Wednesday, January 17, 2007

New Beginning 194

Death stood on the door step, flanked by two toughs armed with pikes. It was a plague doctor, looking anything but human in his black oilcloth and beaked mask, where the eyes absorbed the light instead of reflecting it and looked cold, bottomless and deadly like the Thames on a winter night; a faceless, heartless angel of doom.

"This is a mistake," Dick said heavily, as if his mouth was full of molasses.

The plague doctor stepped forward. Dick moved aside, from habit or shock, and the creature entered the house. The two guards stayed just outside the door.

"You have a male child who is ill?" the apparition asked. His voice was rough, dry, cutting, and, muffled by the mask, it seemed to come from a great distance.

"No," Dick said.

"I will be the judge of that. Where are your children?"

"Oh, for crying out loud," Dick spat in exasperation. "You still don't have it? Go out and try again."

The plague doctor bowed his head in embarrassment and went back out to the door step. The thugs with pikes looked down at their feet.

"Okay," Dick said. "I'm gonna shut the door now. Get it right this time." It was so hard working with these people.

He heard the knock, and opened the door. This time the unholy trio on his doorstep looked up and shouted in unison, "Trick or treat!"

"That's better," he said, handing out the candy.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Kate Thornton


Dave Fragments said...

set the stage, set the stage:
O, Death
O, Death
Won't you spare me over til another year
Well what is this that I can't see
With ice cold hands takin' hold of me

(lyrics by Ralph Stanley)

A plague doctor in full dress come to take your children is a frightening apparition. You describe the scene in pedstrian language. It's only in paragraph four that you get remotely scary.

Say - Death stood at MY door.
"Hand over your male child" hs says, his voice harsh, muffled by the plague mask.
"this is a mistake," I say.
"I will judge your children sick or well, bring them to me." The eyes of the mask were cold, inhuman.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Kate. For a moment I thought Dick was a theatre director.

Author, this didn't work for me. The first sentence is melodramatic. The second sentence contradicts the first-it's not Death, it's a plague doctor. Then there's looking and looked in the same long (second) sentence. The first paragraph ends with a little Thames winter night thrown in and angels, who are heartless? Nothing here fits.

Then Dick with his mouth full of molasses seems humorous.

The visitor is Death, a plague doctor, a creature, an apparition. Please make up your mind.

Just melodramatic. Not my thing. fwiw.

good luck.

Tia Nia said...

Author, this opening worked fine for me. But as I look at it more closely (having had the benefit of others' posts), your simile in paragraph one begins to bother me. If the eyes absorb the light, then they wouldn't look like a river which surely reflects light. If you want to use the simile to identify the setting as London, I suggest you end the sentence at "mask." Then continue with "The eyes looked cold, bottomless and deadly like the Thames on a winter night." Then end the paragraph.

I agree that molasses doesn't work. Also, "habit" in the next sentence doesn't work - unless he's in the habit of admitting plague doctors? Also I suspect you could come up with more powerful or ominous verbs to describe the manner in which the plague doctor insinuates himself into the house.

Kate Thornton, I love the way your continuation stands this beginning on its head. EE is right - the continuations are most excellent writing exercises. Thank you for your skillful models.

writtenwyrdd said...

I liked this. It is a trifle melodramatic, but I think that works, given the topic. I'd read more.

Gone said...

I would keep reading this story, though I liked tia nia's suggestions.

Kate Thorton - the continuation was fun! It went from being a scary story to being my son in his scream costume with just a few clicks of the keyboard.

Anonymous said...

I like the style and the visuals. I don't know if it could be written better or not, if I did, I'd be a writer. If you do rewrite it, try to keep your style. -JTC

shaded-lily said...

Author, this beginning didn't quite work for me -- sometimes it was not enough; other times, too much.

For example, the "not enough" part: I like the way you open with death standing at the door, but then right away you dispel the fear by explaining that it's just a doctor. At the very least, you might make the first line a paragraph by itself, to emphasize the image. Or you might follow the first line with the description of how the figure looks, then in the next paragraph explain it's just a doctor.

The "too much" part came in the description of the doctor's voice. Four adjectives in a row. And the first three showing the doctor's voice as unpleasant, which I think is a little bit cliche -- although I understand that to Dick, the voice is going to sound unpleasant regardless of its actual qualities.

(One last thing: I'm afraid I feel obliged to suggest that you might re-think the main character's name. As it is, when you say things like "Dick stood up," or "Dick collapsed," you'll have jerks like me snickering at an otherwise serious moment.)

Blogless Troll said...

Especially if he sustains a head injury.

Anonymous said...

As long as we're going down that road,

Dick stood at attention.

"My God!" Dick ejaculated.

Anonymous said...

I liked it, author. You have your own style and it works for me. Real readers won't evaluate it pixel by pixel the way we do here. They'll either be drawn in by the combination of your style and your story, or they won't. I was.

...dave conifer

p.s. I'm pretty dumb but I can imagine a river looking dark and dull at nighttime. That simile might be a bit too rich though, and begging to be scoffed at.

Anonymous said...

"Hey Dick, grow a set, will ya'?"

HawkOwl said...

Oddly, it is both pedestrian and melodramatic. That shouldn't even be possible. :) It's an unedited chunk of NaNoWriMo (what Miss Snark would call "raw suckage") so most of these words are just here for moral support. But it's the only thing I had that fit the New Beginnings format.

Dave - pedestrian is what I'm trying for, thank you. :) In the actual work this is not the opening, so the stage is set already, and this moment shatters all the foregoing.

Xiqay - I think you're taking figures of speech literally and/or missing Dick's context. He'd have no problem with the idea of angels being heartless, and molasses would be a big part of his life, so this would make perfect sense to him. Luckily, most of the stuff you dislike wouldn't make the edited version, partly because it doesn't work stylistically and partly because the description of the plague doctor may not be factual, so references to his appearance would be dropped. "Death stood on the door step" totally stays, though. There isn't much difference between a plague doctor and the Angel of Death to a 17th-century man.

Tia Nia - I don't think the Thames in the 1660s reflected much light, especially on winter nights, there being no street lights. :) The "habit or shock" part makes no sense as it is; what it was trying to say is that he didn't mean to let the plague doctor in, but either he's too stunned to resist, or he's used to moving aside when someone steps towards him, like most of us do. In any case the plague doctor wouldn't actual step toward him anyway, so that would be reworked, and the molasses would also be dropped and replaced with a more graphic description of how he actually feels physically at that moment (namely, that he's gonna have a heart attack and/or shit himself).

Writtenwyrdd - thank you. :) Ideally all the melodrama would be removed. I think a flat style allows the awfulness of the moment to speak for itself.

JTC - thank you, I will.

Theo Katz - it's not "just a doctor." It's a plague doctor. It has no medical training whatsoever and is just here to lock you up in your house while you die of the plague. And luckily Dick does very little standing up and collapsing, nor does he ever feel limp or deflated, or otherwise lend himself to adolescent humour. :)

Dave Conifer - thank you. :)

It's funny how different the continuation feels when it's your own work and you have your mind set on what "actually" happens.

HawkOwl said...

Oh, oops, I miss Kat Dreams in my acknowledgements. Thank you, Kat.

And thank you EE for the entertainment.

Anonymous said...

I liked this, overall. It starts with an ominous arrival, a father defending his child, and a setting with great potential. The dialogue worked for me, especially the flat formality of the plague doctor.
Great continuation!
Was molasses already being imported into England in the mid-1600s? I thought it was more a 1700s thing, along with rum and slaves. (must go and google now)

HawkOwl said...

I don't have my research on this computer, but I think so. Fortunately this is the only time molasses come up and it's being removed, so the hypothetical reader won't have to worry about that. :)

Nancy Beck said...

From what I understand, Death (in the person of a plague doctor), along with his two thugs, knocks on someone's door to take away their children.

I was confused, though, when "the apparition said" came along. So there are 4 people at the door, not just the doctor and the 2 thugs?

I did like the atmosphere of this; nice voice.


McKoala said...

I was confused about time and place, but I loved that first line.

HawkOwl said...

Nancy - There are three people at the door: the plague doctor and two guards. But the plague doctor is referred to as 1) Death, 2) plague doctor, 3) creature and 4) apparition. Shortly thereafter I got tired of trying to avoid repetitions and started calling him just "the plague doctor."

McKoala - Thank you. :) I do like that line too. In the actual work the date is given at the beginning of each chapter. This is July 16, 1665, in London.

Anonymous said...

The habit line seems to me to be acceptable. People would, quite likely, get out of the way of a plague doctor, as in those days they didn't know exactly how the plague was transferred.

Also, plague doctors didn't take people away, they locked them in, the only time people were taken away would be after they died.

Accurate enough description of the attire worn by the doctor - this link has some pictures and further information regarding the clothes worn;