Saturday, May 14, 2011

6 1st Five Pages Workshop - May Rev 1: Entry #2

Young Adult -- Sara Baker
CHAPTER ONE
Death
The sun shines on this Saturday afternoon in the small town of Dayville in Connecticut, and a gentle breeze swirls about rustling the turning leaves as they fade from waxy caterpillar green to vibrant shades of lemon zest, saffron red, and shades of an orange peel.  I look up in the sky and at the sun and find myself wondering what its warmth feels like or the chill that goes with the changing of the seasons.
There are people everywhere.  None of them suspect it, but a dark cloud lingers and edges its way closer.  I take the antique pocket watch from my vest pocket and look at its face.  The second hand ticks, its sound available to my ears alone.
2:38
Four minutes and it will be time to collect him.
I stroll along the sidewalk that leads into the park.  Around me is nothing but a still silence, except for the ticking clock.   I know that happy shouts emerge from the children as they climb, run, and swing…  I see it on their just out of focus faces, the smiles, their mouths in laughter.  It is this way in the Children’s Heaven.  Only there, I can hear their shrieks of delight and do not have to imagine it.  I keep the living this way, nothing more than a palate of bright dancing colors.
I focus only on the one I am to collect and keep his image sharp.  He flies out from the tunnel of the slide and into the arms of a young lady that waits for him at the bottom.  His blonde hair catches the afternoon light, a golden halo upon his head.  His cherub cheeks puff up.  Jake smiles with his heart, his eyes dance with pure joy as only a child’s can.
I sigh in disappointment that this soul is so young.  There is so much the young ones have yet to experience and never will in this life.  Once again there is a stir of hunger within me for the human experience instead of watching from the sidelines.   But it will never be; I am not a soul.
I continue to watch only the boy.  The female carries him to the bench and sets him down where he squirms, eager to head home.  It is his fourth birthday and cake is waiting.  She tugs off his shoes, and tips them over, emptying out the fine grains of sand that fill them before returning them to his feet.  Her hands are delicate and her fingers nimble as she ties the long laces into bows.
“It’s my birthday, Aamira!” Jake tells her; I read his lips.  “It’s my birthday, it’s my birthday!”
She responds; her face turned away, picks up her purse, and holds out her hand.
This is the beginning of the end.
Instead of taking it, he slides off the bench and bolts down the sidewalk towards the parking lot.
 He giggles as he runs.
Aamira does not hesitate to race after him. 
A squat man with a bulging stomach walking a dog lets Jake race by, watching.  He could stop what is about to happen, should he reach out for the child… or move out of her way.  His poodle jumps on her and the leash becomes entangled in her feet.  Aamira falls to the ground in a heap but scrambles up.
Jake runs, but she is gaining ground.
Aamira reaches out to in a desperate attempt to grab him, missing his shirt by a mere inch.  He jumps off the curb and heads for their vehicle.  The ticking is at its loudest and its fastest, it has reached its pinnacle.
I am surrounded by complete and utter silence.
We stand together as he looks down.  At our feet is the body he has left behind.  He studies the silver car that had tried to veer to the side.  It had not been enough and there is nothing to be done for it.
I hold out my hand. His small hand grasps mine and he looks up at me with wide frightened eyes.  He is on my plane of existence now.
"Do I get to go home now?  I want my Mommy and Daddy."  His voice shakes, not quite grasping the events.
"Yes Jake, to your new home.  You parents will meet you there later."
"What about Aamira?  I want her to come with me now."
I shake my head.
Jake watches his elder sister and his lower lip pouts, "I don't want her to cry."
I do what I swore I would never do again: I break one of my own rules.  For the first time since Uriah, the first soul I collected, I fully look at the one left behind.
Aamira is sobbing silently. Tears stream down the gentle slopes of her cheeks as she shakes her head vehemently, as if it will change the outcome, refusing to accept her new reality.  She cradles the boy. 
It reminds me Uriah.  He was nineteen and killed during battle.  His elder brother was standing next to him when the sword impaled his chest.  I watched the humans with fascination, but it quickly turned to horror as I came to understand what they were doing.  Everyone was dying and it seemed to be a painful experience, their contorted faces etched with pain.  They were wasting their free will and the opportunity to learn.  I was consumed with disappointment.  How could these souls not appreciate what they were given?
Uriah fell to the ground, convulsing.  His brother raced to his side after slaying the man holding the sword then fell to his knees, cradles Uriah, and said goodbye.  There was so much heartache.  The ticking clock I had been given stopped and Uriah was beside me as Jake is.  Since then, I never looked again; until now.
Suddenly she looks up.  Aamira sees me and her stormy glistening grey eyes pierce mine.  She becomes stunningly real to me in this instant, no longer an invisible casualty of my job.
I hear her gasp, a distinct sharp intake of breath.  I hear someone from the other side; this has never happened, not even when I watched Uriah’s death.  Her eyes, I know those eyes and her soul from a time before, but from where?
I breathe her in.  Her hair is the color of hazelnut streaked with honey, her sun-kissed skin still glowing from the summer, and her lips are ripened berries.  I have to know her.
It disappears in an instant, as if I imagined it.
She is looking at Jake, rocking him on the warm pavement.  But still, I hear them.  I hear them all.  A crowd of people gathers around. Sirens wail in the distance, coming closer with each moment.
"I don't want her to cry," repeats Jake and tugs on my hand.
With remorse, I tear my eyes from Aamira and back to Jake.  I understand the sadness in his eyes.
"She will not cry forever," I tell him.  "One day she will be with you again."
Right then and there I desire to trade his soul for hers.  I would if I could.
She should be dead.
I find myself longing for her.  She has to die, I want… no, need… her to die.  Perhaps in her death, I will be made whole.
No.  That is wrong.  I do not want her life to end.  I would rather experience it with her.  To live… to feel something, anything real…  I shake my head to clear it of impossibilities.
“It is time to go now,” I say although I do not want to.
Death, it is an inevitable part of life.  For some, it is a means to an end, whereas for others it is an unavoidable terrifying prospect everyone must face.  Every life comes to an end at precisely the right time.
Death is immortal.  I am immortal.  I am Death.

6 comments:

  1. Yay! You fixed most of the tense issues (and the only one I saw I think was a typo). I think it reads much better, and you made the time thing so much clearer. By describing the absence of the senses, you gave us a better understanding of Death's experience. I GOT it when he was momentarily pulled into her reality. Still love the child and the sad situation.

    I feel like the flashback to his first "kill" could be smoothed out a bit. Perhaps more detail to the battle. A specific example or two of all the humans killing each other as he spins from one gruesome scene to another? That would certainly leave an impression.

    Knit-picky thing, but in that last paragraph - take out the word terrifying. I think it will work better. Also earlier try taking out "I hold out my hand." You use hand in the next sentence and I'm not sure this phrase is necessary.

    The thing I'm not getting is that Death is a teenage boy. I'm sorry to say that. Especially after all the praise. But you have to know. It's tricky to write from the perspective of the supernatural, and so far the only part that felt "young" enough was when he wanted to be with the girl. I want more of a teen voice for this, and I think based on your writing, you can do it.

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  2. Wow. Your changes made this so much more powerful.
    Nice job.

    I agree with Lisa about the flashback, that's the only time that I'm really pulled away from the story. And I wonder if it wouldn't even be more powerful without it.

    I love that he can "hear" through her for that one moment.

    Even though it won't be posted here, I hope the next chapter is from Aamira's pov.

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  3. PS. I would definitely keep reading after this.

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  4. Thank you so much for all of the help so far! Margie-It does change to Aamira's pov. :-) her voice is MUCH more teen than death's

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  5. This is a great revision. I really want to know what happens next!

    I like the beginning without those original first lines, but the first sentence now is really long. I was thinking you could split it at the "and" or you could combine the first couple paragraphs so you had something like this...

    There are people everywhere on this sunny Saturday afternoon in Dayville, Connecticut. None of them suspect it, but a dark cloud lingers and edges its way closer. I take the antique pocket watch from my vest pocket and look at its face. The second hand ticks, its sound available to my ears alone.

    2:38

    Four minutes and it will be time to collect him.

    I stroll along the sidewalk that leads into the park. A gentle breeze swirls about rustling the turning leaves as they fade from waxy caterpillar green to vibrant shades of lemon zest, saffron red, and shades of an orange peel. and so on...

    I love this line: I keep the living this way, nothing more than a palette of bright dancing colors.

    One thing to consider is whether it would make sense to refer to Aamira as his older sister rather than a "young lady" when you are first describing the scene. It might help ground us in their relationship more quickly. But, of course, you might have some very good reason for not doing that.

    I thought it was nice to give the background of Uriah being the first soul he took and the only other time he looked back. However, I was pulled out of the story a bit by all the detail of his death and Death's opinion about humans and war. I think that is great to include somewhere, but I don't know if right here makes the most sense. In my opinion, it would make sense to have a brief mention of Uriah and then keep going with Aamira to keep this powerful scene intact and to leave us with a bit of mystery in terms of what happened to Uriah.

    One nitpick: I wouldn't think that the clock's ticking would speed up at the end.

    But, anyway, I loved this before, and it's even stronger now. Well done!

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  6. I agree that the tense issues are mostly locked down now, and you've smoothed out a lot of the initial issues. Great job.

    I believe you can tighten this a bit. As a huge overwriter, I look at this extra hard, so take this with a grain of salt. BUT...

    In your first couple paragraphs, for example, you could cut a few words:

    The sun shines on this Saturday afternoon in the small town of Dayville[,] Connecticut, and a gentle breeze swirls [the] turning leaves [already] fading from waxy caterpillar green to [] lemon zest, saffron red, and [] orange peel. I [squint] at the sun and [] wonder what it [would be like to feel its] warmth [] or the chill that goes with the changing of the seasons.

    There are people everywhere. None of them suspect it, but a dark cloud [] edges [] closer. I [check the time on] the antique pocket watch from my vest pocket. The second hand ticks, its sound available to my ears alone.

    Obviously these are extreme cuts, just for illustrative purposes, and the result isn't necessarily better, just shorter. My point is that you need to consider every word, especially in these first five pages. See which words add significantly, and which can be removed to give you room to squeeze in some extra plot development. With many agents, you are only going to get to send five pages. Make the most of them and show us more of Death's dilemma, make us really feel his longing, for warmth, for life, for Aamira. Show us how he feels for the boy, what he makes of Aamira's tears. Does he reach out and try to feel them? Does he put his hand on her hair, hoping to feel it, to comfort her? Punch these things up. And what is it about this boy and his sister that is different--that is going to make THE difference in his life? Strengthen that.

    I agree with Lisa about the flashback. It felt a little distracting.

    As far as the voice goes, I'm going to disagree with Lisa--or agree, depending on interpretation. I wouldn't want Death to sound like a teen boy. Instead, consider adding some additional worldbuilding in the sense of giving us insight into what Death wants, what he needs, and how different this world is from where he spends his time. I'm thinking of stories like Brenna Yovanoff's THE REPLACEMENT, which was creepy in a truly beautiful way. Death isn't a teen boy here, so I don't think you want him to sound like one. Keep at this. You're getting there! Good job.

    Martina

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Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)