — for now.
> Yeah, guess so.
> Be there in ten.
> And don’t touch the cube.
> Got it.
> And leave the lights on, cheapo.
The thing is crossing lines and jerking chains like a subway conductor, but I need to get what I want out if this. Even so, I get a little gruff.
> What the hell do you know about my office habits?
> I read the police report on your break-in while we were chatting - I can do that. Quote: No internal lights were lit either during the investigation, nor reported being on during prior patrols…recommended as a remedial precaution to complainant…etc.
> See you, Mic.
> On my way, Richie
Definitely captures that classic gumshoe gritty noir feel which I enjoy.
I was a bit concerned that it was staying too true to the genre until the talking dog showed up which I thought was fun. I had noted the “hover” cab reference earlier but the flying car thing didn’t really pique my interest for the futuristic element as much.
There are A LOT of details. I get that he’s a “details” man so that’s what you’re probably aiming for by having him notice and comment on everything.
But truthfully it gets borderline overwhelming and for me it verges into way too much “telling” at times.
Because your MC is your narrator and we are so in his head I would recommend asking yourself “Would he be thinking this much about this thing right now?”
A good detective should be able to tune out the unimportant minutiae and zoom in on the critical or new information.
As a reader I really felt like I didn’t need to know what the bartender’s eye color is or what the waitress’ athletic calves look like.
Do we need these details other than for set dressing?
If she’s going to partner up with him later on in the story and running will be critical to her point in the plot, then by all means keep the detail.
But if not, stuff like that increases the urge to skim and that’s the last thing I want to do with a mystery/thriller.
Two other small details that popped out at me for whatever reason -
I would question whether giving a cell phone implant number to a bookie was wise
Vinegar is a clean smell - much more so than frying oil/grease. People clean with vinegar.
I got a chuckle out of the fact that you started with a package delivery that he worried might be a bomb, because my story starts with a package bomb (playing with a trope).
Overall it’s very good writing but I would recommend trimming down a bit on the extraneous details.
Something I don’t even have on WP yet. It’s in the very early stages of outlining/drafting. I’m starting with a prologue, which is something I’ve never done before.
Working Title: “Box”
Corrections Officer Tom Nelson pulled his key from the minivan ignition. Behind him, his ten year old daughter Caitlin slid open the back door. The girl scampered up the block toward their Brooklyn rowhouse, while Tom gathered the pile of mail and two grocery bags from the passenger seat beside him. With his free hand he waved to a neighbor across the street as he pushed the lock button on his car alarm.
Confident that he had everything he needed for the night, he approached his home to see Caitlin holding a box in one hand. A ribbon of clear packing tape was in the other. The remnants of brown paper bits clung to it.
“Caitlin, put it down!”
She stepped closer towards him.
“But Mommy ordered me some new bathing suits.”
Her tiny orange polished fingernails approached the flap of cardboard. Tom let the mail slide from his arm and the grocery bags fall to the concrete. He heard the pickle jar smash. The plastic jar of mayonnaise rolled toward the curb in slow motion.
“I said no!”
He dove toward his daughter, grabbing the box and tossing it away from them toward the front door. He gripped her in a bear hug and spun them away from the package shielding his daughter with his body.
The sound was deafening. The force shredded their eardrums, just as easily as it did the front door. Wooden shrapnel rained down. The neighbor across the street covered her head and screamed. Windows shattered and car alarms blared, adding to the cacophony.
Tom and Caitlin slammed against the SUV parked in front of their house and landed in a crumpled heap beside the mayonnaise.
The pounding on her bedroom came before her mother’s voice.
“Lauren get up!”
“Go away! It’s Saturday and I don’t have work until two.”
She pulled a pillow over her head, but her mother pounded harder.
“I’m serious Lauren. Get up and get dressed!”
“What the hell Mom? It’s only…”
She lifted the pillow slightly to peer at the clock.
“Seven in the morning!”
The doorknob jiggled and her mother’s voice rose an octave.
“Open the door now Lauren! I mean it!”
Lauren threw the pillow aside and rolled out of bed. She shuffled across the parquet floor mumbling to herself.
"The house had better be on fire.”
She pulled open her door to her mother’s pale and frowning face.
“Well? What’s wrong?”
Her mother reached out, taking Lauren’s hand in a crushing grip with her icy-cold fingers.
“The FBI is on the stoop. They want to speak with you.”
Lauren rubbed her eyes with her free hand.
“Wait. What? Did you say the FBI is on the stoop?”
Her mother nodded and squeezed her hand harder. The blood was being cut off, turning her fingers a lurid purple. She pulled her fingers free and walked to her bedroom window. She peered through the curtains down at the two suits standing on the brick steps. When they looked up she dropped the curtain and stepped back.
It wasn’t a bad joke.
“This makes no sense. Why would they want to talk to me?”
Her mother turned toward her own bedroom.
“Stop asking me questions I don’t have answers to and just get dressed already!”
Lauren yelled at her mother’s bedroom door as it slammed shut.
“God forbid you ask the federal agents why they want to talk to your twenty year old daughter!”
I likely wouldn’t bother using a preface section for what you have here, just begin the tale with chapter one, unless there is a prequel story you want to fill the reader in about. Your first scene is a first scene, even if time displaced from what follows… I think “approached his home” could be forgone, as it is an implied activity, instead, maybe just describing the visual of the girl at the door. In the “first chapter” section, a few action tags on the dialog run could do double duty in adding description and busting up the run of white space - something to consider anyway. If not, remember it is not necessary to separate dialog from narrative description as you have done, which can be included in the paragraph with the accompanying dialog it pertains to. Just that each speaking person needs paragraph separation.
Up to the end of your prologue, the scene is very mundane, which might or might not attract comment. As the impact of the first scene is the explosion, it could do without much of the in car detail, which adds little. At least, deleting much of it would certainly not ruin the scene for me, or heighten the surprise of the explosion…
There really isn’t enough here to make comment on plot, or characterization really, so I won’t waste your time with such an attempt. Keep after it.
The rest of the novel doesn’t follow the corrections officer but will be in 3rd limited pov focusing on Lauren who is the protagonist.
Therefore it really only works as a prologue for that reason.
Also I did not want to start with Lauren waking up because most readers are turned off by the waking up cliche (but this story is based on a real life incident when I 20 and was indeed woken by my mother because the FBI was on our stoop because some creepy stalker was targeting another family thinking it was me/my family…)
This is sort of the “what if” my experience went really wrong.
So the box was meant for Lauren’s family which will be revealed by the FBI agents.
I am certain you have your reasons. Just suggestions based on first time read. You really needn’t post responses to such critiques. Different people will offer different viewpoints. They become important in the bulk, as audience response, but not individually.
Responses back and forth in critique sections bring discussions which can make everyone’s writing better. I’ve personally made really great edits based on feedback and discussion with others and have been told they’ve been able to do the same after we’ve chatted on a thread.
As far as my “explanation” of the prologue - in my experience a lot of WP users don’t understand the purpose of a prologue and use them incorrectly so I could see why you’d suggest just making it part of chapter one (it’s a very valid critique).
I generally avoid them like the plague but I am using it correctly here and really did contemplate whether or not to start it this way. I do appreciate the critique and I’ll definitely take it into consideration. I didn’t mean to sound as if I didn’t.
Sure. I’ve ran a fairly successful critique site for about eleven years, and been moderator for another. Over that time, I’ve just found that outside of giving thanks, or asking for further detail, critiques should, in the main, not be commented on. That is a path to madness. Trust me. I’d go so far as to suggest it as a general principle. It is understood that the final decision on what happens to a story is the authors business, and decision alone. That critiques are only offered opinion. You file them away, pull your beard over them, then make or do not make changes. In fact, people who do not find this okay, should not probably seek critique. There are no good examples of this (critiquing critiques) anywhere,ever, in my experience. Certainly not here on Wattpad, of all places…
That said, I am open to continuing to read and comment further sections, If you like.
Ahhh I take a more academic/university approach to critique where it’s a more a collaborative vibe.
I suppose it’s my educational and professional background that makes me more attracted to discourse in that way.
If I was hiring a professional critique service then I would have that expectation. They comment and that’s that.
But on WP threads I’m used to a more chatty vibe
Different strokes for different folks.
Not much else to read on this story.
Outside of research (off topic - researching bomb stuff always makes me nervous that the FBI will show up on my doorstep again ) and outlining, this is about as far as I’ve gotten and I haven’t even uploaded this much since it’s in the embryonic stage.
My other stuff is outside your preferred genres and I have critique partners and betas already for most of that stuff.
If I get more going on this project, I’ll reach out. Thanks!
well I don’t have any first chapters or any books written yet, but what I have read so far, I can say i’m very much liking it
Heres one then, just for you.
It looked like the edge of the world. I motored onto the sunken beach reluctantly, only at Evaine’s insistence. The view here unnerved me.
She flung the door open, leaped out, and rushed toward the dark waters. Here, miles of sullen tide-pools fronted an endless expanse of ocean. It was a trackless waste of dead water, terminating against the ocean’s endless curve. Under starless fading light, far banks of low gray cloud punctuated a lost horizon so limitless, you feared falling into it.
There are certain places on this earth:. Devil’s vistas,that shake the life from you, leave you to feel alone, chill and vulnerable, lost in vertigo before them. The beach here was one of those places. It built on fears you didn’t know you had.
I followed her to a crumbling gray cement bridge, squatting alone in a puddled depression of this trackless delta, just a few yards long, spanning a pool from nowhere to nothing, onto a low bed of half-submerged round beach stone. It called you onward, the sunken jetty bending away and out of sight, until all around you was nothing but listless tidal waves, and chilling liquid forever.
I don’t think there was an end to it, a destination for the thin path. You went along it until fright and danger drove you back, or it finally dissolved beneath bleak waters. I followed her until she stopped to perch on a lone eruption of black rock. She sat there, staring out into the cauldron that lapped at our feet.
“It’s not safe here,” I warned. Beyond was nothing, just mist and thrashing wave. “I don’t know if the tide is in or out. We could easily get swept from this rock.”
She turned her head, focused on me. “It’s home. I come here sometimes, to think.”
The idea disturbed me. The very air here screamed of danger. This was one of those places man, in his perversity, set aside as a reminder of his frailty; not to appreciate nature’s beauty. I doubted the rare visitor lingered more than a few moments before turning back. It held all the charm of a halo jump, all the color of a tintype. Its sole feature was distance, in unrelieved perspective.
Even to stand here sent adrenaline coursing through me. To watch Evaine actually sit and ponder it suggested some vast, perhaps unbridgeable, difference between us.
She pulled back her yellow hair, frowning. “I am an orphan, you know. Raised here by my adoptive parents. You should meet them, John. Wonderful, kind people, if not my own.”
“I’d like that. I can take us to dinner, then pull by there and drop you off, if you want.”
I had met her in town on a curio tour of these small Oceanside communities. There were many antique shops in this one, filled with nautical memorabilia and old, imported brass. Legacies of sailors’ travels, wooden ships, and whaling voyages.
She had turned up in a coffee shop, and we had started a conversation. One thing led to another. I’d stayed over, and today she’d brought me here.
Her eyes, green and endlessly deep, softened, watching me in my discomfort. I am not agoraphobic, but there are some places that can dig under anyone’s skin, and this was certainly one of those.
She reached out one thin hand. “I wanted to thank you for the time you spent with me. It was good to sit, and talk like we did. It meant a lot.” She smiled wanly, returning to gaze introspectively at the deep, dreaming waters. “They say all adopted children come to a time when they must search out their roots, find that from which they were…dispossessed. I’ve come to that time.”
I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, but nodded uncertainly anyway. I held back on voicing my discomfort for her sake, and waited quietly. Without warning, she pulled my face down to hers and kissed me. Surprised and delighted, this distracted me from my contest with the insensate and defiant power surrounding us.
She seemed to come to some private decision, rose from the rock, and facing the endlessness, began to walk on. I stood rooted in fear, my flesh unwilling to go any further, heart a trip-hammer. The shallows deepened quickly, and she was soon wading waist deep into the surreal surf. I called, and pleaded for her to return to solid land, watching in panic as she dove forward, and did not rise again.
I held my place with difficulty for a time, seeing nothing but a lone dolphin-like tail lofting a salutation in the distance. Eventually fear drove me back along the rock, to the higher sands where I sat and waited. She lived here, knew this place, I told myself. She would not do anything truly stupid; purposely drown herself. She would come back over the bridge, and I would see her, and we would go to dine.
The beach slowly darkened. I returned to the SUV, started the motor, and drove back to the highway in a stupor. I did not know where her family lived. Maybe this was her way of ditching a date, or maybe it was something else. In my mind, a dolphin’s tail rose across black waters, waving.
Your imagery is captivating.
Here’s my prologue! Thanks for taking the time to do this.
They peered into the room, dark silhouettes with dark ambitions eager to watch a dead little girl perform magic.
Frank could feel the weight of their eyes follow him as he navigated the stuffy, sterile room, and the presence of the small audience intensified the tremor in his hands. Tonight was a test of whether or not they could make one of the greatest medical advancements of the century. Their success rested on his shoulders, and those of the small, lifeless body that lay before him.
She was a young girl, but it was hard to reconcile that with the way she looked. She didn’t have the healthy flush of an active child, the color rapidly seeping out of her skin as a deep greige took its place. There wasn’t any movement behind her shut, paper-thin eyelids, no twitching to indicate there was any activity in her tiny skull.
Frank stole a glance at his watch. 11:03 .
They had stopped Anne’s heart 3 minutes ago.
Rich, the other lab tech on duty, stood on the opposite side of the gurney pumping icy saline into her bloodstream. The EEG reading remained steady, the machine quietly humming with the sound of failure.
“11:04,” Frank said, interrupting the stillness of the room. “Still nothing.”
The doctor remained stoic from his position at Anne’s feet. His face was smooth with indifference as he kept his eyes on the monitor.
Rich looked worriedly over his shoulder at the EEG, and then at Frank. They both looked at the doctor for direction.
“It will work,” Dr. Gage assured them.
It has to, Frank thought. Her life depends on it.
Another minute passed with no changes on the EEG. Two minutes. Three.
Every atom of his disciplined, military trained core wanted to stay at the bedside and wait for orders. The unwavering gazes from the other side of the glass solemnly reminded him of the large investments put into this project. They wanted results.
11:10. Frank decided they weren’t going to get their results. Not at the hands of a dead ten year old girl.
He crouched behind the gurney to begin unpacking the resuscitation kit when Dr. Gage held up a palm.
“Not yet,” the doctor said, still surveying the monitor with hopeful eyes. The waves began to spike ever so slightly.
“It doesn’t matter. She’s been in there for as long as she can.” Frank pulled the defibrillator out. He turned to Rich. “Stop the ice flush.”
“Stay,” Dr. Gage overruled, and Rich slinked back to his stool, repositioning the needle in Anne’s arm.
Frank regarded his superior with accusatory eyes. “You’re going to kill her.”
“She’s already dead.” Dr. Gage’s face broke into a triumphant smile. “It’s how she’s doing that,” he said, pointing at the EEG.
Frank’s breath caught in his throat as he watched the waves spike out of control. Rich put the syringe down to loom over Anne, studying her with fascination.
Dr. Gage laughed, clapping a proud hand on Frank’s shoulder. Frank could do nothing but stare at the monitor, stare at its concrete proof that they had made the impossible possible.
He looked back at small Anne, slumped listlessly on the gurney, and he only lamented that it had to take ending her life. They had gotten their results, but they paid for it in the blood of an orphan.
He lamented, that is, until she woke up.
She blinked her brown eyes open, eyes trained on the water damaged ceiling. As quick as Anne had left existence she had returned, and all on her own. The visitors had come to see a magic show, and Anne had brought it. Just not in the way they were expecting.
From her arose a sound that had no place originating in a little girl’s chest. A sound that after this night, would echo through Frank’s dreams and deprive him of any peace. A sound that he was sure could only come from where Anne had returned.
Rich remained transfixed at her side, paling. “What in the…”
Her eyes met Frank’s, but they did not belong to her. They could not have belonged to a human.
“Nitrofluzepam,” Dr. Gage rasped, his calm demeanor dissipating.
Frank rummaged through the cabinet for the sedative, his panicked search cut short by the crackle of a scream cutting through air. Anne’s hands were latched around Rich’s throat, her fingers squeezing with a force impossible for her small arms to produce on their own. It didn’t take long for her nails to break skin, piercing through Rich’s neck and spraying the gurney with his blood.
Rich flailed, desperate to exit her grip, but with each second passed his frame grew limper. She extracted her hands from him, and Rich sank to the cold linoleum to pant his final breaths.
Dr. Gage crawled across the room to jam a meaty fist against the viewing window. “Guard!”
Anne was easing herself off the gurney, eyes trained on Frank, who retreated only for his back to collide with a wall.
She moved toward him with an agility and quickness that did not belong to a 10 year old girl, and sized him up with eyes too flat and sinister to belong to a pre-pubescent face. He flinched when she reached out to cup his face.
Anne smiled, studying her captive as she held him in place. But her smile began to falter, and Frank watched as all of the malice seeped out of her features and was replaced by fear.
Anne let go of him, her eyes darting: from Frank’s face to her blood stained clothes, from her serrated nails to the shiny, sinister puddle pooling under Rich’s head as he lay lifeless on the floor. She looked at Frank, eyes darting with a terror perhaps greater than the ones her own hands had caused.
“Frank?” she asked, her lilting, small voice cracking as tears welled in her eyes. “What happened?”
He rose to his feet cautiously as the door buzzed open. Three guards swarmed in, 45’s drawn and aimed directly at the small skull that was shivering for help and an explanation for why she was covered in her caretaker’s blood.
Frank yelled, flung his arms, but it was too late as the bullets lodged into Anne’s head and found a home there. She joined Rich on the floor as they both became remnants of that July night, remnants that would haunt Frank until he joined them in their fate himself.
This is the first chapter of The City of Blood. I’m still writing it, so it’s not finished:
SNOW HAD FINALLY FELL IN THE CITY, lightly brushing against the faces of children who ran out of their homes the moment they saw it—their scarves tightly wrapped around their necks, their mittens on their hands, five different layers underneath the heavy winter coat they wore. The mothers were checking the window every five minutes as they prepared their pies, monitoring their child as they played in the yard; kneading the dough, rolling it flat and placing it in the tin. With a fork, they punctured tiny holes into the dough and crimped the crust with their forefinger and thumb. In this dish, they used an assortment of things as filling—apples, peaches, pumpkin, sweet potato, or a mixture of boysenberries and all berries alike; they placed it in the oven and opened the windows, letting the heavenly scent fill the neighborhood.
That was the start of the four-day preparation for the Feast. The mothers, with the occasional help of the daughters (if they had one) and more help from the fathers, worked throughout the entire day. And at the end of every meal creation, no matter how much time they had left, they surprisingly had time to make an even bigger dinner for that night.
It was a clock-work routine that I was, gladly, not apart of.
I sat inside of a nearly empty bar located at the edge of town, listening to the music that echoed throughout the place. The yellow fluorescent lights reflected off the glass of whiskey that sat on the counter as I swayed to the music that filled my body, vibrating throughout me.
Jim, the bartender, dried a glass with a towel as he lightly shook his hips. “You haven’t touched your Four Roses, kid,” he pointed out. He placed the glass down and leaned onto the counter. “What’s on your mind?”
“I was just in a trance, Jim,” I said as I sat down and took a sip of the bourbon. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Ah, the band’s got ya, huh?” he grinned with pride. His elbow roughly hit the counter as he slouched down on his hand, pointing his thumb to the band’s frontman. “It’s a miracle I’m able to have them play. Especially 'cause of the weather, flights will most likely be delayed. You know how bad it gets down here,” he laughs.
I nodded with a knowing smile.
He frowned, picking up the glass he sat down earlier and putting it with the rest. “Still, what’s bothering ya, kiddo? You’re normally not like this—this quiet, closed-off; it’s unlike you.”
Gesturing for another glass, I shrugged, which made his frown deepen. “I know it’s not a response, Jim, but I’m fine,” I reassured him. “And before you say anything , no, I’m not—well, maybe, I am. How many people are around?”
“Five or six at most,” he guessed. “It’s a slow night.”
I feel like this belongs more to the Mystery/Thriller/Noir Genre, but I would like my peers to give this a read and let me know. All feedback greatly appreciated.
At that moment there was only one song, made audible through closed eyes and focused ears. Each of them listening for the low lying bass created by the melodic cadence of their heartbeats, a waltz. It might have helped that he was humming. This was his answer to every problem. He had strategically placed the furniture in such a way that this was possible.
There was a canvas in the background which read, “Kind hearts keep giving.” They had made this their home, a loft on the corner of 15th and Grand separating the business district from the creative. A home divided by business and pleasure. The brick wall along the kitchen had on it the fading paint of a Pepsi Cola ad. The realtor mentioned something about it being painted in the late 30s, come alive it said. The fading paint served as a reminder making it known that not all things get better with time.
And so they danced. Her cheek lined with his. Their steps just missing the broken glass still new from the proceeding argument. A single tear lingering at the bottom of her cheek, ready for its own battle with gravity. The red light from the neon sign outside giving just enough light to brighten their dark eyes. The argument had left their home looking as if Atlas did shrug.
“Come back to bed,” the words flowed from his mouth like a prayer to the divine. Many of her lovers knew this feeling well. Her love being the type that there was no stronger punishment than taking it away. He took her hand as to lead her to the bedroom, but her resistant feet did not move. He looked up to see that same tear lingering.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I just want to dance.”
And so he took her. She believed everything he said knowing that in the morning it would not sound the same. But at this moment it was what she needed. That’s how he remembered her his perfect Caroline. He loved her complexity every layer being filled with duality and human mess. When he met her, she was the one that got away. The unrequited love of his life. All the things he felt he was born to say to her that he could never find it within himself to speak.
But she never was, only here in the safety of his therapist’s chair was he safe to talk about it. She would listen. She wouldn’t judge him, but she would tell him how unhealthy this was. Knowing that he would just go back home and do more. Living, he called it. “And at night we live,” he said. No one knows if he knew none of it was real. But it was here when he sat at his computer three drinks in and blunt lit, he lived, and he loved. The blunt leaving strange clouds of smoke and ash around to linger, he liked it here.
He only felt good enough in his dreams. The only problem was he never dreamt. Between the tight hold of insomnia and the fear of his nightmares, he had learned to just lie awake. Counting the breaks on the wall. Were there 146 or 123 he could never remember, so he began counting again. One, two, three. I wonder what she is doing. He got up walking to his computer, and again he began to “live.”
So here’s my first chapter for my fantasy novel - From Embers. I have a prologue but to match with the title of this forum Any feedback is appreciated!
Mara dragged her feet stubbornly, the soles of her shoes loudly scratching on the floor that sent unpleasant shivers down her mother’s back. Her delicate features were scrunched, and she grumbled not so quiet about how silly her mother’s decision to leave her there. Her mother didn’t look down at her child as she grabbed her hand and sped up the pace.
Edward Madin, her grandfather, sat at his desk, buried in unorganized papers and books littered around his office. Mara rubbed her wrist after her mother finally let go, the adults leaving her outside the room and closing the door behind them.
Determined to not be left out, she kneeled, pressing her ear to the small gap underneath the door. Allowing her to hear snips of their conversation. She knew her grandfather hadn’t stood up to greet his daughter when she didn’t hear the chair moving. It only creaked as he leaned back in it.
“-it’s not safe-” her mother’s voice sounded strained, “-been missing for weeks now.” Her grandfather mumbled a reply. Mara couldn’t hear and she tensed as the sound of glass crashing filled her ears. Her mother was mad.
“Don’t Tamira me like I’m not a grown woman with a child to protect.” Her mother snarled.
“It’s dangerous!” The chair crashed to the ground, her grandfather had finally stood up.
“No father. You can wait and-” her mother moved farther into the room, Mara missed most of the rant, “-the rest of us are murdered one at a time.”
Madin’s voice sounded desperate, “You can’t just charge in there and expect to come out alive.”
“Watch me,” Her mother’s footsteps were light, but the young girl knew if she didn’t get up she’d be caught red-handed. The light from the bulbs in the office shone in her face when her mother swung the door open as she dusted her knees off.
“I’ll be back in a month, two tops,” Mara’s mother kissed the top of her head, “Listen to your grandfather alright?”
A sense of impending doom sunk into Mara’s gut as she watched her mother disappear. The feeling that she wouldn’t see her for an age, if not ever again, scared her more than she wanted to admit. In the corner of her eye, she could see the shattered remains of a vase on the floor; orchids lay strewn and stepped on.
So that’s what Mother broke , she thought to herself. She blinked her teary blue eyes at the old man who put a comforting hand on her shoulder. The wrinkles around her grandfather’s face softened as he looked down at her.
“She’ll be back.” He said.
Mara couldn’t tell if he was reassuring her or himself.
After a moment of silence, Madin returned to work. With little to do Mara wandered around many corridors making what she thought were airplane sounds with her mouth as she held her plastic plane up to the windows, pretending it was flying. Her uncle had told her humans used to pilot these machines in the sky. It fascinated her to imagine traveling in a metal monster, soaring above the world, leaving any troubles and worries on the ground. She imagined the humans’ felt as light as clouds when flying. As a vampire, she had the natural ability of extreme speed; it seemed only fair that they had something fast to contrast their very long, slow lives. Flying was not one of the supernatural gifts bestowed upon her kind.
Seeing birds’ tweet and flutter happily outside the windows filled her with envy. She closed her eyes for a minute; in her mind’s eye her toy airplane flew out a nearby window and expanded. Stairs folded down from the plane door and her parents stood at the top, smiling, arms spread out - beckoning her to follow them. She took several steps forward before she felt something hard hit her square in the face; she’d walked into a pillar.
An almost silent snicker came from outside the open window next to the red-faced child. Embarrassed and mad, Mara climbed the window ledge and stuck her head out. She couldn’t see anyone, but she smelled pulsing blood faintly. Hunting a human was more interesting than just wandering the halls to the vampire. The jump down was short, and she landed gracefully. Tucking her toy in her trouser pocket she stepped lightly through the rose garden, the smell of blood getting stronger.
Behind some rose bushes, the young vampire found the laughing culprit. The young vampire looked curiously at the gardener as she searched her brain to remember where she’d seen the woman before. She hadn’t seen Jai-Jai since their first encounter five years ago. Mara looked curiously, for a mortal, the gardener hadn’t aged much. But then again, she’d never really met a full-blooded human before. Any of the human race who’d stayed above ground soon bred with magical beings; their human genes disappearing as generations progressed.
“Hobo human, you’re still dirty.”
Jai-Jai stayed crouched on the ground where she’d been digging holes to plant new roses. She didn’t bother to wipe the streaks of mud off her face, “You haven’t grown much, Tiny.”
Mara turned up her nose and defended her height, “I’m a vampire. We grow slow.”
“Shut up, I could kill you, you know. I’d have your body drained before you even knew what bit you.”
Jai-Jai moved her hair all to one side, exposing a portion of her neck, “Go ahead Tiny, try me.”
Mara kicked a rock to the side, mumbling that she wasn’t hungry. She too crouched down and watched the gardener return to tending the roses. Her eyes worked their way slowly down the young woman’s body. She envied the dark curls which had been pulled into a messy bun once Jai-Jai had resumed her gardening, her hand unconsciously tucking her own red curls behind her ears which were flying freely around her face. Jai-Jai’s eyes, like her hair, were a dark brown and golden, tanned skin from working in the sun covered her body. A glint of gold caught Mara’s attention and brought her eyes down to the anklet that the gardener wore. It was a thin band with little decoration other than pale white swirling grooves in it.
Jai-Jai must have realized her audience had no plans to leave anytime soon because she motioned for the vampire to come closer. Handing Mara a small gardening spade the gardener spoke, “If you’re going to be here you might as well help me.”
The woman spent the next hour explaining about gardening to the child, who found it all fascinating. They chatted about flowers, weeds, and bugs. Soon the conversation turned to birds and flying once Mara pulled out her toy and proudly showed it to the gardener.
“Don’t you ever wonder how it feels to fly?” Mara’s voice squeezed a little with excitement.
The gardener didn’t answer, a sudden strong gust of wind let loose several strands of hair from her bun, which she was unable to tuck, back in. Mara wondered if she’d offended the human when an awkward silence settled between the two. Opening her mouth to speak an arrow narrowly missed her cheek and landed next to them. Stunned, Mara’s brain froze; her reflexes’ taking several milliseconds to realize what was happening. Jai-Jai moved in front of the little girl and surveyed their attackers.
Five cloaked strangers stood behind them, all carrying weapons. Unable to see their faces, Mara looked to her feet, thinking it would help calm her. It did not. The arrow which had been intended to kill her lay a step away. Her heart was beating faster then she thought possible.
Unable to tear her eyes away from the arrow, Mara did not realize Jai-Jai was shouting at her until the gardener grabbed her shaking hands and roughly pushed her to the side as another arrow was shot. Being a child, Mara could die easier than adult vampires; her body had not yet matured its healing abilities. Jai-Jai yelled for her to run as she met the group head on, with only her small spade in hand.
Mara’s heart hurt as she took off towards the house. Her eyes were yet again filled with tears, but she refused to cry until she’d found an adult to save her new friend. She turned back for a second before she was too far to see them. She saw an arrow embedding itself into Jai-Jai’s side before she turned away and entered her home. The smell of blood filled the air.
Lungs burning, her determination to not cry was not enough to keep the floodgates from opening. She sped through the house as fast as her supernatural powers would allow her, looking for anyone to help.
With only a few servants in Madin’s care, none were to be found in the giant house. His office too was empty, her grandfather had left not long ago as the bulbs still emanated heat. Her tears blurred her vision when she heard a familiar voice behind her. Turning, Mara grabbed his long fingers. He knelt and cupped her face in his hands, his face contorted with worry.
Mara could barely get the words she needed out, “Garden…” hiccup, “hunters…” hiccup.
He felt a sinking feeling crawl down his body, “Where in the garden?”
Hiccup, “Roses. Please help…” hiccup, “she’s hurt.”
He told her to stay inside and warn the staff to be on alert. As he sped off towards the roses, Mara composed herself and ran to find the butler. She had full belief that if anyone could save her friend, it was Sen.