Wednesday, November 15, 2006

New Beginning 157

Etta Pearson sits crossed legged in the middle of her grandmother’s old Harvest table. Her great bulking figure sits in repose. Her eyes are closed, elbows resting on solid slabs of legs, her palms cupped upwards towards the ceiling.

In front of her lies a calendar on which various dates are circled with a bright red marker. The circles represent the dates on which her husband, Jeffery, lost what little temper he had and beat her. She has circled, sighed, dated and initialed the calendar after each beating. Someone had told her long ago that that this would stand up in court as a legal document. Beside her lays a serrated knife, blood smearing the shiny sharp blade. The corn colored house dress she is wearing is drenched in his blood.

The woman sits unconcerned about the dead man who lays sprawled out on the clean white linoleum floor beside the table. Having cleaned the floor just before he came home from work, the blood distresses her but just a little. It will take many hours of scrubbing to rid the floor of so much sticky red blood.

Etta hears the sirens in the distance, drawing near with swift urgency. She knows they are coming for her and she is ready.

The doorbell rings.

"Come in," Etta says. "We're in the kitchen."

The paramedics are first. "Jeeze Louise, Etta," one of them says, "you really cut this sumbitch up but good. Help me get the pieces on the gurney, Hal."

The cops are next. "Whew, that's one dead wife-beater," Detective Joe Grit says.

"Yep," the other detective agrees. "Been waitin' for this one to happen."

Etta takes one last look around. She climbs down off the table and goes out to sit in the police car. It was easier than she thought to lose 180 pounds of loathsome fat.

Opening: Melissa J. Rees....Continuaton: Kate Thornton


Nancy Beck said...

Oh, for Kate's continuations! Another stellar one!

Author, what made me sit up and take notice was about the dead body sprawled in front of her. Yeow! And I like how you mention she's a neat freak; makes the story more creepy.

I've found that while I don't mind present tense in a short story (just read a good one last night), I'm not sure I could handle it throughout a novel. That's just personal preference, though.

There were a couple of things that made me scratch my head.

Her great bulking figure sits in repose.

"Bulking figure"? This just cracked me up for some reason. Made me think of Jobba the Hutt. But then again, maybe that's what you're going for (and my mind's just mushy at the moment).

She has circled, sighed, dated and initialed the calendar after each beating.

I don't get the "sighed" part. She sighed after circling the date? Do you mean signed? Not that that makes sense to me, either, esp. since you have her initialing the calendar. What do you mean here?

I like this.

Good luck with it.


Anonymous said...

Kate, awesome continuation! You read that one pretty carefully because you blended your surprise in with no seams.

I don't understand this part though.

"Whew, that's one dead wife-beater," Detective Joe Grit says.

Did she kill her husband?

writtenwyrdd said...

I didn't dislike this, but the present tense and the matter-of-fact style of the writing made me feel really cold toward this character.

I think that if you maintain this style, then perhaps you might consider beginning with the sirens or the body, not a woman sitting cross-legged on a table.

From the tone, this seems like a dark journey of discovery that will be told in flashback and courtroom scenes.

Anonymous said...

Ba ha ha ha ha!

Just one thing though... What's with "sits crossed legged in the middle of her grandmother’s old Harvest table"? I thought, granny was about to sacrifice her, and then the husband's on the floor...

Okay, call me nuts, but I was thinking, maybe the dude didn't bit her, maybe Etta just wanted to substitute his instead of herself, you know, for granny's sacrificial meal?

(Hides under the table, fully realizing that this time, Nut's gone too far, and might just get cracked open, in retribution, yet unable to resist the urge to spew out nonescence... Not to mention, neverending sentences.)

Stacia said...

I really, really, really liked this opening. A lot.

I hope it goes somewhere exciting, because it absolutely hooked me.

kiss-me-at-the-gate said...

The repetition of the word "sits" in the first couple of sentences really irritated me.

Other than that, I found it a little draggy and hard to follow, but it hooked me nonetheless, so... good job, author!

Anonymous said...

Body on page one! Yay!

I liked the writing, I like the slow creepy style, I liked the sense of place. Most importantly, I was completely drawn into the narrative and would definitely read on. Great work!

Rei said...

Commas between coordinate adjectives, please.

"Interesting" opening. I'm not sure whether I like it or not. Certainly needs some work -- things like "great bulking figure" and "sits crossed legged in the middle of her grandmother's old Harvest table" just aren't working for me. The plot, though -- I can't tell whether this will go somewhere I'm interested in or not. I imagine that the content will get you a few auto-rejects, but probably interest just as many to read a bit further.

Anonymous said...

Oh, look... Yet another females sacrifices a male, on a Harvest table, and makes it look like self defence! Sigh... So true...

none said...

I'm unconvinced here by the woman's lack of emotional affect, which in turn makes it difficult to engage with the story. I don't care if she feels guilty, sad, angry, elated, tired, bored, whatever; I don't believe she feels nothing.

There are some great details--the calendar, for example, makes me feel sad. I'd be tempted to focus on that rather than over-telling us that Etta is fat, which doesn't seem to have as much relevance as the calendar.

Why switch from using Etta's name to just describing her as "the woman"? I'm unclear about the purpose of this. It achieves distance at a point when I'd expect the story to seek reader identification.

writtenwyrdd said...

I neglected to add that I was hooked, as well. I also wanted to read more.

Dave Fragments said...

This doesn't work for me at all. She's meditating on the kitchen table with a "abuse chart" and a bloody knife in front of her and a bleeding dead body laying on the floor.

Ghastly, ghastly, ghastly... The only character that comes to mind is the repressed Mother-persona that surfaces in Anthony Perkins at the end of Hitchcock's Psycho. And that character is one of the coldest and least sympathetic characters ever created.

Are you sure that you want to start a novel here? In all this blood? With all the horror? Where on earth will the story go after this? What will the emotional climax be as the story progresses?

Anonymous said...

Are you sure that you want to start a novel here? In all this blood? With all the horror? Where on earth will the story go after this? What will the emotional climax be as the story progresses?

I think there's plenty of places for the story to go after this. Does she get off free because she was a battered woman? Does she get sent to jail because she seems so unemotional and cold about the killing? Does she deserve our sympathy? Does the dead man? Was the death an accident or does the calendar mean she planned it all right down to what her legal defense would be?

This opening very skillfully raises a lot of questions that I was left curious to find out the answers to.

And for certain kinds of stories, yes, the writer definitely wants to open with a dead body and lots of blood. :-D It might not be your cup of tea, but for certain genres, this is exactly the right way to start a book.

ScienceSleuth said...

This isn't bad. The writing is a bit stiff, but the situation is vivid. My only real objection is the use of present tense, which I always find annoying, but that's just a personal preference.

I did have a problem with switching from "Etta" to "the woman". The switch seemed awkward. I'm guessing that the author is trying to emphasize that Etta is feeling numb and distanced from her feelings, but I don't think this naming switch helps.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to nitpick, but this is a pet peeve. The knife "lies," not "lays."

Anonymous said...

She might be in a state of shock. It does happen to people, who leave in a constant state of abuse.

Or, maybe it is just a sacrifice thing.

Do you really find it eary, after all the stuff posted here? To me, the eariest thing was EE sacrificing Ms S for a brainless, if plump lipped wannabe. Even in fiction, that's scary...

Evil Editor said...

To me, the eariest thing was EE sacrificing Ms S for a brainless, if plump lipped wannabe.

What?! Are you referring to Vacation Disaster 15? If so, it was John Grisham I blew off for Linda Lou. Miss Snark (note that it's not "Ms."), it's claimed, is killed in the movie script, though I think it should be obvious that the script doesn't actually exist.

Finally, how can you call Linda Lou "brainless" when it was declared that she was drawn to EE like Lara Croft to a mummy? Clearly she has brilliant instincts.

none said...

True, but shock has its own symptoms, which aren't evident here.

Wonderwood said...

I like this opening, it's engaging and raises several questions. With regard to switching from "Etta" to "The woman", the author may have been avoiding "Etta" as the first word in 3 of the first 4 paragraphs. If that's the case, substitute "She" for "The woman", which sounds better to me, anyway. I think it could be tightened up, but there is good material there.

magz said...

Powerfully written, oh Author. I agreed that there's many ways and places this opener may go..
I'd read on. Happily. And hope to, once you're published.
Kate did a very nice continuation, but it's the author's work that makes this interesting. Thank you!

Dave Fragments said...

I guess that there are places for his to go...

"Do you really find it eary,"

Huh? As in the thing we hear with and that silly boxer bit off?

Or as in Erie, PA which is a city on the Lake Erie, gets too much snow in the winter and served as western terminus for the canal?

Or as in eerie, like spooky, scary or to borrow from Ray Bradbury - something wicked this way comes?

Or, last chance Eire, for all those cute, green leprechauns, Saint Patrick and the snakes?

Anonymous said...

I thought this was awesome. I want to know what happened and what is going to happen.

And I was happy for WhiteMouse, who got a body on the first page.

[this is the second time I tried to post. Sorry if there are duplicate posts, and if I used different superlatives]

...dave conifer

Anonymous said...

dave: all of the above.

EE: not Linda, Angelina (yeah, I know my spelling stinks), whom you chose in the script, which is what I meant by 'scary even in fiction. I also realize, that I may deserve the fire breath for Ms instead of Miss, but hey, I am illiterate. If its any consolation, EE, I think you are much hotter than Loony.

Now I will apply some anti-burn ointment on my burned nitwit self.

Anonymous said...

Leprechaunsthe swimming in Lake Erie! Why doesn't anyone write about them? Oh, I missread again... must find those glasses.

EE, I've got it! Illiterate wan't you for him/her self! That must be it...

(Back under the table; they won't find me there!)

Anonymous said...

I like the opening. It wouldn't take too much to make the writing really flow, and I can imagine some interesting ways the story would go. Kate's idea would be my favorite.

What I don't get, is why she circles, signs, initials and dates the calendar. It's a calendar. It's already a date, right? THat's been niggling at me since I first read the opening...

Anonymous said...

Hickup... Sorry... Just had to mension... Hick... this is a great idea for both loosing weight... up... and an unwanted spouse... Hic... I think its gone now... up... no, not yet... I should know... hic... the ogre uses my head for a soccer ball on daily basis...

Okay, no more pudding, I've learned my lesson.

Wonderwood said...

Wow, Iago, good call on "dating" the calendar. I missed that completely. I read it several times, and I can't believe no one else has mentioned it. I think we all missed it.

Dave Fragments said...

she writes the date a second time to emphasize it. It makes the abuse more tolerable. She marks the calendar in code that only she understands. Tiny codes, cryptic codes. It's not logical, It makes the hurt smaller. It hides the pain. The calendar takes the pain away and divorces it from reality.

I said starting a story here wouldn't be my choice, I didn't say I didn't understand it.

I can hear the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney sparing over the calendar. One says it shows deliberate intent, the desire to kill. The other says doesn't for all the reasons I just stated.

It's only when the attorneys use the calendar and describe the scene as they see it that the real power of the opening becomes apparent.

Anonymous said...

I think we all missed it.

Well, I certainly did, BUT most of the time when you put your signature on a legal document, you also put down the date you signed it. There might be a good legal reason for why she's dating the signatures.

It certainly helps give credence to the idea that she didn't fill in the calendar all at once, right before she diced Mr. Etta.

word veri: Voodco - the Voodoo Corporation.

GutterBall said...

I like this. No, I enjoy this. Don't wanna use weak verbs, ne?

Word choice is key -- you used "sits" twice when you probably could have chosen a better verb that second time around, for instance -- but what I notice most is the rhythm. Some people might call it too slow, too unengaging, but to me, it's almost as if we realize the scene as Etta is. It's as if she wasn't herself until she thought about what she'd done.

She has to sit there, collecting her thoughts, taking in the input one thing at a time until it all makes sense. My question -- the one that would keep me reading -- is this: will it ever make sense?

Now, there are places where your word choice interrupts that rhythm, and you should look closely for them. "Corn colored" threw me off, for some reason, as did "sticky red blood". I dunno why, but I wanted to read it as "It will take many hours of scrubbing to rid the floor of so much blood. The red sticks so."

Something about the rhythm made me actually see it that way until I made myself read it aloud. Weird, huh?

Word ver: arcqnszw - it's like Arkansas, but not.

McKoala said...

Hm, I did comment, but it's not here for some reason.

I liked it a lot. I think that the only point I made that was any different from anybody elses was tto say that to say that the blood distresses her 'just a little' didn't quite agree in my head with her next thought that 'it will take many hours of scrubbing' - which screamed 'it bothers you a lot' to me.

Anonymous said...


I don't think the blood coming from the man bothers her.

I think the blood messing up her clean floors bothers her.

none said...

She dates the calendar because that shows she noted the beating on the day it occurred, when her memory of it was still fresh, rather than at a later time when it might be hazier. In court, she would certainly be asked when she made the note.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I like this one. I found it hooky.

I wasn't too enamoured of the writing style, which needs some polishing, but I found the plot intriguing.

Beth said...

Too much explaining. Far better to keep us wondering why the calendar has red circles on it.