Friday, February 13, 2009

New Beginning 606 (short story)

Schoolboys have always been taught, since time immemorial, that witches are not to be trusted. Our literature abounds with instances where the most noble of men came to unhonorable ends for their unjustified belief that good is to be expected from the wicked or that honesty can be sought in the mumblings of the vermin who offered their souls to the evil one in return of perishable earthly favors.

Somewhere in Eastern Europe, in a forgotten corner of Transylvania, not too far from a mass grave of a dozen Turk soldiers who were impaled by the order of the terrible Vlad, the locals can tell you a folk tale that utilizes the same theme, although it takes the notions of cruelty, treason and desecration to unexplored levels that never fail to excite disgust.

It goes that a certain antique prince, whose name is irrelevant, having consumed all the pleasures of the flesh, may it be food, drink or fornication, had decided to descend more into the infernal abyss, and learn the dark arts, not for any possible outcome, but for the sole pleasure of violating the divine will of our good lord. He sought joining a fraternity whose uncanny fame offended even the most depraved of men. Some say that he was introduced to it by a prostitute whom he had been frequenting, others deny this detail, asserting that those pests lured him into the forest where their meetings were held by means of voices that drove sanity out of his head.

That's the thing with prostitutes: they're trouble, trouble. Better off without them. Same with witches and fraternities. And Turks. Stay away from all of them, or you'll pay the price with your soul. Anyway, now stand for hymn number 473, All Things Bright and Beautiful.

Opening: Fady Bahig.....Continuation: Anonymous


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

But whatever the reason, it's certain that when he was lured to his destruction by a woman, everybody really regretted that they had never mentioned the drawbacks of witchery to the schoolGIRLS.


"Wow," said Steven, looking up from the history book. "Dracula was a Juggalo!"


The editor set down the pages and looked over the top of his reading glasses.

"Old fashioned vampires? Prostitutes? Fornication?" He shook his head. "You've missed the boat, I'm afraid. Unless your vampires glow in sunlight and dress like they've seen too many Cure videos, I'm not even sure we can call this a vampire book." He slapped the pages in frustration. "You've gone three whole paragraphs without rhapsodizing about your main character's eyes. You can't honestly expect me to work with this, Mr. King."


And it is such insanity that begins this tale of... Dammit! Where was I?


The pimply-faced pledge tugged off his blindfold. "Are you gonna haze me, or bore me to death?"

Gerald Ramsbotham III lost his place in the script along with his temper. "Don't blame us, worm--I mean, junior member, blame this stupid PC college--look, I'll skip the history of Sigma Delta, okay?"


Still, whichever the nature of his progeny, it is true his name and his deeds would have traveled farther than that desolate corner, had he not been driven away by the local schoolboys who taunted him to distraction for, when aroused, he laughed like a schoolgirl. Indeed, it is the schoolboys who are not to be trusted.


Anonymous said...

Hey Evil Editor

Thanks for the posting
After all said and done, what do you think of the whole short story? Is it promising? Should I keep writing?

Evil Editor said...

Unfortunately, I can't critique stories, as I have enough trouble keeping up with my blog responsibilities as it is. However, my minions will give you feedback soon, and a few may even ask you to email them the whole story (which is quite brief).

In any case, of course you should keep writing if you enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Should I keep writing?


Chris Eldin said...

Author, Quite by coincidence, I just finished reading Raold Dahl's "Witches" a couple of weeks ago. I guess that combined with your opening sentence, I expected a dark humor in your story... I liked your first paragraph but got lost in your second and third. I'd have to know what comes next, but I'm hoping you give us some action or dialogue....

Good luck! And definitely keep writing!

none said...

I'm not a big fan of this kind of mannered writing, or of stories that seem to take a long time to get to the point.

If this came into slush, I probably wouldn't read past the first paragraph.

Also, too many adjectives!

Wes said...

By all means keep writing. You'll catch a lot of flack for your story, but we all do. My turn in the barrel is coming soon, and I'll be skewered by useful comments and some not useful. Sort thru the feedback, determine what is valid, and learn from it.

I'll start with three points. Tighten your story. You introduce many topics, some of which don't further your story. For instance, do you really need to discuss the grave of Turk soldiers? Second, be careful about long sentences. Sentence two in para 1 is nearly the whole paragraph. Para 2 is one sentence. Third, at times your intriguing voice comes thru, but occasionally your word choices take away from the mood you create. For instance, "utilizes" in para 2 sounds mechanical or clinical and takes the reader out of the story telling.

Best wishes. Keep honing your craft.

Anonymous said...

I got annoyed by this quickly. There are a lot of presumptions in the first few lines. (I never heard about witches in school; only boys get told this? Always? Since time immemorial? I can only think of one literary instance--Solomon--what are some others? When and where does this take place?) Then there's the rampaging wordiness. You're mimicking a certain style, but at the cost of clarity. The length can be easily halved:

Some say that he was introduced to it by a prostitute whom he had been frequenting, others deny this detail, asserting that those pests lured him into the forest where their meetings were held by means of voices that drove sanity out of his head.

Some say he found it through his favorite prostitute. Others claim he was lured to the forest gatherings by bewitching voices in his head.

Reconsider your word choices of "unhonorable" and "antique". And isn't violating God's will an outcome itself?

Definitely keep writing. If you throw a revised version into the comments (or even the whole thing, if it's really that short) we'll take another look at it. We minions are a helpful lot. :)

Dave Fragments said...

I've written atmospheric openings with mixed success. This opening is a mixed success too. It's more than one opening. It could be two or three -- one for each paragraph.

If the story depends on witches for major plot points, then keep the rist paragraph as the opening and put the second and third into the "good ideas" folder. But be careful, even in the first paragraph there are ambiguities that are hurting you. You refer to "noble men come to wicked ways" (if I may paraphrase) and then call them "vermin." Vermin are rats, mice, lice, roaches and the like. It's a bad word to describe humans. Malefactor is a possible replacement word. Macbeth is a good villain for this opening. An evil wizard is a villain for this opening. Black magic and all that stuff.

Now if your story is about vampires and other bloodsuckers and you want to invoke the granddaddy of all vampires -- Vlad the Dragon, then do it. Junk paragraph one because you don't need "witch" imagery and Vlad Dracul / Vlad Tepes / Vlad the Impaler, does not fit the thrid paragraph. He is not that bored prince who sought the pleasures of hellfire and damnation from boredom. Dracula and Vampires did not start out bored, his legend is different. Dexter the serial killer of serial killers doesn't belong here. Frankenstein doesn't belong here either. They are different types of villains.

The third paragraph is closer to Dr Faust -- a man who sells his soul to the devil for youth, or to Hannibal Lechter (gourmet cooking gone bad), or any number of screamingly mad and or psychotic leaders gone bad. This is the mad doctor conquering the world by destroying it. Ming the Magnificent twirling his mustache. If you are not carrying witches or vampires, then make this the opening of th e story, but only if it's where your story leads. This is the flawed man who researches the occult, the man who opens the door and can't stop what is behind it, the dilettante who releases the evil genie. All that imagery will work here.

You need one consistent set of images for a short story.

And you need to parse this sentence: Some say that he was introduced to it by a prostitute whom he had been frequenting, others deny this detail, asserting that those pests lured him into the forest where their meetings were held by means of voices that drove sanity out of his head. It's not quite ready for prime time. The second half got a little bit lost.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I, too, am not sure what paragraph one has to do with the story. I think it slows it down and I was put off by its claims. School boys have not been taught of witches for time immemorial. They've been taught of witches after the rise of Christianity, when Christian leaders wanted to blaspheme the pagan religions. So, in spite of whether or not you can write well, I was wary by the end of the first paragraph.

I think this story would work really well if it were being read out loud. I see a wizened minstrel or bard telling it to people gathered around a fire. But on paper (computer) it just feels like you're going off on different tangents, giving a lot of back story that doesn't move the story along.

So far you have told us where the story comes from, who spoke of it, and how it makes people feel. As for the actual story itself, all we know is that a prince learned some dark arts and went into a forest.

I like your voice (in spite of the narrator's assumption that all people believe in one specific religion) but I would love to get more of the actual story in here, because the majority of it reads like back story.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I said Solomon and meant Saul. Sorry about that. XP

Robin Wendell said...

You’ve got a good story to tell. I like the gloom, the preachy tone, the prince and the prostitute. I particularly like the mumbling vermin.

You have most of the words you need down on paper. If you cut and rearrange them it would be a smoother read. Here’s my 1st para try -- mostly just reversing clauses in the sentences and changing the un- to dis-honorable.

Witches are not to be trusted. Since time immemorial, literature has teemed with stories that have taught schoolboys the example of noble men coming to dishonorable ends for their unjustified belief that good is to be expected from the wicked. Tales of men who offered their souls to the evil one to gain perishable earthly favors, who sought honesty in the seductive mumblings of vermin.

(my punctuation is probably off -- but, hopefully, you get the idea.)

The second paragraph would benefit from a more concise version of just the forgotten corner, the folktale and it’s shocking: cruelty, treason, desecration and disgust.

It came to pass in bygone days, a nameless prince......might be a way to start the 3rd. I’ve rarely seen ‘antique” used for a person except in jest. This might be a swell play on words if this is a fantasy and the prince is going to change into a chest of drawers later in the narrative, but I’m thinking not.

Did you mean he is old or that he lived long ago? If it’s old -- ‘aged’ or elderly would work, if it’s long ago -- ‘bygone days’, or ‘days of yore’, is pretty standard.

I was flummoxed by the rest of para 3. I think there are some tense problems and I’m uncertain who the pests and voices are at the end.

Keep writing? Of course, write on. Don’t forget to read as well. I’d suggest Malory's Morte d' Arthur or some Kipling -- Life’s Handicap --They might have the tone you are looking for.

Here is the first Paragraph of Handicap:

“The Chief Engineer’s sleeping suit was of yellow striped with blue, and his speech was the speech of Aberdeen. They sluiced the deck under him, and he hopped onto the ornamental capstan, a black pipe between his teeth, though the hour was not seven of the morn.”

Kipling probably tried quite a few variations before he made his begining come out just right. The best way to perfect your craft is to expose yourself to as much reading and writing as possible and then just -- write on.

none said...

"Time immemorial" postdates Christianity, so I'm not sure why it's a problem.

writtenwyrdd said...

I rather liked the voice of this, but would I read an entire story of it? Not sure. I gave up on Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norril shortly on, and it was much like this.

talpianna said...

Author, there's a shift of tone here: "It goes that a certain antique prince...." "It goes" is too colloquial for the rest of the mannered sentence.

Hebe, I think Author is thinking of the first line of Shelley's "Ozymandias":" I met a traveller from an antique land...."

And as one who learned to love Kipling literally at my grandfather's knee, I think one of the strong influences on his prose style was the King James Bible. And I would recommend reading Stalky & Co. and Rewards and Fairies for stylistic influence, primarily because they are set in earlier times and have a lot of archaic language.

I also recommend E. R. Eddison's mock-Malory language in The Worm Ouroboros, which can be found online:

Robin Wendell said...

Thanks Talpianna, I had forgotten that line. Shelly is one of my favorites.

Love's Philosophy

The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever,
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one another's being mingle;--
Why not I with thine?

See! the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower would be forgiven,
If it disdained it's brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;--
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Happy Valentines day everyone!

Anonymous said...

I’ll only go over Para one in detail. Para two you have a run on sentence. Para is word overload.

Para 1. Delete always. It assumes your reader was taught this as well and because I don’t know if this is SF or commentary (I assumed it was commentary). Delete time immemorial (the writing technique you are using is dated, your language shouldn’t be). Change witches are not to be trusted to “Never trust a witch.” Delete the rest of the paragraph. (see why below)

Thoughts: I expect this style when I read Roberts or Browning. I recoil when I read “new” work written this way. Aside from the run on sentence the grammar here is pretty good. The problem though, is using dated writing techniques. The modern reader wants you to get to the point, the reason why I suggest you delete the rest of para one and go straight to para three. And delete the wordiness of para three. You also want to know if you should continue. My answer: Its up to you. Here are some considerations to help you make that choice. If you want to get this published, it’s going to be very hard to place. I’m not saying this is bad, because after my first averse reaction, I kind of like it. But in all honesty, I didn’t read it through the first time, I stopped after the first paragraph, more interested in what others were had to say. I came back reread it, but your average reader won’t. Therefore if you use this format, story has to be extremely compelling.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all those who commented. Here is the rest of the story:
Nobody knew the name of the cult, nor saw any of its members who were said to be men and women of the vilest class. The sole evidence for its existence were animal cadavers that were frequently discovered in the forest, mutilated beyond belief, strange symbols engraved on the bark of the trees, remains of fire and a handful of unexplainable disappearances of the few who dared to dismiss the whole affair as an elaborate joke. For ages did the church and the palace, without avail, try to eradicate this abominable pestilence. This failure may be explained by the fact that the members took the most solemn of oaths to preserve the secrecy of their identities and of their meetings. Some go so far as to assert that their identities were unknown even to each other, as they cloaked their bodies in dark rags and covered their faces with ashes of the dead. Nobody knew what idol did the sect worship. Some claim it was a snowy owl, others say it was a huge bull, others a black serpent crucified on a cross of tau, not unlike that which saved the Hebrews in the desert. There is not even the slightest certainty regarding the nature of their practices. Some claim that they were ultra-ascetics, who amputated, deformed and mutilated their bodies beyond every possible belief while cursing the holy one with the most unutterable of profanities for not healing their wounds. Others claim that they were libertines who competed one with the other in committing the filthiest of fornications. Others, still, assert that they practiced both asceticism and debauchery in an unholy celebration of the totality of life.

Their hierophant who had the duty of initiating the price into their mysteries was said to be unlike the other members in a number of ways; he was said to be tall, of a confident walk and a clear bold voice that didn’t lack a certain degree of satanic splendor.

Slowly did the prince descend into the hellish abyss of no return. And as he climbed the inverted ladder of infernal ranks he grew paler, his face grew thinner and darker and his eyes glowed with a dim light that spoke of a bizarre pleasure that his twisted soul found in being intoxicated. His thin lips smiled faintly as they suggested an endless lust that grew more the more it was given way to actual realization.

One day the hierophant, assured that the prince was well versed in the dark arts and rituals, approached him privately and revealed to him his identity. He clamed that he was the sole man who knew the priceless recipe of the Comte de Saint-Germain and that the fraternity was the sole cult that preserved the secret of the elixir of life. But alas, the hierophant added, with a bitter sigh, that that the recipe was still incomplete, for it lacked that last ingredient that, for its unbelievable rarity, was called the golden ingredient. Having excited his curiosity, the hierophant finally revealed to the prince the identity of that enigmatic ingredient. It was an unearthly stone that fell a dozen of centuries ago from the sky, the last specimen of which was comfortably seated on the top of the royal crown. Now the prince knew why the fraternity so welcomed his presence as a member; he had free access to the palace and to his father’s crown.

Soon the plot was set. The prince was to steal the stone and bring it to the forest where his brethren awaited. His payoff was nothing short of immortality itself. The plan could have proceeded smoothly, were it not for a peculiar raven that screamed and scratched the glass of the royal chamber, disturbing the sleep of the king and alerting him to the presence of an intruder. The prince, now cloaked and masked as any lowly thief, was agitated and blinded by fear as his father yelled and jumped off his bed to chase him. In one moment of folly, he drove his dagger in his father’s chest, snatched the crown and flew away before the guards could catch him.

The locals augment the chase with many complexities that my troubled head is unable to recall. In the end, however, the price successfully took the crown to the hierophant and fell on the ground. He gasped and tried to control himself, his eyes absorbed in the unholy blend that covered his body: sweat, mud and royal blood that surprisingly didn’t bare the faintest hue of blue.

The members of the fraternity were surrounding a giant pot that was placed on wood-fed fire and smelled with the stench of graves. Boiling in it was a wealth of filth that I’d prefer not to mention to spare my reader any contempt or disgust. The hierophant glanced lightly at the crown as he brought it near to his eyes, just to throw it away with little concern. Then, he made an enigmatic gesture to the members of the cult who immediately threw themselves on the exhausted prince, stabbing his troubled chest without mercy and tearing his flesh off his bones.

With terror, with anger and with humiliation the prince realized that the golden ingredient was no precious stone. It was the skull of a patricide.

Fady Bahig

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot. I am not a native english speaker and I didn't read the KJV or the works of the other authors who are mentioned here. My major influence is Jorge Luis Borges (his english translations).

Stacy said...

I liked this, but we'd better get to some action soon.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

extending back beyond memory, record, or knowledge: from time immemorial.

We have no record of anything before Christianity?

none said...

"time immemorial"--any time before 1189.

Evil Editor said...

Then we definitely have no photographic records.

none said...

None whatsoever.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

You're right. When discussing a story set in Transylvania, it would be appropriate to use the definition of time immemorial set forth by English law, rather than the more general definition used in other parts of the world. That makes total sense. :)

Anonymous said...

According to wikipedia (the last word on most subjects): "Time immemorial is a phrase meaning time extending beyond the reach of memory..."

For me, that's sometime last night between the third and fourth martinis.

So there we are.

none said...

So, Chelsea, please do share with us the Translyvanian definition of "time immemorial".

Evil Editor said...

I'll field this one so we can move on. In Transylvania the years are designated BV (Before Vlad) which refers to any year before our 1431 AD, and AI (Annus Incruentatus, roughly translated as In the year of bloodlessness.) Time immemorial refers to anything that can be remembered by the oldest living vampire, and thus changes periodically.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hi Fady:

For English to be your second language, this is nicely written. Many of these "antique" words aren't even known by people who speak English as a first language ;o)

Still, the language use is a bit off-putting and not quite on target in some places.

Now, the payoff at the end of the story could be very good. The getting there, though, is a bit long and painful -- much like the prince's descent into his own hell.

My opinion only, but the part about how the coven has tried to keep hidden and all the speculation about what they might or might not be doesn't really matter to this story. Rather than trying to read my way through all this (which I wouldn't have done had I picked it up as a casual read), I would much rather have had some concrete evidence of what the coven is and what they want to do with the elixir of life. And I wanted to know more of how the prince was lured in among them and to know precisely what climbing down each rung of the ladder cost him. Was the coven asking him to commit fouler and fouler deeds?

Also, I think the reader will need to sympathize a little more with the prince for the ending to have the full impact you want it to. Right now, all we know of him is that he willing fell into depravity, so to my thinking he gets what he deserves in the end. That could be played to your advantage in this story by turning it so that we sympathize with the coven for tricking the prince. But I think you need to go one way or the other with the rest of the story for your ending to work well. Right now, for me, it's like bad guy gets tricked by bad people to do a bad thing and pays his dues. The only person I'm left feeling sorry for is the king. And then I still have the question of whether or not the elixir is made, if it works, and if it does, what does that mean to the coven and to the world.

Xenith said...

You could replace "time immemorial" with "time out of mind" and get the same effect, without being as cliched, upsetting oversensitive squirrels and getting other odd comments.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hi Fady,

I took a stab at tightening the first part and cleaning up the language a little bit as an example of what you could do.

I like your voice and hope you keep writing.

Schoolboys have been taught, since time immemorial, that witches are not to be trusted. Our literature abounds with instances where the most noble of men came to dishonorable ends for their unjustified belief that good is to be expected from the wicked or that honesty can be sought in the mumblings of the vermin who offered their souls to the evil one in return for perishable earthly favors.

In a forgotten corner of Transylvania, not far from the mass grave of a dozen Turk soldiers impaled by the terrible Vlad, the locals spin a folk tale that takes the notions of cruelty, treason and desecration to unexplored levels that never fail to excite disgust.

It concerns a certain antique prince who, having consumed all the pleasures of the flesh - food, drink or fornication, had decided to descend into the infernal abyss and learn the dark arts for the sole pleasure of violating the divine will of our good Lord. He sought a fraternity whose uncanny fame offended the most depraved of men. Some say he was introduced to it by a prostitute. Others deny this detail, asserting that those pests lured him into the forest by means of voices that drove sanity out of his head.

talpianna said...

"the oldest living vampire"???

none said...

lol Tal

Maybe "oldest surviving vampire"? "oldest unstaked vampire"? :D

Anonymous said...

Special thanks to Phoenix and Sarah for their posts. Really ladies, thanks for all the time that you spent writing your helpful posts.

And I am never going to use "time immemorial" again!

talpianna said...

"Oldest undead vampire," Buff.