Monday, October 15, 2007

New Beginning 386

He heard the shot crack in the distance as he floated in the cool air at the top of his swing. By the time he’d fallen back to the ground, a faint cry joined the remains of the gunshot echoing off the rocky hillside below him.

Connor dug his heels into the muddy ground and scrambled out of the swing pit. He rotated in place and scanned around the small clearing, but didn’t notice anything interesting. Not that he was even sure what he was looking for.

A tangled mesh of trees and brush surrounded the clearing on three sides. One tree stood apart from the others and supported his simple rope and board swing. Opposite the swing, the clearing fell away down a steep hillside that ended at the outskirts of the little village that he’d called home for all of his nearly five years. A narrow path snaked off into the trees to his right, his small footprints still visible in the mud from his journey up less than an hour before.

Connor tried to peer over the edge of the bluff, but was blocked by brush and the few straggly trees that had managed to grow between the rocks. He jumped in place a couple times, but the few inches he gained only revealed more sky. Frustrated, he kicked at the ground, sent a rock flying into the weeds.

That was it then. All over.

He sighed, scuffed the ground with the tip of one of his Keds, hitched up his short trousers and set off down the hill back to their little clapboard house. He was going to miss old Bouncer.

But even worse than that, never again could Connor get away with taking a dump on the carpet.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Anonymous


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:

Desperate to see what was going on, Connor crouched low and then sprang up in one last, huge jump. As he came down, his wheelie-sneakers hit the ground and his legs splayed out in different directions. He began to slide. After seconds that felt like minutes, he came to rest, scratched and bruised, at the bottom of the steep embankment; he was looking up into the beady eyes of a hunter carrying an evil looking rifle. And he could see feet in the brush nearby.

"What the--? Where the freak did you come from, kid? What did you see? You didn't see nothing, right?"

"N-no, Mr. Cheney," Connor replied. "I d-didn't see nothing."


The rock landed on a snake curled in the warm undergrowth. The serpent let out an annoyed rattle, frightening a woodchuck that instinctively scuttled down the bank in a blind panic. The woodchuck toppled a precariously balanced rock that rolled down the hill knocking into other rocks and building into an all-out landslide. As the speeding granite deluge reached the bottom of the hillside, it toppled an old, dead tree, its roots loosened by a recent storm. The tree fell behind a stag sheltering in the woodland: it charged out into a clearing, right toward an orange-clad hunter.

Startled, the hunter let a shot off into the air. The tiny pellets from his shotgun headed directly toward the antenna of a nearby military tracking station.

Deep inside the bunker, a radar screen lit up with bright, fast-moving dots that matched exactly the signature of incoming enemy fire from the direction of Cuba. Following an ill-thought-out protocol, the base commander scrambled.

Connor watched with childish interest as huge missiles emerged from beyond the escarpment, trailing plumes of white smoke. He studied the patterns that criss-crossed the sky in front of him until he grew bored.

Then he remembered the rock he'd kicked. It had glistened in the sun. Maybe his mom would be interested to see it. --anon

After re-scanning the trees and brush and muddy footprints, Conner dropped to his stomach. He did a military crawl through the weeds.

Connor looked up. One weed stood apart from the others and supported a blood red flower. He plucked the poppy and played.

Fifty-year-old Connor enjoyed this poppy field more than anything else in the world.

--Church Lady

He hated this. Daddy had shot another boy coming to see his sister, and he hadn't seen anything.


Connor had wanted to watch as soon as he saw the blue tarps go up, but his parents shooed him away to the rope swing. The loss would hit as soon as he went back down the hill to their farm.

Granny had always been there; her strong, matriarchal presence had shaped the family's daily life. At his tender age, Connor was too young to see the irony: that having been the one to build up their racehorse stud farm, Granny was the one to stumble and break her leg.


"Bloody Hell, mate. Have a care!" The words came half-curse half-scold.

"Who...who's in there?," Conner squeaked out in a voice constrained.

The brush parted as if by rhino and a short man emerged covered in thaka-thaka thistle seeds. His tan brush jacket kept them from affecting his motion though they did look a bit like odd holiday ornaments in their crimson hues.

His big double rifle - much more ornate than that of Connor's father - was however no mere ornament.

"I'm Monsters," he announced still moving forward spryly. "Archibald Monsters. That's my mate Wooly you heard shooting."

He smiled at Connor and revealed the absence of a left canine. The effect was a bit comical when taken in context of the floppy bush hat the fellow wore. Connor giggled - his gnawing fear abated.

"It is customary young master to complete your part of the introduction when met. But I'd guess your the son of Warden Wills, aren't you? I saw you looking at the gun."

"Holland and Holland express custom," Connor called, by way of introduction. "In four-fifty nitro express."

Archi Monsters smiled his broadest grin normally reserved for scotch old enough to vote. Thus began the apprenticeship of Connor Wills, Great White Hunter.

--A. Snarkling

none said...

I tried to work out why my eyes glazed over while reading this. I think it's the lack of emotional engagement. Connor hears the shot, looks around for something he knows not what, then gets interested in his familiar surroundings. There's no sense of fear, or excitement, or anticipation...nothing.

Evil Editor said...

As the shot was in the distance, it seems likely he would immediately try to see in the distance. Instead he scans the clearing in which he's standing, and in which he's been for at least a half hour. If he's going to do anything, like run to see what happened, he should be on the move.

Consider dumping the two middle paragraphs and getting on with whatever he does.

What's a kid who's not even five yet doing by himself at the top of a bluff for almost an hour?

Sylvia said...

Eeek, that's my son's name. Freaky.

I felt a major disconnect between the boy on the swing and the shot in the distance. The break-away to description made this even worse. I feel like there was action somewhere but nothing to do with us, which is an odd position to start with.

I also thought he was older -- I think as EE says, the kid alone at the outskirts of the village to me implies seven or eight. My son had a LOT of freedom at that age (many in this village thought too much) but not to go out of hollering distance of adults.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

The boy is 5? How did I miss that? I thought he was 10 or more from the way he was acting. Author, I think you need to show the shot and then move right into what he sees or hears. It is not ringing true the way you have set it up. He hears a shot and a cry. If he is 5, would he understand what a shot signifies or would the cry be what gets his curiousity. If the cry is loud enough to get his attention, I think he would either run immediately to the sound or run for mom or dad. ANd if he is really 5 or that young, wouldn't there be a parent or guardian nearby who would have heard the sound also?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but this feels like throat clearing: The quiet, polite, I'd like you to notice I've entered the room while you're staring out the window, throat clearing; not the loud, wet I think I might have TB and now I'm chewing on something unpleasant, throat clearing.

You might want to save the backstory for later and try hacking up a lung here.

Robin S. said...

I like the first paragraph. I like the first sentence of the second paragraph.

Is Connor living out in the country, where hearing a gunshot isn't extremely unusual? I'd think a young kid would be a fascinated combination of curious and worried, hearing a shot crack. Especially as young as this oneis, out alone. Maybe more curious than worried, if he only heard a cracking sort of sound - but this kid knows it's a shot - so I'm left wondering why he isn't at all worried - about the shot, or the faint cry that follows.

The third paragraph goes into good detail about where he is, but maybe this could be in a better place - where it doesn't take away from the immediacy of the moment that was drawn in the first paragraph.

Ali said...

My kids (7 and 10) wouldn't recognize a gunshot if they heard it from a distance. That's not true of kids in other times and places, obviously. But, partly because of that, the first paragraph didn't say "5 year old protagonist" to me. I thought it was a man golfing; when he fell back to the ground, I thought he was hit. Which set me up for a whole different story than what I was about to read, and led to confusion over what a "swing pit" was.

I think you need to get us into Connor's head a little. Upon hearing a sound that's disturbing, his brain would immediately try to make sense of it. The way in which he thinks it through would give us a sense of his world, of him as a young child long before you tell us how old he is, Not to mention, would give your whole piece a voice that pulls us in.

Anonymous said...

Ello, please, I want the piggie tails back!!!!!!!!!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Cheney and the missile silo continuation authors - kudos to you both!

I live out in the country, and the days I don't hear gunshots are far, far fewer than the days I do. Sometimes, people are obviously engaged in target practice using inanimate objects or simply "celebrating." Mostly, to the regret of my nature-loving, vegetarian sensibilities, the targets are living things: frogs, turtles, coyotes, the goat that's going to be eaten for dinner...

The sound of a gunshot carries far. If it's in the distance, I wouldn't expect to hear a cry whether from an human or non-human animal. I've never heard a cry, even when the gunfire was fairly close. Of course, I don't THINK any humans have ever been targeted around here, and if the cry in the story is from a human or larger non-human animal, maybe if the wind is blowing the right direction to carry the sound...

So in the right environment, a young child might recognize the sound of a gun. But in such an environment, hearing the cry following would be the unusual circumstance.

I, too, think the boy's interest in his immediate surroundings doesn't ring so true. He's curious, not afraid. So, if the gunshot came from below, then instead of him kicking a rock in frustration, I would expect him to race down the hill -- along the easy path, of course -- toward the sound.

Your writing is very nice. And you've undoubtedly chosen the right spot to begin. I just think this particular scene requires more immediacy and action. The nice descriptive flow can come a bit later.

Nancy Beck said...

I was confused by this. Wouldn't he do something rather than just glance nearby? Wouldn't he jump off the swing to see what was happening (if anything)? Or at least crane his neck to see out into the fields or wherever he thought the gunshot came from?

It just doesn't add up for me. Sorry.


Dave Fragments said...

My problem was the same as the others: Conner is five years old, playing alone and he hears a gunshot.

There has to be a reason linking the two - Conner and the gunshot. If there isn't then this opening isn't an opening. What has just happened here?

McKoala said...

Similar to the rest; I didn't understand why he spent so long checking out the area where he was when the shot was clearly in the distance. Also, I didn't think I needed the info in the third para at the moment.

Anonymous said...


Thanks everyone. Definitely sounds like those two or three extra paragraphs were a big mistake. He does run off the bluff to see what's going on right after this though, I swear. It takes him several minutes to get back to the village and I was trying to show that he was confused over what he should do, so I figured he'd try to see what was going on from the clearing first if he could. Good to know he just ended up coming across as unconcerned though.

There is a reason why he's playing alone, even being so young, and why he hears the gunshot, and I actually wanted the reader to be asking those sort of questions, but maybe I'm just being too confusing.

In any case, all the comments are much appreciated.

pacatrue said...

I got the impression that this kid has had some good military training, and, if you can make him like a 5 year old army ranger or navy seal who infiltrates a nest of bad guys, takes them all out, and still gets home for power rangers at 3:00, then I will buy three copies.

Actually, now I'm thinking of Stewie from Family Guy.