Wednesday, May 25, 2011

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

Young Adult -- Sara Baker

The sun shines on this Saturday afternoon in the small town of Dayville Connecticut.  I stroll along the sidewalk that leads into the park.  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.
There are people everywhere.  None of them suspect it, but a dark cloud lingers and edges its way closer.  A gentle breeze swirls, rustling the turning leaves fading from waxy caterpillar green to shades of lemon zest, saffron red, and those of an orange peel.  I squint, looking up at the sun and wonder what its warmth feels like or the chill that goes with the changing of the season. 
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 his elder sister that waits for him at the bottom.  His blonde hair catches the afternoon light, a golden halo upon his head.  His 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.
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 Jake.
This reminds me of when I collected Uriah who was killed in battle.  As Aamira does now, his brother had raced to his side, cradled Uriah, and they said goodbye.  There was so much heartache.  The ticking clock I had been given stopped and Uriah was beside me as Jake is now.  It was then I decided to never look again; until now.
Suddenly she looks up.  Aamira sees me and her stormy 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.
Once again 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 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. Wow, still very powerful. Just a couple small things. This line: "She cradles Jake." should possibly read Jake's body, since Jake is with him? Also, the paragraph about Uriah. I so loved the line above a short paragraph away where you say: "The ticking clock I had been given stopped and Uriah was beside me as Jake is now. It was then I decided to never look again; until now." That gave me such a good taste, where I was curious, but more curious about what was happening there. It's a great way to get me to read on. SO I think eliminating the tension by answering that a paragraph later is a mistake. I would take that out.

    Otherwise you know my feelings on this. Very gripping opening. Wish it was more of a teen voice, but I'd definitely read on. Good job.

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  2. Sara, I'm still really enjoying this story. And all I've found are a few nits.

    In the second full paragraph, you use the word "rustling". Now, this might just be me, but I equate rustling as a noise and since Death can't hear anything, it seems like an odd choice there. I think it misleads the reader, because they don't know he can't hear at that point.

    I like the mention of children's Heaven. I don't remember that from before, but I like that it sets up that Death isn't an evil entity.

    The one place I think you could enhance is this segment:switching to caps with my thoughts.

    A squat man with a bulging stomach walking a dog lets Jake race by, watching.YOU HAVE THREE ING WORDS IN THIS ONE SENTENCE. BY REWORDING THE SENTENCE, YOU MIGHT ELIMINATE THEM ALL AND MAKE THE SENTENCE MORE IMMEDIATE--WHICH YOU WANT--DEATH IS IMMENENT. "A SQUAT MAN, HIS BULBOUS STOMACH CINCHED IN BY A BELT WATCHES JAKE RACE BY. HIS YIPPY POODLE JUMPS AFTER JAKE, STRETCHING HIS LEASH ACROSS THE WALKWAY." OKAY, MAYBE THAT'S NOT THE GREATEST EXAMPLE, BUT YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO GET WHERE I'M GOING WITH IT. He could stop what is about to happen, should he reach out for the child… or move out of herAAMIRA'S 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. HOW IS JAKE RUNNING? DOES HE TURN AROUND AND CHALLENGE AAMIRA? IS HE STILL LAUGHING? I THINK YOU MISS MAKING THIS A REALLY GREAT MOMENT WITH THE BREVITY. BEFORE JAKE'S DEATH--SHOW US HIS LIFE, EVEN IF JUST FOR THIS BRIEF MOMENT.

    I'd change the word order of this:"Do I get to go home now? I want my Mommy and Daddy." His voice shakes, not quite grasping the events.--put the speech tag in the middle to enhance his sadness.

    --It disappears in an instant, as if I imagined it.---Two ITS. I think the first one might be better if you say, The moment disappears...

    Okay, that's all I got :)

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  3. Hi Sara,

    I love the world-building you've added. Deftly done! For next week, I'd love to see you sharpen up the other-worldliness of the voice even further.

    Phrases like:

    There are people everywhere. (What are they doing?)

    A gentle breeze swirls, rustling the turning leaves fading (ambiguous, could refer to the breeze or the leaves) from waxy caterpillar green to shades of lemon zest, saffron red, and those (awkward) of an orange peel. (wordy)

    I squint, looking up at the sun and wonder what its warmth feels like or (missing verb; use feels to clearly refer to both chill and warmth, or add a second verb)

    Around me is nothing but a still silence, except for the ticking clock. (Awkward phrasing makes the reader slow. Is he cocooned in silence? Trapped in silence? Don't lose the opportunity of a strong verb here)

    I know that happy shouts emerge from the children as they climb, run, and swing… (Wordy.)

    I see it on their just out of focus faces, the smiles, their mouths in laughter. ("I see" isn't necessary in 1st POV, but fine in this context. See note on focus later.)

    I keep the living this way, nothing more than a palate of bright dancing colors. (He makes a deliberate choice not to hear? Or is lack of focus the choice? If the latter, would he see their mouths moving etc.)

    I focus only on the one (child, be specific) I am to collect and keep his image sharp. (see above-do you see his features where all the other kids are blurs? Show the contrast.)

    He flies out from the tunnel of the slide and into the arms of his elder (Watch how many prepositions you pile into a single sentence, but here the phrasing works: elder instead of older separates him from a normal teen.) sister that waits for him at the bottom (Here it doesn't work--the sister is a who, not a that. If you did this deliberately, it's making him unsympathetic. Altogether, the clause is wordy. Just say elder sister waits at the bottom. Does she have her arms outstretched? Is she laughing too? Does he see her features?).

    His blonde hair catches the afternoon light, a golden halo upon (upon works) his head.

    Once again there is (wordy, just say Hunger for the human experience stirs within me again; within me is already a differentiator) a stir of hunger within me for the human experience instead of watching from the sidelines. (What is it that makes him wonder? What it would be like to go down the slide? To feel arms wrap around him the way Jake's sister's do as she lifts him high and spins him around?)

    But it will never be; I am not a soul. (Likely the most significant differentiator. Are you saying that in your world people ARE souls, instead of having souls? That we see ourselves incorrectly? This is a critical statement. Inject feeling and interpretation into it.)

    You get the idea. In general, use distancing word forms like passive voice, "ing" verb forms, etc. very specifically. This will sharpen the foreigness of the voice without pushing the reader too far away and negating 1st POV.

    The flashback is less intrusive now, but smooth it even further. We don't need the "I remember" cue. Just flow into it and back out of it, and don't let anything intrude on the similarity of the images--eliminate the brother racing to Uriah's side. Show him cradling Uriah the way Aamira cradles Jack, rocking him in his arms with such stark grief that it leaves Death unable to focus on those he leaves behind, but Aamira's eyes lock him in place and won't let him escape, etc.

    And then the moment when she sees him! That's crucial. Why does she see him? How does she see him? How does it make him feel?

    This is a beautiful, poignant passage, but I think you can dig even deeper, show us more, make us really feel it. Looking forward to seeing what you do for the next revision!

    Martina

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  4. I love the revisions you made. This wraps you right into the story.

    I agree with what the others have said, and could only find a few more points to add...

    The following sentence tripped me up:
    She responds; her face turned away, picks up her purse, and holds out her hand.

    The semi-colon threw me off, and the actions seem too clumped together to me. I think it might be stronger to highlight her holding out her hand. Then, it would lead more smoothly into the next bit. Something like:
    As she picks up her purse, she responds but her face is turned away from me. I can't see what she says. She holds out her hand.

    Also, I wonder about this sentence:
    Aamira does not hesitate to race after him.
    It feels like it's missing her desperation, like it could be a game. Maybe you want some ambiguity, but something like: "Aamira bolts after him." might be clearer.

    The only other thought I had was that using the word "heap" when she falls makes her sound more passive than she is right then. I don't know what to suggest instead... "In an instant she is sprawled out on the sidewalk, but scrambles up..." ??

    Those are tiny things, though. It's a great first five pages.

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  5. All I have for you is in the first paragraph....lines 2 and 3 both start with I...I'd change line 3 to start with another word.

    made me cry....=) much more powerful this time..

    carrie

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  6. Could you perhaps have him wonder at the sound of Jake's voice when he finally hears it? After such an utter silence (that is freaking spectacular in this new version) I wonder if he'd relish in the sound of it, or if it intrudes on him like the buzzing of a bee.

    Holy cow, I so want to read this one. Very well done!

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