Tuesday, April 07, 2009

New Beginning 625

It wasn't the worst part of the job. The salary was worse. The workload would be, too. But a basement office--that was just rubbing it in.

Emily, trailing the department secretary down a rusted spiral staircase, gave a deep sigh in lieu of weeping and gnashing teeth. Locked in a dungeon, let out only to give lectures, she thought. Then she saw the gargoyle.

It sat--eyes bulging, mouth gaping, hands rending its face--next to the arched basement door. Taped above was a message in red ink: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

She stared at this in perplexed amusement, picturing the students who would change their minds about visiting during office hours. The secretary, apparently believing gates to hell required no explanation, said merely "second corridor on the left" and click-clacked back to ground level. Emily spent a moment trying to recall which poor devils were stuck in the second circle of Dante's Inferno--the lustful?--before giving herself a mental shake and venturing in.

It really was a dungeon.

"Perfect," she sighed. "All it needs is the right lighting."

Before the end of term, Mistress Emily's Inferno for the Lustful Damned was the second-most-popular S & M club on the Ridgewood High School campus.

Even the gargoyle began to look cheerful.



Opening: Jamie.....Continuation: Batgirl

34 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:


Right down to the rats, mold, and torture chambers. Emily gulped as she entered her new office, Torture Chamber 12.

No, the salary wasn’t the worst after all. The worst part was that they hadn’t taken her predecessor off the rack yet.

--Rachel


"Emily De Sade?" an eldritch voice intoned from somewhere under the pile of papers on the desk.

"Uh, no, Emily Dickinson. Like the poet." She peered around the large pile, trying to glimpse the face that went with the voice.

There was a long silence, finally broken by the rustling of paper. An evil head appeared. A head so hideous, Emily had to stifle a scream.

Evil Editor blinked in the feeble light of the dying incandescent bulb. "Oh well," he said at last. "I guess you'll have to do. The first creative writing class starts tomorrow. Do you need any torture implements?"

--D. Lemma


The gargoyle stepped forward and the light swept across its features, making it seem all the more evil. As it scanned the hallway, its hair moved as one with the turn of its head.

"Welcome, Emily," it said, stretching out an oversized, gnarled hand. "So, how does it feel? After sixteen weeks of hell, you made it this far. How does it feel to be the new Apprentice?"

--Anon.


Flicking the cobwebs from her face, Emily emerged into a dank chamber, her footsteps seeming to feed an insatiable echo.

To her right, on a dais hewn of frowning skulls, stood a jewel encrusted ironing board.

To her left, piles and piles and piles of boxer shorts, the Vs of their gussets trailing like chevrons into the shadows.

A hunched wraith stepped forward and handed Emily a rolling pin.

"When you're done with EE's smalls," he mumbled, "fix Miss Varmighan a margherita..."

--WO


Two students, chained to the wall in front of her, looked up weakly as she entered the room. Her officemate was seated at his desk in the corner, facing the two but paying them no mind as he scribbled on a massive stack of papers. He was about 40, balding and wore glasses perched on the end of his nose, which he looked down at the pages in front of him. He paused, wrote for another moment, then placed his pen down and looked at Emily.

"Welcome. You must be the new associate professor, Ms. Jones." Emily nodded. "My name is Jonathan Brisby. I teach in the Medieval History department as well. I hope you won't mind sharing the space, I promise I won't be any trouble."

Emily reached out her hand, and he shook it. She smiled in thanks and then rolled her eyes meaningfully to the two students dangling limply from the shackles on the walls. "And these two? Are they to share with us indefinitely as well?"

Brisby snickered, a low, guttural sound tinged with malice. He reached over to his desk and produced two heavy folders from somewhere on its cluttered surface. "Have a look at these."

Emily skimmed quickly. Release forms, authorizations, living and final wills...what was this?

"You see, Ms. Jones, I am more than a historian. I am a scientist. I am conducting here an experiment, and you will find that all the proper channels have been gone through, the procedures followed. I do this with full legal and moral right. These people are mine to do with as I please. They have forsaken their names. I call them Thing 1 and Thing 2. You have arrived at a fortuitous time, because my experiment truly begins tomorrow." He pointed to the wall by the door, where assorted heinous implements of pain were displayed, hanging from wicked-looking hooks embedded in the mortar between the stones.

Emily felt her heart begin to pound as she took a step backward, towards the unoccupied desk she was to use. She set her bag on top of the desk and extracted a binder overflowing with papers, notes, photographs and bloodstained journals. She turned back to Brisby, reaching out stiffly with the file she had retrieved. He took it, and began to page through. Her voice shook as she spoke.

"Here is what I have so far. My thesis on applied medieval torture techniques is far from complete, Dr. Brisby, but together we can remake history. Please allow me to assist you?”

Her newfound mentor nodded slowly, and a broad grin spread across his slender face as they shook hands once again.

--Geoff

Jamie said...

How did you choose? They're all hilarious.

Geoff said...

Mine was simply far too long, IMO. D. Lemma's is my favorite by far, though!

Evil Editor said...

The setting is interesting enough to hold my attention, though if it turns out nothing befitting the setting ever happens, it'll be a disappointment.

I'd change "spent a moment trying to recall" to "tried to recall."

Not clear why she's trying to recall who's in the second circle of hell. Does she feel like she was in the first circle of hell before descending the staircase?

writtenwyrdd said...

This is a great beginning. The first paragraph is pretty weak in comparison to what follows, however. I would strive to give it a bit more hook so that it leads into the the dungeon/basement.

First off, do not start with IT. Be specific. This is your first sentence and it should be a shining gem. IT is generic and vague and not a hook.

As a suggestion, how about combinging paragraphs 1 & 2, something along the lines of

"Emily, trailing the department secretay down a rusted spiral staircase, gave a deep sigh in lieu of weeping and gnashing teeth. The salary was awful. The workload as [her job] would be as well. But a basement office--that was just rubbing it in. [new paragraph] Then she saw the gargoyle."

writtenwyrdd said...

OH, and all these beginnings are hilarious. D. lemma's my fav, for the selected one is my second favorite. You guys are all so funny.

Jamie said...

Thanks for the suggestions, folks! I'll get to work editing.

Dave F. said...

For various reasons that I won't explain, I had to choose offices based on floor space rather than windows or newness or locations (corners, near bosses, etc...) adn I usually got what most people considered the worst office. However, I had room for my file cabinets, privacy from prying eyes, the ability to play classical music, and space to think quietly.

My comment echoes Written's and other commentators about the opening paragraph -- it's weak. Perhaps you could say "the office wasn't a joke, it was a dungeon, two floors down below." And then continue with the second paragraph.

Wes said...

Great continuations!
Is there a change in verb tenses in the first para?

chelsea said...

I agree about the "it" in paragraph one, and I felt like the secretary's line could have its own paragraph. But everything else was great. I would read on :)

batgirl said...

I really liked the voice in this. Once the first paragraph is sharpened and strengthened, it looks like a winner. I'm looking forward to reading what really happens next.

batgirl said...

Oh, yeah, and due credit to EE for editing the continuation into shininess. 'second-most-popular' is all his. Brilliant!

mb said...

Whoa, D. Lemma -- you made my evening by using the word "eldritch." Haven't seen that since R. L. Stevenson, but it's a good one.

Jamie said...

In case anyone's interested, here's what I'm trying now, with your kind advice in mind:


Emily, trailing the department secretary down a rusted spiral staircase, thought glumly of outer darkness and gnashing teeth. The salary and workload made her place in the pecking order clear--they really didn't have to rub it in with a basement office.

As she reflected that at least it couldn't get any worse, she caught sight of the gargoyle.

It sat--eyes bulging, mouth gaping, hands rending its face--next to the arched basement door. Taped above was a message in red ink: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

She stared at this in perplexed amusement, picturing the students who would change their minds about visiting during office hours. The harried-looking secretary, already click-clacking back to ground level, said merely, "Second corridor on the left." Trying to recall which poor devils were stuck in the second circle of Dante's Inferno (the lustful?), Emily ventured in.

Whoever put up that sign wasn't kidding. A passageway made entirely of stone stretched ahead, deeply shadowed. Bare-bulb fixtures clung to the ceiling in a half-hearted attempt at modernization, casting small islands of light. Torch brackets--empty ones--dotted the walls. It wasn't a basement, it was a dungeon.

Anonymous said...

I read your make over and while some aspects are good, you deleted the part that made me stop and take notice. “It wasn't the worst part of the job. The salary was worse. The workload would be, too. But a basement office--that was just rubbing it in.”

Other’s pointed out this needs work, and it does but there’s a lot right with this. For one thing the tone was enough to make me put down the mouse and read the rest. But the way it is now, with the changes, I wouldn’t have stopped.

Why this doesn’t work as it is, is very fixable. Delete “It wasn’t the worst part of the job.” The problem with start this way is you don’t define “it” the basement office for two sentences. The opening will work if you become more direct. The salary(sucked, was crap) The workload was worse. But the basement office- that was just rubbing it (try to define it and I’d go with something like “take me for granted” complete with quotes.)

Now lets take a look at your revisions. In some way’s you’ve done a better job. “The salary and workload made her place in the pecking order clear--they really didn't have to rub it in with a basement office.” You’ve defined it (salary and pecking order). Not only that they way you’ve gone at this directly brings strength to your writing, but we’ve lost the saucy, stop what you’re dong now and read me voice, because you’ve buried this under a sentence that doesn’t make sense. I don’t know what “thought glumly of outer darkness and gnashing teeth,” means. It’s one of those sentences that sounds great but readers have no reference with which to connect.

Also your construction is unusual. Yes you can use trailing( I expected fingers on a banister), but it would work better with if you tried something like this:

Emily followed the secretary down a rusted metal stair case to her new office. The salary sucked, the workload was impossible, but the basement office- that was just rubbing in how unimportant she was to her new boss. Emily stopped, and stifled a yelp. A gargoyle, eyes bulging, mouth agape, guarded an arched basement door with the words “Abandon all hope, ye who enter.”

I left out her “thoughts” because the way you’ve written them distances us from the character. If you’re going to insert them, then you need to commit. (rather than she was thinking about, “you suck,” she thought or just using italics. )

Now I don’t want to sound harsh, because, at the end of the day this is just my opinion, but while I love this premise, I think the writing it self needs tightening. And that’s not to say it’s badly written, but the first paragraph promised saucy and unique. The rest didn’t hold up- its interesting, but not quiet right. For example, the sign over the doorway gave me reservations. There’s foreshadowing and then there’s slapping the reader over the head with “something bad is about to happen.” I wonder if you’re being that obvious, is it because you don't know how to be more subtle or if your doing it on purpose why you don’t just tell us what it is. (Sue's working for the devil)

That said, I’d read on, because, if the writing holds up, those reservations will dissipate.(Let's be clear, I'm not saying it's not okay to be obvious, only that you should have a good reason for doing so and good writing to back it up.)

If the writing in ten or so pages shows the same promise as the first paragraph, I’d want more...keep in mind the first paragraph wasn’t as clean as it needs to be and I’d not only need to see promise, but cleaner writing. And that’s the key to what doesn’t work with this. We get slapped in the face with things that probably should be more subtle and the writing is really subtle about things that should be more direct. If you find those places and fix them, the resulting manuscript is will be something truly special.Again this is just my opinion. I hope you found something helpful, but if you didn't that's okay too. I wish the best of luck to you writer.

writtenwyrdd said...

That's better but the prose is a bit bloated--mostly via the construction. Here's how I'd trim:

Emily [trailed]the department secretary down a rusted spiral staircase [and] thought [about] gnashing [her] teeth. [She knew she was a peon--] [t]he salary [made that] clear[.] [The basement office was just rubbing it in.]

[Then] she caught sight of the gargoyle.

[E]yes bulging, mouth gaping, hands rending its face--[the thing was perched] next to the arched basement door. Taped above was a message in red ink: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

She [stopped/paused] in perplexed amusement, picturing students who [changing] their minds about visiting during office hours [and a smile played about/twitched her lips.] The harried-looking secretary, already click-clacking [clarify where], merely [pointed, saying], "Second corridor on the left." Trying to recall which poor devils were stuck in the second circle of Dante's Inferno (the lustful?), Emily ventured in.

Whoever put up that sign wasn't kidding. A passageway made entirely of stone stretched ahead, deeply shadowed [between] Bare-bulb fixtures casting small islands of light. Torch brackets--empty ones--[also] dotted the walls. [They didn't appear to be anachronisms at all; and this] wasn't a basement, it was a dungeon.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, and you might mention that the "message" is a quote from Dante. That will clear up the confusion about the mention of his levels of Hell. Instead of "Taped above was a message in red ink:" you could say, "Taped above was a line from Dante:"

Jamie said...

Oh dear -- I figured if I recognized outer darkness and gnashing teeth as a biblical reference to the damned, certainly everyone would.

Back to the drawing board!

Dave F. said...

I recognized "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" immediately. It's one of the most famous lines from Dante's INFERNO. Most people mistranslate the phrase as "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here." That's not what it says. You correctly quoted it. Dante is writing poetry and to hear it in the original Italian is to hear low and high Italian suited to the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. The problem with some translations of the Divine Comedy is that they lose this layer of meaning.

With the mention of the Second Circle (the lustful), I think the reference is obvious. Although, I might use Francesca De Rimini as a further reference.

batgirl said...

Preacher: They will be cast into outer darkness, and there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth!
Voice from back: What about those who've lost their teeth?
Preacher: Madam, teeth will be provided!

_*Rachel*_ said...

Darkness and gnashing of teeth--isn't that almost verbatim from the parable of the wedding feast? Yeah, I know you mean Hell, so I wouldn't really worry about it. You've got a literary reference, and those of us who read the Bible should get it. And I like litererary references. I say keep it in.

The place really IS a dungeon!! Like, literally, with torch brackets! Now I really am hooked, because you don't normally see professors and dungeons in the same books. I'm rather afraid this isn't fantasy, but you've still got my interest.

Jamie said...

Rachel, it is a fantasy -- a contemporary fantasy set in Iowa. (Face-Lift 608 was my query.)

Turns out outer darkness and gnashing of teeth turn up several times in the Bible, but yep, the parable of the wedding feast is among them. The things you learn while researching a book. :-)

Dave F. said...

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth is indeed biblical. It occurs six times in Matthew and once in Luke.
http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/doctrine/hodgesgn.htm

That URL is a discussion of what the phrase means (at least to this church) and what these theologians and commentators make of it.

It also explains "the outer darkness" and the "regenerate" and non-regenerate Christians, non-believers, Jews and Gentiles.

This phrase occurs mostly in the Parables and those were the teaching tools of Jesus. Pardon me, if that seems obvious to you. But as teaching tools, they were set forth to shocking the Jews of that age. There is a rich philosophical discussion about these and it is available online -- (whether you agree with it or not).

I'm not saying don't use it. I'm saying that we should better understand the reference. It really does mean "hell" because those who are cast of the light and into the darkness are cast out of the presence of God (the Light) and spend their time in great remorse. This is a cold, dark place.

Personally, I don't think Hell is equipped with pitchforks, tailed demons with wings, red scales and horns and fire. I'm more of a Milton Paradise Lost believer -- the lake of fire and the semi-heroic Lucifer (tis better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven).

Jamie said...

Thanks, Dave F. In this particular case, the main character feels she has been cast into the outer darkness (where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth) because her office is in the basement rather than on the first floor with the other history professors.

I can easily cut it out if it doesn't work. But hell as a theme -- and damnation/redemption -- does run through the novel.

writtenwyrdd said...

Sorry, outer darkness should go. It's too much flab for an opening before we get to know what's going on. If you love the line, use it later!

Jamie said...

How about this instead?


Emily stared at the gargoyle in perplexed amusement. She'd never seen one indoors before--at the bottom of a stairwell, no less.

It was sitting next to the arched door into the basement. The basement where, she had just been informed, her office was. One floor below the rest of the history faculty. (Lovely surprise for the first day of work.) The gargoyle--eyes bulging, mouth gaping, hands rending its face--seemed appropriate in a misery-loves-company sort of way.

Then Emily noticed the message taped above it, straight from Dante's Inferno: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Good God, nobody was going to visit her during office hours. Resisting the temptation to gnash her teeth, she opened the door.

A passageway made entirely of stone stretched ahead, deeply shadowed. Bare-bulb fixtures clung to the ceiling in a half-hearted attempt at modernization, casting small islands of light. Torch brackets--empty ones--dotted the walls. It wasn't a basement, it was a dungeon.

Emily--eyes wide, as much to see as from shock--wondered what use a college would have for such a space. Storing unwanted things, probably.

_*Rachel*_ said...

I like it! I'm not sure about that last line, though. Maybe you could say, "Torturing freshmen," or whatever it is, and make it ironic when that's what they really do use it for.

I assume you've read Dante?

Jamie said...

Hee! I did originally have her thinking three things: "Torturing delinquents with past-due tuition? Hiding from invading Minnesotans? Storing unwanted things? (That last one, probably.)"

I thought it sounded clunky, though. (There is no torturing going on down there, I'm afraid.)

I've read part of Dante, but I much prefer Faust. :-)

Dave F. said...

I'm always taking words out. But more than that, your descriptions tend to leave an object and then return to it. I think that hurts the narrative.

I think that the images only need one paragraph apiece. One for the gargoyle at the bottom of the stairs, one for the archway door and one for the passage beyond the archway door.

There is an arched door, isn't there. Be careful about describing it.

Now one thing that I know the purists are going to fuss about is the punctuation in what I've done. I like the run on sentences. They make it briefer and faster. they give it action. But the punctuation is awful like it is. I tried separate sentences but for some reason, that adds pronouns that bug me. This is a case where I'm trying to mimic your style and not succeeding.

Emily stared at the gargoyle -- it's eyes bulging, mouth gaping, hands rending its face She'd never seen one indoors before -- at the bottom of the stairwell, in the basement, one floor below the rest of the history faculty, next to the archway leading to her office, no less, lovely surprise for the first day of work.

Except for the message taped above arch. "Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate..." The inscription leading to Dante's Inferno: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." The basement, the gargoyle and now the inscription, good God, no student was going to visit her during office hours. Resisting the temptation to gnash her teeth, she opened the door.

A passageway made entirely of stone stretched ahead, deeply shadowed. Bare-bulb fixtures clung to the ceiling in a half-hearted attempt at modernization, casting small islands of light. Torch brackets--empty ones--dotted the walls. They even decorated it like a dungeon. Emily--eyes wide--wondered what use a college would have for such a space. Storing unwanted things, probably.

Anonymous said...

Emily stared at the gargoyle- eyes bulging, mouth gaping, hands rending its face(moved because in the original there were way too many dashes) -sitting next to the arched basement door. The basement where, her new office was. One floor below the rest of the history faculty. (I left this here, but it's almost redundant. It'd read better in a scene or save this until later) The gargoyle seemed appropriate in a misery-loves-company sort of way.

Then Emily noticed the message taped above it, straight from Dante's Inferno: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Good God, nobody was going to visit her. Resisting the urge to gnash her teeth, she opened the door.


A deeply shadowed stone passageway stretched ahead. ( written the other way, it, implies the stone, not the passageway is shadowed) So and so hit the switch. (this is a lot of description so I added a touch of action) Modern Bare-bulb fixtures lined the ceiling, casting small islands of light. Empty torch brackets dotted the walls.

"My office is in a dungeon?" Emily said, wide eyed.

(The last Para doesn't make a whole lot of sense as it's written. Also, the question you ask- what does the college use the space for, has been answered: an office. if you feel the reader needs more of an explanation, then you need to add a scene:

"your office is this way," said my new boss and motioned for me to follow him down a flight of stairst.

"I though everyone's office was on the first floor?"

"Well yes," said the Historty Professor. "But we've run out of room so the bursar has allowed us to use one of the storage rooms."


* Sometimes these kind of questions creep into my writing because I'm trying to work out an explanation x or y. Words like wondered and remembered and thought of(thinking, thought) as well as questions (why is it dark, he thought) can be indicators of plot details the writer hasn't worked out. They're great place holders during a first draft. In second draft revisions I try to eliminate them- some survive because they move the story forward, but most are awkward and unnecessary.

And remember,theme should be a subtle element that adds to a story. Don't take a club to it (make it too obvious) or you'll overwhelm the story.

Dave F. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fairyhedgehog said...

I rather like the original.

Dave F. said...

I'm having the worst luck with comments. My last comment, the long one, got away before I finished it. I wasn't sure about some of it.

Beware of signaling Emily's feelings. Also, rather than forcing the reader to follow Emily, just make her actions logical and fluid and the reader will journey with her.

I chose the Italian words to Dante's quote because they sound classier than just quoting the English translation. You should read at least The Inferno if not all of the Divine Comedy.
(I prefer John Ciardi's translation in that Dante used vulgar, common street Italian for Inferno and high-class, formal Italian for Paradiso.)
Using the Italian also lets you make other references from the warning: the City of Woe, the City of the Forsaken, it's immutability... all good references to describe an office in Hell or near regions.

By the way - translation is everything in Dante. Look at the differences in the three translations in this reference of the inscription:
http://everything2.com/title/Abandon%2520all%2520hope%2520ye%2520who%2520enter%2520here

The third stanza in Ciardi's translation says "only those elements time cannot wear were made before me, and beyond time I stand. Abandon hope all ye who enter here." It is by far the best translation for the meaning and intent. More than "abandon hope" it says big things about Dante's hell or DIS as he calls it. "DIS" was created before the earth and our world. Temptation and sin happened before Genesis. And when time itself ceases to exist, Dis will stand. When eternity ends, punishment will continue. That's much more powerful philosophically than mere "Abandon hope" ...

Jamie said...

Thanks, folks. I'll take another look at this beginning.